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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Soothe the Savage Beast"

Tips on Audience Control for Childrens' Performers

by Randel McGee

Not long ago I had the opportunity to attend a school assembly featuring a noted author of children*s books. His books and works have been very popular, even featured on national TV programs in years past. He had some very entertaining elements in his "live" presentation, but soon the children were becoming restless. They responded inappropriately to his vague questions. He got them excited about participating, but then did not seem to know how to guide their excitement to a positive involvement. He became rather perturbed with the students* behavior and let them know that he was. The "fun" of the program left and he had to drag himself through the rest of his presentation, which ended up being shorter than the teachers had planned on.

What went wrong? As a professional entertainer of children for nearly 25 years myself, I thought about this presentation and the techniques that were missing that could have made his handling of the audience a much more successful and positive experience. I started making a list of techniques that I have found to be extremely useful in holding my young audiences* attentions and guiding them into a mutually enjoyable experience.

In sharing this list I must add a few disclaimers:

Every performer, no matter how professional, trained, and talented, will have an audience, at some time, that is not going to respond well to the show, no matter what techniques you use.

The techniques that follow, like most artistic techniques, are suggestions that must be used in a delicate mix of good judgement, the artist*s sensibilities, the audience*s character, the venue, location, current affairs, etc., etc.

So here we go with a veritable "ABC" of audience control:


Where you are: Your audience loves to have you mention their town, school, library, etc.

Who you*re performing for: Adjust to their age level, understanding, & community sensibilities

Minor Distractions: These occur - make funny (but not derogatory) comments that tie them into your show

Kids will ask questions or make comments aloud - answer them or comment on them immediately, briefly, in character, and then get back on track

Kids will raise their hands to speak or ask a question: Tell them they can ask later at a better time and then remember to let them ask before you leave the stage

Good behavior and participation: Praise them or thank them for good responses

Those responsible for bringing you there: Be sure the sponsors get a good word


Passive and involved activities: Passive activities are listening and looking presentations. These can still be very engaging. Involved activities include: question & answers, call and respond stories or songs, actually choosing audience members to participate on stage ( a tricky venture, to be sure!), etc.


Keep your own mind focused on your presentation and the audience.

As in a "juice concentrate" - Condense your show or story to the essence of what you want to share and work from there, expanding or contracting as the situation dictates.


Their attentions to those elements that you want them to focus on by using vocal inflections, hand gestures or facial expressions.

Tell them what you expect them to do. Example: "I*m going to do a song now that I know you*ll like"

Ask rather specific questions that they can respond to in only positive or specific ways. Example: "You all know the story of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff, right?"


Your total belief and involvement in what you do are key elements in how involved the audience will become.

In addition to these techniques, I find that the following attributes are "the frosting on the cake":

4 P*s of Performing for young audiences:


They are only kids! Relax! Have Fun!

They need you to direct them on how to best behave for your type of show.

Positive Attitude

Be "Up"! When you like what you do and who you do it for, it shows!


Have enough well-rehearsed material to fill your time, and some back-up if you need it.

Know how to handle most interruptions and problems.

Come with the equipment you need to make the show successful.


Look clean and appropriately dressed.

Act courteous and amiably business-like from the moment you arrive until you leave.

*Most important of All*

Ya* Gotta Love *Em!

Treat your audience as if they were your own children and you were in front of the judges for "Parent of the Year"!

copyright 2003, Randel Mcgee

Randel McGee is an internationally recognized performer, teacher and artist. Educators around the country have appreciated his programs on conflict resolution and character education for young students and his literature based programs for all ages. His most popular acts are his comedy act of Randel McGee & Groark and his portrayal of Hans Christian Andersen, the beloved author/storyteller. www.storyteaching.com

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