Hitting the right note: How to use music in presentations.

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Ever thought about whether to use music in your presentations?

There are several physical and vocal techniques we recommend for staying present in front of a group. But what about when you need to up the ante?  Really forge a deep connection with your audience? Music may be the answer.

NPR’s piece, “The Power of Music to Affect the Brain” cites the observations of violinist, Daniel Bernard Roumain. “[O]ne reason music is so powerful is that sound actually penetrates our bodies.  You know when someone says that a piece of music 'touched me' or 'moved me,' it's very literal. The sound of my voice enters your ear canal and it's moving your eardrum. That's a very intimate act. I am very literally touching you, and when you speak to me, you are literally touching me.”

Scientists at Stanford University studied music’s profound ability to unite people.  It turns out, no matter how different we are from someone else our brains experience music pretty much in exactly the same way.  If the goal of your presentation is to connect with a very large audience, I suggest you strategically experiment with incorporating music into it.  It could become a powerful tool unifying the room in your favor.

Need to sustain a connection with your audience throughout a long presentation?

Let’s say your presentation is long--20 minutes or more.  Even just one minute on stage can feel like an eternity for some.  The prospect of holding your audience’s attention for 20x that amount may overwhelm.  This is where incorporating music may be especially useful.

Adding music is also a creative way to fill time. Incorporating music into your presentation provides you a chance to refocus while it’s playing; catch your breath, reference your notes.  Scientists also know that the brain craves variety when listening to a story.  Incorporating music into your presentation is another effective way to retain the attention of your audience over an extended period of time.

Music is a great tool for entrepreneurs and activists.

If you are an entrepreneur or an activist and the goal of your presentation is likely that everyone leaves the room seeing what you see is possible and believing in your idea as deeply as you do.  

Music can help you translate the deep passion for your idea you likely cultivated over many years of thoughtful action in only a few minutes.  If your issue or idea is especially nuanced or complicated and there is a fear of overwhelming your audience music can act as a salve and unifier.  Politicians use music to accomplish this all the time.  

However, be careful not to let the piece of music play for too long.  Longer presentations necessitate a consistent momentum throughout.  We also know that in today’s digital age our attention span is woefully short.

Be sure to give credit where credit is due.

#Protip: if your presentation will be broadcast or take place in a large, formal venue, it’s important to ensure you have permission to use each piece music you intend to include. How? A great first step is to reach out to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).  ASCAP ensures musicians receive the compensation and credit they deserve when a recording of their work is used publicly.

When used in concert with effective vocal and physical choices onstage music becomes a powerful and versatile tool within the arsenal of effective presentation skills.