What Christina Aguilera's Flub Can Teach Us About Public Speaking

During the Superbowl Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem. She started strong with her powerful voice and her signature vibrato vocalizations and eleven second notes. As she continued singing she substituted the wrong words for a line of the lyrics. Instead of reciting "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming" she substituted "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last reaming." While anyone can make a mistake, an audience expects a professional performer to know the words. It's also significant because this is a national song that we hear at every game and civic event. Yes, a professional singer and speaker should be prepared. But that's not the main lesson.  The question is, why didn't we catch the mistake? This is  a performer with a booming, powerful voice.  I certainly wasn't aware of it until the media pointed it out. My husband didn't catch the mistake, either.

I believe the reason we missed it was because we were distracted. I commented during the performance on how her vocal gymnastics were overkill. Her focus was on her melodic variations and range. The song became about the mechanics and not the feeling. My attention followed the seesaw of her tones rather than on the well written words.  The song seemed to be a showcase of her versatility rather than a connection with the audience. Advertisers vie for the coveted Superbowl commercial spots. Christina had a national spotlight and she blew it.

Public speakers can learn a lesson from Christina's performance.  Authenticity trumps technique and connection is more important than content. When speakers come from ego, they sacrifice the relationship with the audience. Showing off one's platform skills, instead of connecting with the audience, can expose the speaker to all kinds of risk.

One professional speaker had an opportunity to present at a convention. She was generally confident and knew she could WOW them on stage. And that became her focal point. She walked on stage as if she owned it. She confidently belted out her first story as she had done many times. And then she went blank. Totally blank. The audience tried to encourage her with applause. It was painful to watch because she was a pro. She finally regained her composure but the speech was not a success.  Later, she explained that she had tried to impress the audience with her smooth performance skills.  She recognized once she was back "inside her body" that she had learned an important lesson.

You're never too skilled to practice. And it's not about you. It's about them-the AUDIENCE.