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What Coldplay Can Teach You About Better Communicating

One of my all time favourite bands is Coldplay. I like them so much that my family has pretty much banned them from the house and car. Sure, I have overplayed them. But it hasn’t deterred my enthusiasm at all.

I picked up their latest album recently, Coldplay Live 2012, their first full length live work in a decade. Aside from some language that kind of took me by surprise (you’ve been warned), it was vintage Coldplay – tons of raw enthusiasm and passion around their work.

But what really grabbed me was how focused they were on their audience.

In the second song, Chris Martin asks the question “Is there anybody out there?”

Ever felt that way as a communicator?

Yep, me too. That’s kind of my fear during every talk. Is there anyone out there? Am I connecting? Is this helping anyone? Encouraging them? Challenging them? Really?

We’ve all sat through talks and concerts that have bored us to tears. And no one wants to be that communicator (or that band).

Coldplay did numerous things throughout the show to grip, engage and excite their audience.

As a sample, here are 5 techniques they used to engage the crowd. They:

Spoke some French (the concert was in Paris).

Shouted out to everyone in the house multiple times, including the people in the back.

Told the crowd to get certain songs started and then kicked in with the band after.

Checked in constantly, even asking things like a small “Are you okay?” and “we need you, we need you, now make some noise!” mid song.

Changed the lyrics to mention the city they were in and engage both the guys and the girls attending (sure…they’re not the first to do that, but nice touch).

As I listened, I couldn’t help but realize that the more you engage your audience, the more engaging you become.

So is there anything we – as communicators – can learn from this?

I think so.

Here we go:

Speak some French. Communicator Tip: Engage people’s real issues. You need to know where your audience lives. If you can name a life issue in the first five minutes of the talk, you’ve made a solid connection. I often do this by naming off a sequence of scenarios that catches almost everyone (If you’re married, you might wondering how to keep your love alive…if you’re single, you wonder if love will ever truly come your way…if you’re a teenager, you’re wondering what love is…and if you’re an empty nester, you’re wondering whether you can ever get those feeling back.) Or you could tell a personal story (they almost always connect). Regardless, let them know you understand their struggle.

Shout out to everyone in the house, including the people in the back. Communicator Tip: Use the word “you.” “You” is a surprisingly simple, surprisingly powerful word. Saying “you” translates, as in you’ve probably struggled with this… or you’re thinking, there’s no way I can do that. Saying ‘you’ connects powerfully. Every time.

Tell the crowd to get certain songs started and then kick in with the band after. Communicator Tip: Start the message before the message. Use a song, a video or something else to engage your audience before the message starts. Or start a week or more ahead. Recently, we did a Facebook poll at our church as a tie in to an upcoming message. We simply asked “Can men and women ‘just’ be friends?” We announced the poll result on Sunday and then addressed the issue with the message. It got a lot of people talking.

Check in constantly, even asking things like a small “Are you okay?” mid song. Communicator Tip: Apply, Apply, Apply. Theory alone doesn’t help many people. Always always always apply what the text or principle is saying to real life situations. And do it continually through the message. If you’re not doing this constantly, you’re losing people.

Changed the lyrics to mention the city they were in and engage both the guys and the girls attending. Communicator Tip: Use analogy. Analogy is such a powerful, under-utilized tool. When dealing with a big concept, introduce phrases such as “it’s like” followed by real life examples or something familiar to the listeners. Once people understand what the subject in question is like, they better understand the subject.

As a communicator, one of your main tasks is to engage your audience.

What other things have you seen bands do that can really help communicators connect with their audience?


  1. Daniel Decker on February 5, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Excellent post. Very practical.

  2. Frank Bealer on January 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    This is a great post Carey. I have spent the evening reviewing/evaluating the sermon I preached on Sunday at Elevation using the criteria above. Very insightful & helpful.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      So glad to hear that Frank! Thank you!

  3. Chuck on January 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Engagement, I believe, is a two-way street. In an entertainment scenario, it’s quite enough for the band to address / engage the audience. Most of the audience will respond in kind, for sure. They are there because they’ve (generally) paid to be there by choice. Preachers, teachers, etc don’t always have the deck stacked in their favor, at least not as much so.. We have to do a. bit extra work since we aren’t there primarily to entertain, necessarily.

    One way I like to kick that aspect up a notch, is to show some vulnerability (within professional bounds, of course). A lot of bands do tjis with authentic testimony as a patt of their sharing time, whether it’s part of a message, or just what inspired the song that’s up next, or perhaps part of the invitation. No as many bands do that these days, but some still do.

    In my own lectures, I try to show them how I found solving this kind of stoichiometry problem hard once, or how I still find this kind of synthesis a challenge. I also try to find ways to invite my students into my personal life (within professional reason) up to and including inviting them to community group. It’s something that needs prudence, discernment, even caution…but it needs to happen.

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