On stage or in the boardroom: How tablets can improve your public speaking

Next weekend my new musical project (a blues/classic rock band) gets under way. We’ve got a bass player, two guitarists, and a drummer. What we don’t have, though, is a singer. Unfortunately, unless we find one by then, I might have to tackle the vocal duties. I’m absolutely horrible about remembering lyrics (and chord changes, for that matter). But a fellow musician and I have figured out a way to use tablets to remember lyrics.

“But, wait, Crumpy,” you may say. “I’m not a musician, how will this help me?” These tools can help anyone who has to do any sort of public speaking. What I love about using a tablet as a teleprompter is it removes the barrier between you and an audience that a large binder or music stand creates. I’m not a fan of seeing singers hide behind a music stand. Even in a meeting, a tablet on the table is a good way to store your notes before you address the room.

How a semi-pro heavy metal band uses a tablet

Debbie Seymour, lead vocalist for the Connecticut-based heavy metal band Vengeance (winners of the 2014 Connecticut Music Awards for Best Heavy Metal Band), uses a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1-inch tablet onstage using a floor stand. She designs the lyric sheet in PowerPoint on her laptop and then converts it into a PDF. She then uses Bluetooth to send it over to the tablet and opens it using the Kindle app. Since the band’s set list changes almost every gig, storing the PDFs in Kindle Personal Documents isn’t a good option for her. Another tip she gave me is to use white text on a black background. It’s a little easier to see on stage.

I’ve seen the band live several times, and one of the things I like about this set up is how unobtrusive her tablet use is. You never really know it’s there.

How the amateur hack does it

Since I’m only filling in on vocals until we find a real singer, I’m not going to invest a lot of time in learning the lyrics. Therefore, I need the lyrics in my face a little more. I use an IK Multimedia iKlip stand to put my iPad on my microphone stand. As a general rule, I don’t like to see singers with mike stands or lyrics in their faces, but since I’m just filling in (I hope), I’m going to cut myself some slack. What I do like is it sits under the boom part of the stand, so it’s not like I have the music blocking my face like I’m playing the trumpet in a marching band. If I needed to do this live, I would use a floor stand.

The primary app I use to view lyrics is SongBook Chord Pro for iOS ($7.99). There is also an Android version available for $5.99. The app has several features I like. The most important for me is the ability to change the font size on the fly without it screwing up the flow the text. The app will also sync songs from my Dropbox account. I can also create set lists with the songs we will be performing. There is also a play mode, where the song scrolls up the screen like you see on a teleprompter. If multiple people in your band have iPads and all use SongBook ChordPro, you can sync page turns and which song is displayed between devices.

Another app I’m looking into is IK Multimedia’s iKlip Stage. Unlike SongBook Chord Pro, it’s free. Unfortunately, right now it’s got some limitations that make it hard for me to use it. The first is that I can’t change the font size; the best I can do is pinch and zoom in, but it won’t reflow the text. Also, I can only add files from the photo album or via iTunes; there is no cloud support. It does, however, natively support IK Multimedia’s BlueBoard. DeepDish’s GigBook for iOS ($9.99)is an app that I have not yet tried, but I have seen posts by musicians that love it.

I also keep a running copy of the lyrics and chords in a single Pages document. It’s not as flexible as Songbook. I’ve given some thought to creating a separate folder in iCloud with the songs as individual documents, but I find myself gravitating to the flexibility within SongBook.

How business people can use these tools

These tools and ideas aren’t limited to musicians, either. Every now and then I have to give a talk or prepared speech. I can move the text file of my speech into SongBook, press play, and be able to follow along. Naturally, I’ll have the talk mostly memorized, but brain freezes happen.

In fact, you don’t even need to give a large speech. Often in team meetings, I’d have to give an update on a project or my department. Again, I could create a text file with what I want to say and either import the file into Pages or for iOS, or Jota+ for Android, if it’s short, or use SongBook’s play mode if it’s longer than one screen.

Final Thoughts

These are a few of the ways that I use tablets to aid me in public speaking. While there are specific apps I use for different purposes, the good part is any program that can display a text or PDF file will get the job done. The one recommendation I have is to at least make sure you can resize the font on the go. That way, if you’re having trouble seeing your speech, you can quickly get the words to a size you can see.