‘Taking care of business’: How karaoke can help you succeed


There are many people that hate karaoke, but I don’t think they view it through the same prism that I do. My goal here is simple – to shed a little light on how karaoke can help you in life and in business.

This post will be a bit of a departure from the standard “karaoke is/is not therapy,” “karaoke is stupid,” “karaoke is awesome” posts that you usually come across in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. My thesis is that karaoke features many of the same principles of doing “business” if you break it down to its essences.

It’s a great icebreaker.

How do you get new teams, clients, and colleagues to feel like they’re part of something bigger? Maybe it’s time to take them out for karaoke. As much as it’s a performance it also has great teambuilding potential.

First off, everyone will be curious what your contribution to the event will be (i.e. what song you will pick). What’s more, many people will seek to collaborate (both in selecting individual songs and planning duets). Karaoke is a great platform for the boss or mid-level manager that’s struggling to connect with their subordinates to show their sensitive side by getting up there and doing a Neil Diamond classic.

If everybody makes a fool of themselves at karaoke, then no one does. The net result is that individual team members have done something together that will bond and strengthen the collective. As an added bonus, with everyone always complaining that it’s impossible to get people to stop talking about work at social events outside the office, at karaoke it’s rude to talk during someone’s presentation. Colleagues will support each other by singing along. At the very least, the volume in a karaoke bar will preclude long and engaged conversations about scaling, positioning, and metrics.

It’s about doing what you do best most of the time and taking chances when necessary.

I’ve won five international karaoke competitions (one in New York, one in St. Petersburg, Russia and three in Turkmenistan). I know how to work the room. I know what to sing to get the crowd on my side and feeling comfortable. I know what to follow up with to blow the audience’s mind. More than anything, I’ve learned that you have to read your audience. In the same way that you try to figure out what a client is thinking when you send them a proposal, you need to balance what you can deliver against what you think they need. That is the optimal solution.

The karaoke competition in New York City, the one in which I beat 75 contestants to take first place, was just such a wager. There was one winner from each of five rounds who advanced to the final. I won my round and advanced to the final by doing a crowd-pleaser by Billy Idol.

The jury for the final was made up of two new members. I knew I had to win them over, but I also needed to drive the crowd wild. With only one friend in the audience and a number of people supporting the other contestants, I knew that most of the crowd had seen the others’ performances before. I correctly guessed that many of the contestants would repeat the songs that had gotten them this far, so I decided to shake it up. I used frequent costume changes and a dynamic mix of new songs to win over the judges and crowd and sail on to victory.

It will improve your public speaking and presentation skills.

Many people are afraid of karaoke for the simple reason that they think they can’t sing, just as many people defer presentations to others who they think are more confident or naturally talented. The same people then wonder why their colleagues get all of the promotions. Anybody can speak, but you have to figure out a way of presenting yourself that both works for you and highlights your strengths.

Most people will try karaoke once. They will then complain that they tried their favorite song and they embarrassed themselves. What likely happens in these situations is that such people operate with no sense of strategy. They tried it once and it didn’t work, so they give up.

To get comfortable on stage you should begin by trying something you can do well. Perhaps that means singing a John Mellencamp song. You may detest him, but he just might the best fit for your abilities when you’re starting out. Branch out from there. Just as your first public presentation was likely not a keynote at an awards ceremony, your first foray with the mic probably shouldn’t be Adele. You have to build up to this.

Next, work on your moves along with your voice. Only the supremely talented can captivate an audience for four minutes by standing still. In the beginning try songs that are not vocally challenging but demonstrate that your body is engaged. An average voice can win the hearts and minds of millions if they perform with confidence and authority.

For further views on the subject check out this karaoke documentary that was made about me while I was a graduate student at New York University:

If you have additional questions, contact me about karaoke coaching. I have remote and in-person packages lasting from one to five sessions. These training sessions will not only help you up on the stage, they’ll help you in business and in life.