It’s All in the Orchestration

Posted on February 1, 2017 by Robert Ringer


Here we again — another Super Bowl, another New England Patriots team, and the same old Tom Brady. Back in 2007, I published an earlier version of this article in which I alluded to an interview Steve Kroft had done with Brady on 60 Minutes.

At one point during the interview, Brady was talking about how many hours he spent each day studying game films, which prompted Kroft to ask him rhetorically, “So, everything is orchestrated?”

To which Brady replied, “Everything is orchestrated. You don’t just go out and wing it.” His statement had a big impact on me, because it was a reminder that whether it’s sports, speaking, show business, or just about any other kind of profession, one of the keys to greatness is orchestration.

Surveys have revealed that speaking before an audience is one of the most common fears among people from all walks of life. An oft-heard comment is, “I’m just not a good speaker.” These words imply that the speaking before an audience is an inherited skill. And, as with just about any skill, to one extent or another that’s true. But even though natural ability gives a person a leg up, it’s not what carries the day.

A professional speechwriter once told me that the real problem is that many speakers simply don’t practice enough, while others merely go through the motions when they practice. And some speakers don’t practice at all. In other words, they just try to “wing it.” Their attitude is, “Good enough is good enough.”

He extended his point by telling me something that most people might find hard to believe — that the best natural speakers are often the worst-performing speakers. The reason for this is that speakers with great natural ability sometimes have a tendency to feel too relaxed in front of an audience. Which in turn can cause them to become overconfident and believe they don’t need to practice.

I can relate to this, because early in my career I fell into the overconfidence trap. From a very young age, I recognized that I had a gift of gab, and I mistakenly believed that that ability was all it took to be a great public speaker.

The embarrassing end to my naïve belief came during a performance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — in front of 3,000 people! At the time, my second book, Looking Out for #1, had just ascended to #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and I was drunk on the wine of adulation. So much so that I assumed everyone in the audience was a Robert Ringer disciple.

After an introduction that stripped me of my last vestiges of humility, I strode onto the stage and began gabbing. I was all over the lot … every sentence flooded with “uhs” … repeating myself endlessly … and ad-libbing “jokes” that brought only ominous blank stares from the audience.

Being the perceptive young man that I was, after about five minutes I sensed I was in big trouble. When people in the audience are yawning, you begin to suspect that they aren’t real impressed with either your message or your delivery. And when virtually everyone in the room begins to cough nervously, it’s all you can do to resist calling out, “Mom! Come get me, quick!”

Since that embarrassing low point, I’ve witnessed many high-profile people giving speeches that ranged from mediocre to abysmal. In every instance, it’s been obvious to me that the speaker was arrogantly and/or ignorantly winging it.

The painful truth about great public speakers is that they orchestrate their speeches down to the last detail. What I’m talking about here is tireless, ongoing practice — not only every word, but precise body language, facial expressions, voice inflection, and more.

The legendary Zig Ziglar was a textbook example of this. He was a master craftsman who orchestrated his presentations to perfection. When Zig stepped onto the stage, it was like watching a great actor perform Othello.

Back in the eighties, I went to two of Zig’s speeches in the space of about six months, and not only was every word and every sentence exactly the same — and delivered in precisely the same manner — he even got down on one knee at precisely the same moment. It was like being in a time machine and watching Al Jolson perform “Mammy.”

By contrast, I recall a famous NFL quarterback telling me that years ago, when he was in the national spotlight, he did a lot of public speaking in the off season. I asked him how much time he spent practicing, and he replied, “Shucks, I don’t practice. I don’t believe in giving canned speeches. I come across better when I’m spontaneous. I just get up and talk about whatever’s on my mind.”

Really? There’s a term to describe this kind of attitude: arrogance of the ignorant. As you might have guessed, after his career ended, this one-time, high-profile athlete disappeared from the speaking circuit entirely. So much for just getting up and talking about whatever’s on your mind.

But orchestration isn’t confined to public speaking. On the contrary, it’s one of the keys to success in all professions. For example, I recall many years ago watching Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme perform at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

At the time, they were at the top of the entertainment ladder, and they put on a terrific show. What I enjoyed most about their act were their humorous ad-libs and spontaneous ribbing of one another. They were muffing lines, clowning around, and cracking up on stage.

In fact, I enjoyed their act so much that I went back the next night to see it again. Surprise! Every line I had thought to be spontaneous was repeated verbatim the second time around — right down to their facial expressions, the way they laughed, their body language, and their timing.

They muffed the exact same lines and cracked up in precisely the same manner and at precisely the same moments as the night before. There was no spontaneity whatsoever. The entire act was orchestrated from start to finish — perfected to the nth degree.

I subsequently told a friend of mine, who was a big-time television producer, what I had witnessed in Las Vegas. His response: “Welcome to the world.” He assured me that everything in show business is orchestrated, especially the lines you think are ad-libbed. (Today, this is painfully evident in all so-called reality-TV shows.)

He went on to explain, “You know those spontaneous moments on variety shows when the performers are cracking up in front of the audience? It’s all orchestrated — every laugh, every grimace, every pratfall.” He emphasized that professionals don’t go in front of the cameras until they have every word and every gesture down cold.

The takeaway to all this is that the person who orchestrates everything in advance does so because he cares enough about his work to strive for perfection. To parody the words of the now-deceased legal wizard who managed to set double-murderer O. J. Simpson free (at least for a while) through shameless diversionary tactics and a dose of grade-school poetry: If you yearn to be great, you must orchestrate.

Okay, Tom, now make me look good this Sunday by winning number five.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

31 responses to “It’s All in the Orchestration”

  1. Reality Seeker says:

    Yes, it's true. Orchestration is a fundamental part of success. I first learned about it decades ago when I discovered that Danny Kaye was considered the worst "bastard" in Hollywood because he demanded uber perfection in his movies. He demanded retake after retake until every scene was perfect. Every last detail had to be perfectly "orchestrated" . Even when everyone else thought it was spot on, Danny wasn't satisfied. Danny was a comedic genius. And he was able to deliver an wonderful illusion to millions of his fans, including me. Part of his genius was actually making orchestration look like spontaneous on the big, silver screen.

    Really enjoyed Danny's movies. And something changed in me on the day that I discovered that Danny was such a mean bastard. From then on I became more jaded as I discovered that much of what we see in the movies and read in the newspapers is bullshit…. Actually, looking back I realize that a big part of growing up is coming to grips with the harsh realities of life.

    • Rocketman says:

      There's a whole lot of wisdom in that post of yours.

    • Wayne says:

      I have been suffering from post-realization depression for many years now.

    • Harry says:

      Thanks for a nifty post and info. As a free lance musician I played Steve and Edye's show many times. Robert is exactly correct. Amazing stuff. I remember seeing Alan Shepherd the astronaut being interviewed on TV years ago. He was asked about being nervous, knowing he was about to enter space. Shepherd said that he was not nervous at all because the whole affair was so rehearsed. So orchestrated.

  2. John says:

    Your post omitted the most important speech orchestration of them all, the political speech!
    Um, Chuck Schumer shedding what looked like genuine tears? A master performance, worthy of an Academy award, seeing as he didn't have that much time to practise and had absolutely zero past experience, didn't even shed a tear for 9-11.
    Please people, no matter who is talking, what they are saying and doing isn't by chance, so just be aware of that when evaluating what you are seeing and hearing.

    • Rob says:

      Schumer looked genuine to you? I was a block away from the World Trade Center.Genuine there first was confusion, then panic, finally drying for friends and family gone forever. Watching it on television, the confusion was lessened, and the panic also, if he didn't cry then he isn't human.Well snowflakes do have a different mindset.

  3. After my 15 year career as a college English teacher, I became a touring consulting psychic and seminar giver. Considering the feedback and response from my audiences, i was successful. Why? I was steeped in knowledge regarding my subjects, and had experienced what I spoke about. My personality and sense of humor was enjoyed by my audience. In my case, I did not work from an outline nor memorized material. I can only say that I went "in" and something or someone took me over and from there I spoke spontaneously. I felt wonderful in that state of consciousness and it was easy to see the excellent response of my audience. Similar to when previously I gave readings of my own poetry including a great deal of commenary. That which made my speaking successful was that spontaneous act of "going in" and seemingly "taken over" by a separate mind, or, by a higher dimension of my own mind. Those who speak similarly will understand. I've witnessed other speakers who seem to operate in a similar fashion. If there was some sort of orchestration, it had to be of a spontaneous nature and not pre-lanned consciously. But, I noticed, that my format was highly similar when speaking on the same subject to varied audiences. So there may have been a non-consious spontaneous dynamic of orchestration going on. I don't know. But whenever I spoke it was in an easy articulate flow, starting by "going in" and "being in".

    • Serge says:

      I suppose after one overcomes the fear of public speaking, which is scarier than dying they say. Then the other factors come in, such as personality, belief in your subject, compassion, vocabulary, honesty, enthusiasm and prctice. Spontaneous speeches do flow of a high quality of dimension when coming from the above characteristics. Trumps speeches seemed sometimes a little crude but sincere compared to hillarys evil face.

  4. Andy AJ Wallace says:

    Excellent article,RR. Early in my sales career, I mistook my ability to speak publicly as a "gift" shortly before crashing and burning before an influential audience. I made that mistake ONCE. Since that day 35 years ago, I have carefully scripted every presentation I've made.
    After that one instance, I realized that everything I see or hear I the media is meticulously scripted—with the exception of the Womens March comments of Madonna and Naomi Watts. In each case, these ladies should have done a little preparation to avoid looking foolish.
    Brady and the Patriots by 6.

  5. retlob1 says:

    Robert, I agree with this to some extent, however couldn't one say that President Trump's talks during the campaign were "winging" it, and it was because he seemed so natural that voters took to him (unless of course that was all orchestrated too)? He didn't come off as canned and polished as so many politicians do. In fact, I would argue that the more polished a person comes off, the more one might want to take what one is hearing with a grain of salt. Just think President Obama, one extremely well spoken and orchestrated speaker…

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      The point is that you have to practice to NOT come off scripted. A good actor doesn't not look or sound scripted. As to Trump, he is a totally different ballgame and doesn't fit into any mold. Forget him. A DT won't come along again in our lifetimes.

  6. Rick D'Amico says:

    After just retiring after a 50 year career in Broadcasting, and the last 20 years or so "ad-libbing" a morning show in one of the nation's largest cities, let me tell you, you are so right! Many, if not most, of my extemporaneous comments came after careful thought and deliberation of the topic days before, with the design in mind that if the subject came up,I would have it planned as to what I would say. However, these comments always came in between and around a very tightly scripted show. Most people, including fellow broadcasters, thought everything was off the cuff, but it was mostly scripted and planned. Oh, by the way, It's Kroft, Croft is Lara!

  7. larajf says:

    Go Patriots! And you're right…the best prepared is the best to watch. When I've seen people wing it, they don't realize how much they're boring the audience. And it comes across like they're more interested in hearing the sound of their own voices.

    • theczech says:

      Many years ago I belonged to and enjoyed the Toastmasters; what a superb organization! I have benefited over the years from that early experience. As my work continues to place me in front of groups more and more, I've been thinking about finding the time to work the Toastmasters back into my life. Your thoughts?

      • larajf says:

        It really is. I've always wanted to join and learn but never made the time. It's not that I want to speak…it's that they teach you to organize your thoughts before speaking, and I want that skill.

  8. Jose Jackson says:

    I am in the middle of decades long police and military intelligence harrasment campaign against me and they continue the same theme with different people. These people being told what to do not knowing I have seen and heard the same thing about a million times now. Not very well rehearsed and got a manager at Jamie Simon led company fired. Not sure why Maricopa County Sheriff police and San Diego police area folks are doing this to people who are just looking to live their life in peace.

  9. Texas Wolfie says:

    Anyone remember "The Carol Burnette Show"? I was always led to believe Tim Conway and company were ad-libing through out the comedy hour? Practiced? Say it ain't so!

    • larajf says:

      The way he could get the others to crack up was masterful. I don't doubt he practiced those lines so his delivery was genius…but I suspect the timing was random.

    • Rock Roach says:

      Yeah I remember the dentist scene with Conway and Korman-They had to be good to adlib that.

  10. theczech says:

    Brian Tracy is another professional that has his presentation(s) down pat (pun intended). In fact, he doesn't try to hide that fact from his students and he encourages them to do what the pros do.

  11. John Eslinger says:

    RR, Well Said and Right On!! I have been in front of the public for DECADES. Boy, have I embarrassed myself on accessions! Then just before the Buckley Brothers (William F & Reid) went west, my cool awesome wife, Dr. Squeezie sent me to the Buckley School of Public Speaking. It was the most awesome week of training I have ever had. Changed my speaking life forever and provided me the humility to work at doing it RIGHT. Keep up your awesome work. I've been your fan since you came on the scene some time back….Happy Con Trails

  12. John H says:

    For many, especially politicians, words have no meaning, only their actions have meaning.

  13. Phil says:

    I believe much of great public speaking also involves believing in what one is saying, the lines being delivered. The orchestrated/rehearsed presentation comes across as natural precisely because it does reflect one's true self. Though admittedly great actors and psychopaths can fake it pretty well.

    • Yes, "belief in what one is saying" shines through the speech of a person who is AUTHENTIC! GENUINE, versus 'con", is the other word. And, NOT doing a "sell", but expressing one' s thinking in a way that allows/encourages listeners to process and come to their (tentative) conclusions on their own. All in all not the simple process that it may seem.

  14. Jim Hallett says:

    I have often heard it said that the difference between a master and everyone else is that the master can make his work/presentation/performance look effortless. It takes lots and lots of practice to orchestrate that "effortless" perfection, and that is why Tom Brady, among others, is such a master. As a longtime Pats fan and a graduate of U of M (Brady's alma mater), I too will be rooting for SB win #5! GO PATS!! (My prediction is NE 34, ATL 24). I also echo your admiration of Zig Ziglar who I saw several times and got to chat with at the National Speakers Assocation conference in Phoenix one year.

  15. Rock Roach says:

    All is very true and competing in poker tournaments requires the same set of skills,and believe it or not here are a few things on perception vs reality.As good as New England is.did you know that New England has never won a superbowl by more than 3 points except one-and that was vs Seattle(the one they should have lost) by 4 points.
    And in all their super bowls combined New England has been outscored by 30 points.Certainly New England is a great team,playing without a great player.I am going to say Atlanta has a great shot(they remind of the 2009 Saints quite a bit)-and that we will see another one of these 3 point games.I am going say Atlanta,but this is a last possession type of game.

  16. Trailblazer says:

    Superbly Interesting Piece! Am highly enlightened in the fact that Orchestration is the mother of Perfection! To nail it, one has to go the extra mile. Bigupz Robert

  17. Gilberter says:

    Good morning to all and thank you very much for this one site that always presents the information