Marc Cohn, the Grammy Award-winning songwriter best known for his hit “Walking in Memphis,” is a bit of an anachronism. In an age of digital music, singles, and bootlegs, he still puts a new album together the same way the musicians who influenced him once did—by thinking about the flow of the entire “side one” and “side two” of the album:
“Some of the best albums don’t have an explicit theme or concept,” he told an interviewer from Arts-Louisville.com. “But there is something implicit that makes you know there is a reason those songs are in that sequence and a reason that the artist put them together….Listen to Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark or some of Stevie Wonder’s greatest records from the 70s…there’s something that just makes them a great piece of work rather than a collection of songs.”
In an article called “The Fine Art of Sequencing an Album,” writer Ari Koinuma points out that:
“When you have a collection, the order in which the songs appear obviously makes a difference to how the overall collection is perceived and received.”
As an example, listen to The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Three of the closing songs—“Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End”—flow from one to the next seamlessly. It’s almost inconceivable that a listener would listen to one song but skip the next. They work because each song—although they sound different and have strikingly different tempos—guides the listener from one place to the next effortlessly.
Why am I talking about album sequencing? Because I recently saw one of our trainees do something I’ve never seen before.
The trainee—a terrific speaker—was delivering his practice speech with an impressive amount of energy. But as he neared the end of his remarks, I noticed that his energy gradually (and almost imperceptibly) began to diminish.
I asked him afterward why he lost some energy toward the end. He told me it was a deliberate choice. The speaker slated to follow him, he explained, was a much quieter and less powerful speaker. He knew that if he passed the baton to her with his usual energy, she would have paled that much more in comparison to him. He wanted to set her up for the win—so like a good album, he wanted to make the transition appear natural and seamless to the listener.
You might keep his tip in mind when speaking as part of a team. If the speaker following you has a dramatically different style, you might consider transitioning to the other speaker in a smooth manner that won’t be jarring to your audience. Just make sure that you don’t adopt the other speaker’s specific speaking style—your shift must be subtle and truly authentic.
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