Wednesday, September 9, 2015

This Is Your Brain On "Confidence Monitor"

It goes by several names… Back wall screen, teleprompter, lyric screen, or my personal favorite “Confidence Monitor."

It sounds so innocuous and professional. It’s just there to boost confidence. That’s all. So as you're singing along and not quite sure what the next line is, you just look up and, oh there it is… Glory to God Forever. Yes, you just sang it 14 times in a row, but man, it’s nice to know it’s there… Just in case. You know? It gives you a little confidence.

So you try it one weekend. Not the whole song. Just one line from a verse here, and a phrase from a bridge there. All the other singers are doing it. And it feels pretty darn good.

A few weeks later you realize you just sang that whole second verse line for line. You’re not even sure what it said. Someone could have slipped in a line about how delicious Taco Bell burritos are and you’d have no idea it happened. It’s ok though. It was a one time thing. And you still know the chorus. You even made eye contact with the audience a couple times while singing it.

Months go by… “Why did I just read through that whole chorus? I’ve been singing this song for three years.” You find yourself trying to peel your stare away from that screen, but you just can’t. What if I mess up? I’ll look like a fool! Especially when everyone knows the bloody words are up on a screen behind them! You went from trying to lead people in a worship song to trying not to screw up. Good luck with that. The more you focus on not looking at the screen, the more you look at the screen.

It’s years later now. The band starts the intro to a song you’ve sung for 15 years. Then they play the intro again. And again. The person running the Confidence Monitor computer forgot to hit a button and there’s nothing on that screen. You try looking behind you to see words on the big screen (yeah, that doesn’t look awkward at all), but they aren’t there either. You’re sweating bullets and frozen. And not in a fun Let It Go sort of way.

How’s your confidence now?

I understand the desire to have it. We’re all pressed for time and it’s hard to memorize lyrics for 3 or 4 new songs a week. Especially if you’re a volunteer. I’m not saying it doesn’t make any sense. I am saying I see it get abused as much as I see it save the day. And the fact is, at some point, it’s going to fail.

The operator is going to screw up. The equipment will break. Or maybe your brain will think it’s the wrong section of the song, even though it isn’t. Not that that ever happened to me personally.

What works best for me is to condense all my charts and lyric sheets down to a single (two at most) 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper that lays on the ground and I can read my Sharpie written notes standing up.

Ideally if I’m singing the song, I have the chords memorized and I can boil the lyric sheet down to something like this:

1. water wine.. open eyes..
2. into darkness.. out of ashes..

That’s it. The whole song. If you’re familiar with the song, I bet those nine words are enough to get you through it too.

If it’s a new song that I’m not singing and I need to cheat on the chord chart, it’ll look something like this:

V: G  C  Em  D  C
Ch: G  C  Em  D
Br: G  C x2    G  C  Em D  C

I make sure I practice the entire set on my own using only my cheat sheet. If there’s too much or too little information, I modify.

No worrying about whether the people or equipment in your system might have a problem.

By the way, I started the habit of posting my cheat sheets on Instagram as a way to promote the weekend service, but more practically, it was a way to make a backup of my cheat sheet. If I lose the thing, it takes less than 5 minutes to make a new one based off the picture.

Finally, in my experience, the less you are staring at a chart or lyrics on a screen, the more you are able to engage with the congregation, the band, the experience. Engaging makes you a better leader.

Think about it. Then just say no, kids.


  1. Interesting perspective. I love to worship and, as a part of the congregation, have a lot of admiration and respect for the worship team. I try to keep my focus on the Lord and let the Holy Spirit lead. But sometimes I feel worship has become somewhat 'staged' instead of free flowing. With that being said, even though I often need to read the words on the screen, I'll continue to keep my eyes looking upward toward the One who is worthy of our adoration!

    1. To clarify, this (satirical) post is directed at those on stage, not the congregation. I have no problem displaying words for the congregation, although I think it can be overdone. But I'm saving that take for another post. Thanks for reading and commenting!