Public Speaking Lessons from a Drag Show (Part 1)


Whilst on holiday recently I had the opportunity to see a drag show called MHT, or the Music Hall Tavern. The producers guarantee that it will be the funniest night of your holiday and looking back it probably was; despite some drawbacks regarding the venue and the food, the cast were talented performers and each number brought something new and fun to watch.

Given that I struggle to relax on holiday, I immediately started to think about what lessons we could learn when it comes to public speaking. There were many lessons so I have divided this article into two parts; here are the first six lessons:

  1. Get Your Marketing Right

It is crucial to promote your talk or presentation to the right audience in the right way; this is highlighted in a fabulous book called Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas (call me sad but this was my holiday reading!) The Music Hall Tavern show is aimed at British tourists so it is promoted by the hotels and tour companies through their brochures and holiday reps.

Lesson: Think about how your talk is being marketed and to whom; support the organisers of the event at which you will be speaking and help to market it through your own connections and social media channels so that you have a good crowd of your ideal audience in attendance.

1. Research Your Audience

I harp on about this continually with my clients, masterclass participants and through my social media posts, but it is absolutely crucial to know your audience. The drag show audience were British tourists so the show included lots of relevant references such as popular television shows and commercials (not all of them resonated with me given that I’m Australian but the rest of the audience seemed to love it!!)

Lesson:Take the time before you create your presentation to understand your audience and their perspective so that you can create an engaging presentation that really connects with them. 

2. Build Rapport Before You Get On Stage

When we arrived at the Music Hall Tavern venue (bizarrely in an aerodrome), one of the cast members welcomed us at the entrance for a quick chat before the show. After a short wait we were ushered to our seats but not before having a quick photo with the other two ‘girls’. Of course this is all geared towards making you want to buy a photo of you with two drag queens but the other benefits for the performers are that these interactions enabled them to start building rapport with the audience before they even took to the stage.

Lesson: Aim to interact with your audience before your presentation, whether that is in the lead up to the event or immediately before you present. This will help you gain information you can use in your talk to help engage them and will also ensure you have some familiar faces in the audience when you stand up to give your presentation.

3. Appropriate Humour

Despite our expectations that the show might be ‘tacky’, ‘touristy’ and potentially 'distasteful', we were genuinely entertained and found ourselves laughing throughout. Apart from one particular remark (which admittedly would have possibly only felt uncomfortable to me) the comedy was appropriate and relevant. Much of it was visual humour due to the exceptional performances of the three drag queens who incorporated subtle innuendo, used relevant and funny facial expressions and body language as well as sharing self-deprecating humour to entertain the enthralled audience.

Lesson: Inject some appropriate humour into your presentation to keep your audience engaged and entertained. Done right, humour can also help your message to stick.

4. Rehearse, But Allow For Spontaneity

The show we saw was extremely well rehearsed and for the most part it ran smoothly. However, as with any live performance, occasionally things went wrong. One particular incident involved part of a costume falling off one of the performers who completely lost it and cracked up laughing. The trained performer in me thinks that losing focus in this way is an absolute no no; however, it was quite amusing to see both performers in this particular sequence struggling to maintain their composure and it made it extremely funny to watch. Whether this entire event was planned was difficult to know, but the fact that they were extremely well rehearsed and comfortable with the material ensured that they were able to stray from the ‘script’, acknowledge and embrace the situation before getting back to the correct material showed their professionalism and preparation.

Lesson: As presenters, we need to be well prepared and practiced to easily manage any unforeseen interruption to our presentation.

5. Admit mistakes and laugh about them

In another unexpected moment, one of the performers seemed to completely forget what they were meant to be doing. Instead of pulling a face and looking nervous and uncomfortable as I have seen many performers and presenters do in various similar circumstances, this performer smiled and laughed at the situation and caught up with the others.

Lesson: In most instances it is better to just move on as if the mistake didn’t happen (the audience is unlikely to have noticed unless you draw attention to it.) But if you make an obvious mistake, take it in your stride, admit it, make a joke of it if you can and move on – in most cases your audience will forgive you for your honesty (they’re probably grateful that you’re the one on stage, not them, and will applaud your honesty accordingly!)

Those are the first six of the lessons I identified after watching this drag show - I trust you found them useful for your own public speaking. In a future post I’ll share the remaining lessons; in the meantime, what do you think? Have you learned any public speaking tips from watching another form of live performance?

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_