The 5 Elements Of A Great Live Show

A live show provides several advantages you don’t find in a planned, recorded performance.

A performer first sets the stage for a great show when they make the decision to connect with their audience. It’s the vital element that lets them create a killer dramatic or comedy show, send a message with impact, or really sell an idea. A master performer is human, and gives the audience what they want — even if they don’t know how to ask for it. Think of each time a performer gets on stage as a separate journey. It needs to be worth everyone’s time.

Beyond that initial intention, here’s a partial list of what I’ve seen performers, creators, and even technicians use to take advantage of a live show.


Regardless of what you do, there is more detail in a live show. YouTube may have 8 megapixels, but real life has 322 and a telephoto lens — not to mention better sound and no editing! You see it all. Details like these are the main reason people are pumped to see magicians live.

Also, real life has touch, smell, and taste. Strip clubs and rock venues often make use of these senses, with occasional problems on the smell side. But you can get over that, too: I’ve heard of rock bands spraying their favorite air fresheners. Some amazing people cook on stage. Some folks give food to the audience.

What about what’s around you? Props, costumes, and stage sets can have more ornate and detailed adornments. If you’re part of a live show crew, get your team pumped about the bedazzler! The Blue Man Group decorates their entryways.


The fewer people allowed in the audience, the more special you’ll feel at that show. Inside jokes are funnier because of exclusivity; secrets are more important than public knowledge.

Here are two ways to boost exclusivity:

2a. Cost

If money is being put into a live show, the audience will feel it. Cost can mean different things: the show can be monetarily expensive production or take a lot of energy out of the show team.

Shows can even cost their performers friends or risk their health or comfort. Zamora the Torture King jams skewers through his biceps and the bottom of his mouth. The cost to his comfort may be high, but every show is precious.

2b. Chance

It’s usually very hard to consistently present audiences with the element of chance, but that’s why it’s so valuable. To feel the magic of chance, go see an improv comedy show. The performers make their audiences a promise that “this will never happen again.”


People love putting a dent in their environment and having the chance to talk.

If there are hecklers at a show, one of them will probably come up to the show cast and crew and say, “I was your heckler!” They usually do it in good fun because they think they’re making a positive impact on the show. The audience wants to interact and help, and great entertainers welcome them.

It isn’t just the hecklers that like to make the show better. People clap and laugh and shout, and they buy merchandise to support and promote the show’s future efforts. Performance experts include applause points and good ways for audiences to comfortably respond.

I’ve seen shows where the performer is constantly telling the audience when to cheer. This is not serving the malleability. Don’t lead by telling people what to do, but by being a person or show people want to follow.


My favorite stage geeks know how to charm. This comes from spending time in many situations with strangers and caring what people think. Sometimes folks act surprised when they find that an on-stage charmer is completely insecure, but to me these are mutually beneficial traits. Likability depends on body language, vulnerability, and sincerity.

4a. Body Language

Body language needs to be deliberate or natural. It doesn’t really work when it’s in between. Deliberate means choosing to convey an emphasizing or contrasting message with your body. Natural means expressing whatever comes out – which is usually done well once an entertainer has enough experience to be relaxed in the strange stage environment. Even the most deliberate and artificial movements of masters have a strong flavoring of naturalness / personality.

4b. Vulnerability = Be bold, be flawed

An entertainer’s vulnerability gives the audience a chance to be vulnerable, too. Most of our close relationships are based around helping each other. An OK performer attempts to befriend the audience. A badass entertainer feels like your best friend immediately.

People use you for your assets, they love you for your flaws. If you don’t get this, you need to watch a good rom-com. Noticing cuteness is an animal instinct that protects the young. Geniuses expose their bellies and manipulate the crowd with this instinct.

Boldness in an entertainer is of course enviable, and is great for projection (see my previous post on why people watch anything), but it also sets off a subliminal trigger signifying familiarity. How loud to you get with your friends? How vulgar? How controversial?


The most important thing on this list. Trust is crucial for connecting with anyone. Once you break the trust, it’s nearly impossible to regain it in an hour-long show. Entertainers need to be genuine. When you trust the truth, people trust you. When you deny it, you are fighting all that is human and alive in an interaction.

Which of these have you seen work at a live show? What have I missed? Tweet me.

Written for folks who want to attract and energize groups

Scot Nery is an emcee who has helped some of the biggest companies in the world achieve entertainment success. He's on an infinite misson to figure out what draws people in and engages them with powerful moments.

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