Handling Awkward Moments – When the Lyrics Operator Falls Asleep

SpaceBarWe’ve all been there.

You’re leading a song on Sunday morning when all of the sudden everyone stops singing. You look over at the screen and realize the lyric operator (or whatever you call the person who controls the projection software) has not advanced the slide. You start to sweat. You can feel yourself growing impatient. You look back at the person and they’re oblivious. You feel like screaming “PRESS THE SPACE BAR!” but decide (wisely) that’s not a good idea. Finally after what seems like eighteen minutes, the lyric operator wakes up and advances the slide and everyone in the room breathes a collective sigh of relief.

How do you handle this situation?

First, a few suggestions of what not to do.

Don’t allow yourself to get angry
I saw this happen once when I was visiting a church in the UK. When the slide didn’t advance, the worship leader stopped singing (thereby making everyone else stop even though they knew the song by heart), let out a huge sigh, looked back at the lyric operator and gave him the kind of glare that said “I want to kill you”. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, it embarrasses the lyric operator. Second, it magnifies the distraction, as opposed to minimizing it. Third, it could result in the congregation getting angry and wanting to kill the lyrics operator too. You turn a late-advancing slide into a major crisis.

Don’t stop singing if you’re in the middle of a verse or chorus
Nothing screams “we are completely dependent on the screens” like stopping during a verse or chorus that’s already started. Just go ahead and finish whatever section of the song you’re in, hoping that most people will either know it by heart, or just patiently wait until the slide progresses again.

Don’t take it too seriously
If it happens all the time, you’ll need to talk with your lyric operator and ask them to be a bit more attentive. But if it happens once, just let it go. As someone who has operated the projection software from time to time, I know how easy it is to forget to advance the slide when you’re singing along, when a member of the congregation interrupts you, or when your mind wanders. Extend grace to the lyric operator and don’t take it too seriously.

Now, a few suggestions of what you can do.

Offer a subtle prompt to the lyric operator by talking to the congregation
Instead of saying “Sally, will you please advance the slide?” – try saying “let’s sing the next verse together”. If that doesn’t work, try saying “this next verse says ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise…’” By prompting the congregation, you just might jolt the lyric operator back to life.

Offer line prompts to the congregation
With a gentle and calm voice, call out the line before it’s sung. If you sound relaxed and like this was planned all along, you’ll minimize how much of a distraction is caused by the late-appearing slide.

Make a small joke out of it
In my post “When is it OK to Use Humor”, I suggested that, on occasion, the worship leader can use humor to break tension. When a room full of people is staring at a screen, and staring, and staring some more, it might get a little tense. Instead of feeding into it by being tense yourself, you can break it by making a small joke.

I had to do this when I led worship for an event in Bedford, Texas, with a few hundred pastors and bishops in a big tent, singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign”. I didn’t have the words in front of me, and was relying completely on the screen, which wasn’t such a good thing when I couldn’t remember how the third verse started. Neither could anyone else. We all stood there for about 10 seconds just waiting. Finally I made a joke and said something like “what do you all say we try singing the next verse now?

On the inside I was begging the person to “just press the space bar!” but, by God’s grace, I was able to relax, make a little joke out of it, break some of the tension, jolt the lyric operator to life, and help the congregation feel comfortable.

Go back and sing the verse or chorus again once the slide comes up
If we’ve gone through nearly an entire verse or chorus without the right slide (and the slide finally comes up at the very end), I’ll usually say “let’s sing that again”. In a way, it kind of redeems the fact that everyone stood there waiting for it the first time through.

Just wait for a few measures
The lyrics operator might get the hint if he or she realizes no one is singing. If we’ve ended a chorus and the next verse hasn’t come up yet, I might just play for another measure or two. Oftentimes that does the trick.

Connect with the lyrics operator before the service
This is something I could improve in. Take a few minutes before the service to connect with the person who will be in control of the lyric projection and let them know of any repeats you know about, any new songs you’re teaching, etc. This will help them be more alert and aware that you’re depending on them – and the congregation too.

Ultimately, if your lyric operator falls asleep during a song, you have a split-second decision to make: How big a deal am I going to allow this to become? If you want to make it a big deal, then stop the song, look angry, embarrass the volunteer, and distract everyone in the process. If you don’t want it to be a big deal, just relax, keep leading worship, offer some more prompts than usual, and don’t overreact.

2 thoughts on “Handling Awkward Moments – When the Lyrics Operator Falls Asleep”

  1. Has anyone encountered a tool that would allow the song leader to control the slides him/herself? Not that we need one more thing to worry about while we’re singing/playing/leading/discerning/conducting/managing/etc, but it would certainly eliminate this problem, and potentially give us the ability to be more spontaneous (repeat, skip a verse, etc.) Maybe a pair of forward and reverse foot pedals?

    1. Jason:
      Operating the projector is not straightforward. Songs have verses, choruses, bridges, refrains, alternate choruses, and sometimes other bits and bobs in between. Putting the right words up isn’t a case of “just pressing spacebar”, and if the worship leader tends to be a little spontaneous (i.e. going back to an earlier verse) then getting the right words up is even trickier.

      Even if there was a fantastic tool to enable a worship leader to move the slides on it would be very difficult for them to actually get the right slides up every time and keep on actually leading worship!

      Besides, having to rely on someone else is actually a fantastic discipline to learn. Doing it all yourself is not a very good idea, even if it does make life easier!

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