Pick up some tips from a performer about changing careers, overcoming shyness and speaking in front of an audience.
by Margaret Tang
Shannon Zann is someone you may find familiar. You may have seen her on Mediacorp Channel 8 drama serials. Or you might have also seen her hosting an event. She is a veteran that has hosted big-stage events like beauty pageants, exhibitions, festivals and gala dinners, in addition to various mall events and corporate events. More recently, she has also become a trainer, teaching participants how to perform in front of a camera and make their own videos for social media.
The woman before me is vivacious. Her voice sparkles with energy. You would never imagine that she used to be a shy child.
Shannon says, “When I was young, I loved to watch musicals. All those beautiful costumes, dancing and acting, it was all so amazing to watch. I wished I could do it too, but I was always too shy.” She still remembers the time in secondary school when she missed the chance to be in a class performance. “I was fourteen or fifteen years old. The teacher needed actors. She went around the class asking us one by one: Can you act? A lot of the students said ‘no’, but some students had friends who would cheer for them and say ‘she can act, she can act’. When the teacher came to me, I stayed silent, but in my heart, I was crying out, ‘I want to act. I want to act’. I was known to be shy and introverted, so none of my classmates nominated me. When my teacher moved on to the next person, I felt like my bones just shattered. I was really sad because I really wanted it.”
Even though she did not dare to perform, the desire never went away. After her ‘O’ level examinations, she asked her mom if she could go to a performance art school like Lasalle or NAFA, but her pragmatic mom asked her how she would make a living. Obediently, she went to junior college and university like everyone else. After graduation, she went to work as a social worker.
How She Got into Acting
After a few years of working as a social worker, Shannon felt burnt out. “I was praying and seeking God and asking ‘What next? What next?’ then I was reminded that as a kid I loved to perform.” She tried out acting by performing in a mini-musical in church. “It was lots of fun. It was so cool. I really liked it. But I still had reservations. I thank God because people from the industry started showing up in my life. I met performers like hosts and magicians. Talking with these people allayed my fears and dispelled some myths about the entertainment industry. I started by signing up for some acting classes with the director Kelvin Sng. My instructor said, ‘Eh, Shannon, you have quite a flair for acting, you know.’ That made me think: maybe this is possible.”
In her first year, Shannon got into the ensemble cast of Toy Factory Productions’ December Rains starring Kit Chan. “Live theatre is very fun. I got to try everything. I even had one line of solo singing and a named character for one scene. I had to change my wardrobe for different characters in the various scenes. It was hilarious when it was a rush.”
Becoming a Host
After a year in acting, Shannon chanced upon an audition with the Singapore Armed Forces’ Music and Drama Company. For her audition, she had to sing, dance and host. She laughs as she recalls, “I had to improvise my dance, so I just did the Saturday Night Fever sort of move. All the army boys were laughing at me. They must have been thinking ‘so old school’” After the audition, the manager told her that she was best at hosting. She decided to trust the feedback and gamely took on hosting with the company which started her on the path to becoming a host.
Advice to people who want to get into acting and hosting
Shannon advises young aspiring entertainers to go to Lasalle, SOTA or NAFA to get good foundation training in acting, dancing, singing. “That would open up your path to so many areas and make you a better actor,” she says. For people making a mid-career change into the entertainment industry, she advises them to take classes and go for auditions and if they can, go overseas to take theatre or acting classes where there are proper programs as in the USA. Of course, now during the pandemic take online classes.
Tricks of the Trade
I have seen Shannon on film and in front of an audience. She has a vibrancy that looks completely natural, not over-the-top dramatic like some other hosts I have seen and certainly not awkward and low-energy like the average person. I ask her how she charges up her energy levels before an event and for some tips for my readers so that they can project the confidence she projects.
She says, “Before any event, I hide away and conserve my energy. I won’t go out with my friends the night before an event. If possible, I also take a nap just before the event. My advice is: get enough sleep if you want to have energy for a performance. For people who feel like they have low energy, while they are backstage, they can jump up and down, move their arms and legs and stretch to loosen up their muscles too. The adrenaline rush really helps to boost your energy. Tony Robbins uses a trampoline backstage to rev himself up before he goes on stage.
Before I get on stage, I will visualise what is about to happen. In my head, I see myself walk up the stage until I reach the rostrum then I turn to the audience, look someone in the face and say ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen’. Visualisation will help you feel grounded. After that, you go on stage and do the same thing.
Of course, before the event, I would have looked at the script and adjusted it to match my style. I would have checked the pronunciation of names with the organisers and also rehearsed a few times so that I would be familiar with the flow of the event and what I’m going to say.
After you do it a few times, you’ll be much more relaxed. The first time I went on stage, I was in my teens. I remember the first row of people in the audience were laughing. I thought, ‘oh no, is something wrong with my clothes or my hair?’ then I realised that my whole body was shaking. My knees were literally knocking together. But the next time, I was much better because I knew what to expect.”
Injecting Energy into the Audience
Shannon also has a few tricks to get our famously stiff Singaporean audience to loosen up too. “For events where I need audience participation like for games, I warm up the audience by starting small. First, I’ll get them to do something easy like clap for someone. Then, I’ll get them to say something easy like: say hi to the people sitting beside you. Bit by bit, I get the audience warmed up so that by the time we get to the games, they are ready to play. For dinner and dances especially, I will ask the organisers for names of outgoing, fun-loving employees that I can call on, just in case I can’t get the audience to play along.
Tips for Camera Work
Here is a simple cheat from Shannon to appear more relaxed and confident: Put a photograph of a family member, close friend or even an idol next to the camera and pretend that you are talking to them. Ultimately, it is all about practice. Rehearse your script in front of the camera. You will become desensitised to the camera being there.
She also gave a tip for zoom calls. “To seem like you are making eye contact with the other person, get out of full-screen mode, and resize and reposition the zoom screen until the person’s image is directly under the computer’s camera. That way you can look at the screen, and still look like you are looking into the camera.
COVID-19 and the future
COVID-19 brought about major changes for Shannon and many in the entertainment industry in Singapore. “During circuit breaker, one hundred per cent of my bookings were cancelled or postponed. Postponed jobs were eventually cancelled anyway. Overnight, I had no income. Now after one year, jobs are slowly coming back, but there aren’t as many as in the pre-COVID days. There are fewer jobs and so many hosts, so there are quiet price wars among hosts. Events companies have lower budgets now too.”
Despite the tough times, she is grateful that the pandemic has forced her to evaluate her future in the industry. “For a few years now, I’ve been thinking that I can’t keep hosting for the rest of my life. Every year, new hosts are entering the industry who are younger, prettier and cheaper. It doesn’t make sense to the customer to pay more for an older host. I’m getting older, so I knew I needed to think about what else to do for a living. But I was cruising along and still earning good money, so I didn’t take action.”
2020 forced her to start teaching smartphone videography. “For some time, people had been asking me to teach them how to make videos because I’ve been making showreels and videos to post on YouTube for marketing.”
The introvert has a love/hate relationship with social media. “Even though I’m an actress, if I’m left to myself, I would be happy to hide in a corner and not put up any videos on social media. Of course, I am thankful that I can use social media to market myself. So, I would push myself to keep engaging with my audience.”
As an introvert who has painstakingly built up her career in the public world of entertainment, she empathises with and wants to help solopreneurs and small business entrepreneurs who also face the difficulty of marketing through social media. Other than videography, business and marketing courses, she plans on adding courses on cultivating a positive mindset; overcoming limiting beliefs; battling imposter syndrome; and developing confidence.
“I feel a calling to move towards coaching. I really believe in mindset transformation.” When I ask her if coaching will be easy for her since she had the personality to go into social work at the start of her career, she says, “Actually, social work is more than just personality. You really need to have the heart for it. You have to want to help.”