How to Win a Lip-Syncing CompetitionBy Bill Chapin

A winner of The Smart Meeting’s Rock the Stars contest offers her best advice

Team-building exercises can be hit or miss, but the one at The Smart Meeting at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., turned out to be a hit of platinum proportions. The Smart Meetings team had Rock the Stars come out and organize an “airband” competition. Planners and suppliers were organized into bands, encouraged to deck themselves in outlandish costumes, and lip sync and play air guitar along to a hit song.

One need only take a look at the pictures from the event to see that Penny Tilton was the star of the show. Vice president of event services at Business Matchmaking Inc. of San Diego, Tilton took center stage when her group, which settled on the band name Power House, performed. Though it was a team effort, her unbridled energy helped propel Power House to the finals at that evening’s outdoor reception, where they took first place.

The bonding continued even after the stage lights faded. Tilton, vice president of event services at Business Matchmaking Inc. of San Diego, has contacted former band mates for site inspections and booked a small staff meeting at one property. She even formed some friendships, and she plans to meet up with one new acquaintance for coffee next time she’s in Seattle.

Tilton has been unable to escape her fame, either. At a recent San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau event, she ran into another Smart Meeting attendee. “All of the sudden the lights went on and he said, ‘Oh my God, that was you!’ Yeah, that was me. I’m still being recognized,” Tilton says.

Anyone who attends enough conferences is sure to encounter an exercise like this eventually, where they are compelled to let go of their inhibitions and perform in front of their colleagues. For advice about how to survive—and win—one of these competitions, we asked Tilton for a few tips.

Choose Wisely: Tilton’s team represented a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and musical tastes. “We all had our own opinions on what song to do,” she says. Eventually they settled on “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, because everyone felt comfortable with the lyrics. They soon realized that knowing the words wasn’t a crucial part of a lip-syncing performance, but it helped that their audience was well acquainted with the tale of a small-town girl livin’ in a lonely world. “It’s all about the song choice,” Tilton says. “That’s what made us win.”

Take Charge: If no one else is willing, don’t be afraid to step up and take on lead lip-syncing duties. “Everyone else stayed in the background,” Tilton says. “I said, ‘Alright, you guys, I’ll do it. I don’t care.’”

Come Prepared: “I had read before there was going to be this competition,” Tilton says. “I brought a couple props from home, one of them being a shirt that said, “Blink if you want me.” I had these ripped jeans…Suddenly I turned into this rocker chick. I don’t know where she came from.”

Don’t Stop Believing: When it came time for the finals, “we all decided we weren’t going to do it because it was too intimidating,” Tilton says. “It was outside for everyone and their brother at La Costa to see. But one girl on our team smacked us upside the head and said: ‘This isn’t a competition. This is about us having fun for 10 minutes.’ We all looked at each and said, ‘Alright, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to go for it.’ We all just kind of agreed we were going to have fun and regret it the next day.”

Draw on the Crowd: “I’d never performed before, but you know how they say the crowd gives you energy? It’s true,” Tilton says. “During the chorus, we looked out and there was what seemed like hundreds of people on their feet, pumping their fists, singing along and laughing—not at us, but with us…hopefully.

Liquid Courage: How did Tilton get over the embarrassment of performing in front of her colleagues? “For me, it was the cabernet,” she says with a laugh. “Thank God there was a hosted bar.”

Image: Power House during its award-winning performance at The Smart Meeting at La Costa Resort and Spa