The room is completely silent.  The pause is awkwardly pregnant.  And a lone individual, who was introduced seconds before, walks to the front of the room to address the crowd.  Out of the stillness comes the sound of one person — a hero — who begins to applaud slowly, confidently, and deliberately.  It takes just a few claps for others to feel comfortable and join in — and soon the space is filled with welcoming applause.

That hero is, of course ……me.

Yes, MoB readers.  I am a clapper.  And I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I fearlessly clap where no one has clapped before.  It takes a fair amount of courage to publicly display one’s approval, encouragement and, at times, empathy for another human being when no one else has the guts to do so.  But someone has to start the applause when no leader is in sight to explicitly direct an audience to do so.

Though seemingly a simple task, clapping actually takes a fair amount of intuition and skill.  One must be acutely aware of his or her surroundings to begin a round of applause.  You must also be cognizant of the decibel level with which to begin your clapping.  For instance, if you are at a celebratory event with a large number of intoxicated people, you can launch into a round of applause at a level 9 out of 10.  You may also add on an enthusiastic “wooooo hoooo” as soon as the next person joins in.  However, if you are in a business or academic setting where a fair amount of decorum prevails, I recommend beginning the applause at a level 2 for three claps, moving up or down based on how the people sitting closest to you respond to your lead.  If they follow suit, then move quickly to a level 8, if they do nothing, then stop clapping and place your hands in your lap.  Most people will wait a few beats before turning and perhaps think it was your neighbor.

The most difficult clapping skill imaginable is, of course, the standing ovation.  I have yet to master the art of leading this time honored ritual but have improved my skills considerably in the last decade.  I continue to lack the courage to be the first one standing, but I have achieved “1st group” standing several times now.  This is an area I am committed to working on in the coming year.

On the flip side, I have completely mastered “encore clapping,” the marathon of the clapping discipline.  I have found that if you slow your applause pace by 50 percent, you can contribute in a meaningful way to getting the band back on stage and expend half the energy.  Again, the “woo hoo” is very helpful here.  It saves your hands.  And I have let go of the guilt that I once had years ago when I would stop clapping during the call for an encore.  It’s okay people.  We all KNOW they are coming out again.  Don’t beat yourself up if you falter every once in a while.  We need to lean on each other every now and again.

Lastly, one of the most under appreciated clapping skills is knowing when to stop clapping.  This talent is especially useful when listening to a musical act where everyone decides to clap along.  So people, first, if you can’t clap to the beat of the music… don’t try.  And second, no clapper ever regretted that he or she stopped clapping TOO early.  There is nothing worse than being the last person clapping along to the artist on stage, especially when the beat changes.  When in doubt, STOP clapping.

I felt the need to share my clapping wisdom because it has a practical application to the Delco Idol competition.  The audience, in its well-intentioned support and enthusiasm for the young performers , has taken to clapping along for EVERY song that has a beat.  This group of people would clap along to Sarah McLachlan if given the chance.  And they don’t have any sense as to when to stop.  If you watch Noah below, he flubs his lines slightly at the 2:01 mark.  When I asked him about it, he said that the clapping confused him.

So people, I offer the following advice from someone who considers herself to be a master clapper:  With two hands comes great responsibility.  You can engender a tremendous amount of joy, but you can also embarrass yourself beyond belief. Be aware of your surroundings.  Practice and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Clap well and often. And know that you are a force of good.  The universe will applaud you back.

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