Train Engine Vs Caboose

I’m a visual guy. So word pictures and analogies help me. One of the things I enjoy in my job is getting to work on presenting and getting to work with other presenters; both with those that help train me and those I get to help train. So when working with presenters, from hosts to worship leaders, I try to use the visual picture of a train engine.

There’s two kinds of people when it comes to stage energy. There’s people that thrive on the energy in the audience and those that bring the energy to the crowd. The first group is on top of the world, as long as the crowd is having a good time. They’re the ‘caboose’. They’re great if you have a good audience that’s jiving with the direction of your program. But if the audience is smaller than normal, or not pumped at game-time, or just off for some reason, the cabooses can’t bring that stage energy.

Most of the time it’s because it was a “tough audience” or they felt like the audience “wasn’t there.” This is counter to everything that you need to think as a stage presenter. The more I study great presenters the more I realize, both in ministry and out, the best presenters understand they are there to serve the audience. So if the “energy” in the room feels weird, off, flat, etcetera, it’s not the audience’s fault.

It’s yours.

Which is a lot of pressure, but as a presenter it’s your job to lead the room. In many ways it’s kind of a cyclic relationship.  You lead the room in a direction but you also listen very closely to that room and bend and shift your approach depending on their reaction.

That’s where the other kind of presenter comes in when it relates to stage energy. They’re the train engine.

Have you ever seen a train engine get a long train going?

For our honeymoon, my wife and I took a train ride. Sitting in the caboose is completely different then sitting by the engine.

By the engine it’s loud. It’s bustling. The train horn goes off, smoke pours out, steam shoots out the sides, the wheels start turning. It’s exciting.

In the caboose? You hear some noise. You see some smoke. But you really don’t know anything is happening. Until finally, after quite a bit of energy, and every other car jolting forward, you feel the click and pull of the train as the caboose gets underway.

That’s what great presenters do. They bring all of their energy out to the audience. They lead the room and get them pumped. It starts slowly but after awhile the energy starts working on the audience and they start leaning in. Eventually the whole room is going the same direction, which makes it easier on the presenter but it takes a lot of work at the beginning.

I remember telling comedic hosts and worship leaders:

“Can you give me just a little more excitement?” “Smile a little more?” “It doesn’t look like you’re having fun?”

It was always funny because most of the time they’d agree and then do the set or the skit exactly like they had just done it. See they felt like they were adding energy but in the audience? In the caboose? We felt nothing. They didn’t seem excited. They didn’t seem happy.

When you’re on stage you can’t just smile with your mouth, you have to smile with your entire face, your voice, your expressions. You have to exude happiness. You’ll feel like you’re smiling too much.

Meanwhile. In the crowd? In the caboose? We’re just now starting to get the feeling and the direction.

So if you have presenters or you are a presenter that feels like you’re overselling it or are too energetic, most of the time you’re putting in just the right energy. I’m not saying there aren’t people that come on too strong or are overwhelming for an audience. There certainly are. But most of the time when you’re working, especially with volunteers, you’re trying to coach them to come out of their shell. The first step is understanding that the lights, the noise, the energy always seems like it’s louder on the stage. But for the audience to feel the energy and move, you need to keep chugging.

Photo by Maxim Melnikov on Unsplash


  1. This is fabulous! I love the analogy. You really presented a new perspective for me, or maybe it just “clicked” for the first time. Thank you for constantly striving for excellence and for seeing the excellence in your team!

    Liked by 1 person

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