Event Production and the Most Important Person in the Room

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“Boarding the plane this morning I very politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that *** wife and I could sit together.”

Crickets. Silence. Due to a technical snag the audience missed only one, three-letter word. But that’s all it takes. A comedian knows where the laughs go but an audience, hearing the story for the first time, has to figure out for themselves. To do that, they need to be able to hear every single word.

The technical aspects of event production aren’t as mundane as they may seem: don’t spend a lot of money on a remarkable speaker or entertainer without ensuring that the sound is equally remarkable.

“Boarding the plane this morning I very politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.”

Laughter. Magic. Connection.

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Today in False Choices: People Versus Profits

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Consulting with corporations about the importance of putting “people before profits” is mutually beneficial to both speaker and corporation: the latter is afforded cheap virtue and the former an expensive lifestyle. In the world of speaking and corporate consulting, espousing the people-before-profits narrative is, as with authenticity and diversity, simply good business practice.

This value-for-value model is lost on the very same speakers who take it for granted that profits are suspect in and of themselves. These self-styled experts fail to see that, unlike President Obama’s facile description of the tension between liberty and security, people v. profits really is a false choice. Yet companies throughout the U.S. are happy to self-flagellate before speaker after speaker, pretending to temporarily forget that which reality will forever remind them: that profits are a pretty darn good measure of the extent to which you have served others.

At the heart of the people-before-profits movement is a ambivalence about the dignity and morality of business. In popular culture this idea is most evident in movies and on television, where businessmen are almost invariably portrayed as either moral bankrupts (Wall Street) or courageous heroes who unveil the moral bankruptcy the business (Michael Clayton).

The Birkenstock set in particular has built an entire cottage industry around apologizing for being in business, from technology entrepreneur Kate Emery to speaker Dan Pallotta to the TED talks, where the “ideas worth spreading” overwhelmingly assume the people v. profits model.

Into this world of received wisdom enters Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments For Making Money. Lapin’s thesis is that far from being something to be ashamed of, profits should be seen for what they are: a blessing and a measure of our success serving our fellows.

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Strong Body, Focused Mind

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I was in great shape last January. For some reason I decided to into great shape for an engagement on my calendar – something I had never even considered doing before.

Why did I do so this time? One reason that it was a weeklong run at the Magic Castle and after all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

By the end of the week I learned some interesting things. For one thing, the strength I’d built up from moderate, consistent distance running running and working out with babies effectively reduced the physical workload of performing. More pertinent, onstage it freed my min  to focus on more pertinent things, like what am I doing with my life?

Was is it worth it? This Magic Castle bootleg nicely conveys the incredible reserves of energy my act requires.

In 24 days I’ll need to again be physically strong for my mind’s sake. I’ll make it – but it starts today.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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Event Planning And The Scourge Of Round Banquet Tables

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Let’s be serious for a moment: audiences should be seated facing the speaker.

Imagine a photographer going from round banquet table to round banquet table taking pictures of people without asking anyone to turn around and face the camera. To do so would be absurd. But it’s no more absurd than introducing a speaker or entertainer when much of the audience – by virtue of the fact that they’re sitting at round banquet tables – still have their backs squarely facing the podium or stage.

Before introducing an entertainer or speaker to the stage, take a page from the photographer playbook and request that those whose backs are to the stage to at least offer the presenter their profile.

This and a few other simple changes very often make the difference between an audience which is engaged and one that is not.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury forced me to reinvent myself from a conventional to a comedic juggler.

Happy Performers Make Happy Audiences

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The Orange County Magic & Comedy Showcase in Orange, California is remarkable: instead of limiting the amount of time performers spend on stage, its producer and emcee Joe Derry limits the number of performers. By leaving it to performers to self-police their time on stage, they are freed to spend all their focus on what they’re doing.

Everyone – including the audience – benefits tremendously.

“No one is prowling the back of the room with a watch and a flashlight, waiting to give you your two-minute light” explains Derry. The result is like a much-needed breath of fresh air: performers are relaxed and enjoy an unmistakable sense of camaraderie that’s virtually impossible with the assign-a-slot mindset that prevails at so many showcases.

When I was building up my stand-up comedy act at open-mics, giving performers “the light” was deemed a necessity – and few things go further to ensure that performers are put on ice from the moment they arrive.

By limiting the number of sign-ups instead of the amount of time they spend on stage, Derry’s showcase avoids another problem that famously vexes the format: an audience that consists mostly of sign-ups anxiously waiting their turn. At the OCMC showcase, the audience is comprised overwhelmingly of Orange county locals patently grateful to have a different (and free) magic show right in their own backyard each month.

Learning magic under the auspices of the Long Beach Mystics, Joe Derry knows that happy entertainers mean happy audiences: a lesson more bookers and show producers would do well to learn.

(In addition the monthly showcase, Joe also stars in his own weekly show, Merlin’s Magic & Comedy Dinner Theatre. Both are hosted by the Rib Trader restaurant).

Questions or comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me relate an awkward conversation I had on an elevator.

Generating Buzz And Power Of The Unexpected

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Some time ago I was thinking of ways to increase my post-show merchandise sales. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable when watching other performers attempt to reach into the pockets of their audience before the conclusion of their show and I had little desire to follow their example.

But then an idea occurred to me: what about thanking my volunteer during each show by giving him a complimentary edition of my dvd Look What I Can Do! (Not available online or in stores!) That way I could at least make audiences aware that I have merchandise without doing any kind of onstage hard-sell – or any onstage selling at all, for that matter.

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I kept it simple: after inviting my volunteer to return to his seat (to the audience’s applause, of course), I would produce my dvd and point out the following: “Now, Steve, here was sitting in the audience just like the rest of you folks, but then I plucked him out of the ether, as it were, and he found himself onstage in front of everyone with spotlight in his eyes and so forth. And I think he did a great job assisting me. So I’m going to give him a complimentary dvd of my entire show.”

Having performed thousands of shows throughout my life, I thought I had encountered every kind of audience response, from utter indifference to nervous laughter to hanging onto every word that comes out of my mouth in anticipation of more hilarity. But I had never encountered the response of audiences to giving something away unexpectedly.

I’ve given away countless dvds in this manner over the last couple of years and audiences always respond in the same manner, yet it never ceases to amaze me. How to describe it? They react to this unselfconscious act of thanking my volunteer (while making them aware of a thing) with… a gasp. No, not the kind of gasp that’s triggered by performing a dangerous stunt or boarding an airplane wearing shorts. It’s the kind of gasp that results from witnessing the unexpected.

It’s important to note that it’s the unexpectedness of the gesture rather than the magnitude of its generosity that generates the buzz: after all, though slick-looking, each dvd cost me only a couple of bucks to mass produce. (But even there, my volunteer discovers more unexpected surprises inside, such as a blooper reel and commentary feature in which I describe how I dreamt up each routine and so forth).

I always thought I should be able to create and sustain buzz by simply doing  great work. But great work my audiences and clients expect. A little gift for a volunteer for briefly helping me out onstage? That’s unexpected.

By thinking up ways to improve my merchandise sales I accidentally discovered a way to generate the kind of joy and excitement that every performer and salesperson seeks.

Naturally, if my volunteer so desires I’ll sign the dvd for him after the show. How’s that for a great way to start a conversation?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Leave your comments in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me try out new jokes on a baby.

Sound and the First Principles of Event Production

“Sound”, says a character in David Mamet’s play A Life In The Theater, is “the crown prince of phenomena.”

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Entertainers and audiences know that at larger events, no amount of glitz, name-recognition or talent can compete against an improperly functioning sound system. Sadly, many sound engineers (and at smaller events, those who pass for them) do not seem to appreciate the importance of their job.

I’m not talking about a musician-like preoccupation with the “color” of the sound coming out of the speakers at your event. I’m talking about basics, like an event that is 100% feedback-free. Preoccupied with ensuring they properly execute the performer’s cues, amateurs (and, sadly, many professionals) tend to forget the most-basic cue of all: distraction-free sound.

The volume should be properly modulated. The maximum allowable amount of feedback is zero. If wearing a wireless microphone, the speaker’s voice should be amplified the moment she takes the stage.

This last example is particularly pertinent to me. My opening line – Thank you, I represent the lollipop guild – concludes within two seconds of my walk-on applause. The laugh it receives is intense and then swells to fill the entire room. A huge laugh at nearly the instant I’m introduced is my message to each individual in the audience: pay attention or you’ll miss something hilarious.

It may surprise you, then, how many sound engineers seem to think that amplifying my voice is something to get around to around the time I’m introduced.

As a result, at some point during each rehearsal with a sound engineer with whom I am unfamiliar, I must embarrass myself (and humiliate the engineer) by pointing out that my microphone must be functioning properly from the moment I am introduced. (And no sooner. Yes, this, incredibly, is also a problem).

Does this sound axiomatic that I needn’t point it out to a professional? Does it sound patronizing? In in a world where most professions (including my own) are characterized by mediocrity rather competence, I have no choice but to point it out.

Sometimes attention to detail can cause us to lose sight of basics. Think the actor who works himself into such an emotional frenzy that he fails to make his lines understood. The marathoner who, after months of training, fails to pack his shoes for the race.

They’re called first principles for a reason.

Event planners too-often lose sight of getting the perfect speaker or entertainer for their event and leave the soundboard in the hands of someone unfamiliar with the first-principles of production.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my fake-microphone gag.

There’s One In Every Crowd – So Why Fret?

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When it comes to distractions while performing, entertainers tend to feel the pea beneath the mattress. I wish I had a nickel for each time I directed my attention the one person in the audience who doesn’t seem to “get” it. One of the most-challenging aspects of live performance is learning not to focus on the disinterested man, the disengaged woman and distracting 3-year old heckler.

Every speaker and entertainer need to decide who in the audience they want to win over. One has a choice: to direct your attention to the gal in the front row who’s clearly not “rolling with it” or to the vast majority of the audience who is.

When you “have the floor”, it’s natural to be hypersensitive to the least little distraction. One example from memory: I was performing in a cavernous theater before a large audience when a woman in the front row began crinkling the plastic wrapper of the lozenge she had just placed in her mouth. It was barely audible to me, let alone the rest of the audience. I decided, however, that it was important to make her (and therefore the rest of the audience) aware of it and that would she kindly refrain from it?

The audience’s reaction: What the hell is this guy referring to? The fact is, no one in the audience was paying any attention to it because they were paying attention to me. I had earned their attention by being interesting – and I threw it away when I drew their attention to the busy fingers of the woman in the front row.

There will always be distractions from time to time – a glass will shatter on the floor, for example – which would be awkward to let pass without any comment. But unless you’re absolutely certain that something which occurs “outside the lines” requires commentary from you, nine times out of ten you won’t regret ignoring it.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me juggle (now-banned) plastic grocery bags on The Tonight Show.

Event Planners And The Folly Of The “5-Minute Break”

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For many event planners, few things seem to make more sense than inserting a 5-minute break just before the entertainment is to begin. Attendees, after all, will have spent a good chunk of time sitting through a lengthy awards ceremony or something similar, so what could make more sense than inserting a “short break” to stretch their legs so that they can fully enjoy the entertainment that follows?

As it happens, it’s a terrible idea for all involved: for the speaker or entertainer, certainly, but most of all for the audience. Take the awards ceremony example: the employee-of-the-year award has finally been handed out. It’s is the culmination of the evening. The volume, energy and excitement in the room is at its peak. Now is the time to harness that energy and channel it into introducing the evening’s entertainment, right? Instead, you invite everybody to step outside for just long enough to have a cigarette.

And this is assuming, of course, that five-minutes after the break has commenced that everyone will have taken care of their business and is now settled in, which of course never happens. In reality, for most of those in attendance it takes five minutes to just to begin a break. (I lived in Germany for several years and even there a 15-minute pause is understood to mean closer to 20 minutes. You think you’re going to wrangle up 400 Americans in five minutes? Let me know how that goes).

Shortly before an event recently the planner gave me a run down of the evening. When he got to the “short, five-minute break” (not to be confused with a long five-minute break) before I was to be introduced, I interrupted him.

“About that five-minute break. Can we just skip that?”

“Sure. Why?” he said.

Then I read him this blog. Just kidding: I explained that in my experience all the only thing a short break accomplishes is the entertainer is introduced with no focus: people are milling about, standing in line for drinks with their backs turned to the stage, etc.

Then his eyes lit up as if I was describing something in his own experience. It turns out, I was: “Hey, yeah!” he exclaimed. “We had that exact same situation last year when we had a stand-up comedian at our event. Nobody was paying attention until about ten minutes into the show.”

Gee, I can’t imagine why.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch learn how I reinvented myself after a head injury forced me to become a comedic juggler after years of being a conventional one.

Seek Growth, Not Change

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 8.12.03 PMSpeakers too mediocre to talk about virtues talk about values; speakers too mediocre to talk about values talk about change.

Presentations about “obstacles to change” are nothing-burgers because “change” as such is neither good nor bad. Becoming a father constitutes change, so does infanticide. Being neither good nor bad, change as such is the seemingly-safe route for the speaker who lacks the courage or qualifications to talk about growth.

Obstacles to growth (be it personal, professional or organizational) is a legitimate topic because growth, unlike change, is a virtue. Speakers tend to avoid talking about growth, however, because it is verifiable, measurable and has an aroma of free-market competitiveness which the corporate world is desperate to avoid.

Change, conversely, has a patina of virtue which affords organizations the opportunity to engage in moral exhibitionism while avoiding a naked exploration of new ways to increase marketshare.

Do you have thoughts about change? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or learn more about my corporate presentation here.