Speakers: Be Quiet But Not Sneaky Quiet

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 2.00.58 PMWhat’s more distracting: a speaker who openly refers to the clipboard in her hand or one who stares long and hard at the top of the podium each time she takes a sip of water? One who furtively glances at his watch to see how he’s doing on time or one who makes no effort to conceal doing so?

Many years ago when I moved into a friend’s house he asked that when arriving home late at night that I be quiet but not “sneaky quiet”. Cautiously turning the key and gently opening the front door; tip-toeing around the house to prevent the floors from creaking: all these things, he explained, are not only more likely to wake him but more likely to terrify him in the middle of the night. The routine sounds of a respectful housemate coming home late, on the other hand, might wake him briefly but would also send him quickly back to sleep.

Much better for all involved to simply be open about it.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform a bar trick on the Late Late Show.

 

In Praise Of Checklists

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-5-51-50-pm

Work out your principles during moments of calm so you can refer to them quickly during times of panic. .

I keep a checklist for everything I require for a full show, which covers everything from plastic grocery bags to a marshmallow. Because I know my checklist is comprehensive – created as it was during a period of reflection – it frees my mind to focus on more important things before the show like the specific needs of my client.

Consider the amateur actor who invests so much time “identifying with the character” and “investing emotionally” in the script only to walk onstage only to realize that he hasn’t memorized his lines.

Recently I got to thinking about Gene Krantz, the legendary vest-clad flight director of NASA’s Apollo space program. What a high-pressure job I thought. Imagine being the sole person responsible for green lighting a launch of human beings into space.

But then I got to thinking: Wait a minute: this guy has numerous others in charge of every conceivable aspect of the mission. Responsibility is broken down into incredible detail. Krantz’ job was basically ensuring that the vote is unanimous. He’s just a straw counter!

There’s the guy in charge of the rocket’s hydraulics. The mainframe computer. Even the lowly flight surgeon is on hand to monitor the astronauts’ heart rate. What does that leave for Krantz? Nothing other than the awesome responsibility of saying “You’re go for launch, Apollo”. Put me in a vest and I could do that job.

“Ah!” I hear you say. “But what about when something goes wrong like on Apollo 13?” Are you kidding me? That’s the easiest press conference in the world: you simply gesture to the guy in charge of that aspect of the mission that went to pot and say “Look – he said we were good to go. Now you’ll excuse me – I’m going to get quietly hammered.”

Return to daviddeeble.com or learn about my laugh-out-loud corporate presentation Winning With A Bad Hand.

The Power of Perception: “I thought I was running late”

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 2.14.34 PM

It’s happened to me many times: my mind racing to ensure I meet a deadline, I sloppily read my watch and think I have an hour less than I really have. The stress hits you as quickly as a migraine. My body tightens, mistakes are compounded and I’m focused inward instead of at the task at hand.

Again checking my watch to see if I was on schedule, I realized my mistake. With the “extra” hour, the symptoms melted away. My body worked efficiently while my mind turned to long-term projects and family.

I think you see where I’m going with this: the same facts on the ground but two differing perceptions resulting in quite different results. I once took it for granted that I would get around to learning to juggle 7 balls. I never did and that’s okay.

I left home yesterday morning at 2:30 a.m. LAX, surely the most charmless of all our big city airports, is at that hour and the several that follow it actually a dream. 6 a.m. is the most beautiful time to fly: services have no lines; security goes as quickly as it does in Bismarck, North Dakota. You can literally stroll onto the plane. Even the bathroom floors are clean. It enhances the experience, stuff like that.

After a transfer in Newark I descended into Burlington after dark on a wet New England evening. I picked up my bags, threw them in the rental and drove for an hour-and-a half over hill and dale through the inky blackness that is rural Vermont on November nights. My monkey brain is telling me I’m running late. It’s trying to ratchet up my stress level to get me to respond. My manly brain confirms that I have plenty of time to arrive and set-up and that, worst-case scenario, I can drive directly to the show and check-into the hotel afterwards, which is what I did. No stress, I simply did the math and knew that barring an accident or a flat, if I simply took my time and drove carefully all would be gold.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 2.16.05 PM

If I went onstage looking for sympathy from the audience for my long day of planes, trains and automobiles in order to get there, well, I had come to the wrong place. And why should they care? Unless you’ve got a funny story to tell about it, get on with the show.

This is the sort of thing one learns with experience: when everything is falling into place as it should, sometimes it’s best to keep a light touch. The audience doesn’t care what I went through to get there: they care about what they went through to get there.

 

Strong Body, Focused Mind

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 1.37.15 PM

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.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

Whipping The Audience Into A Frenzy Is Your Job, Not The Audience’s

a

There are two ways to get the response you desire of an audience: earn it or demand that they fake it. The latter is characterized by the badgering of the audience over their insufficient zeal.

I understand you need energy. But why not energize the audience by doing something energizing?

I recently performed in a show emceed by a very nice guy who constantly reminded the audience the urgency of being whipped into a frenzy at all times.  I’m not complaining about the rote “Please give a warm Jacksonville welcome to…” I’m talking about the show business equivalent to North Korea’s forcing its citizens to out-wail one another over the death of Kim Jong Il.

“How you doing, everybody?!?! C’mon, you can do better than that, people! Let me hear you say APCA!” The college students gamely supplied what the emcee was desperately seeking: empty cheering which vanished the moment they were directed their attention to the next bauble.

One of those baubles was me. My approach was not the emcee’s: I believe that if the if the audience has shown up, shut up and given you their full attention then you can’t ask more of them. My job, as an entertainer, is to evoke a certain response and then to shape it, be it laughter, applause or even nervous silence.

By the time I came to the stage the audience had been participating in this showcase/social experiment for several days and were now downright Pavlovian in their response. There might as well have been digital Applause signs flashing on each side of the stage. I had anticipated this (even the most obstinate can’t help learning a thing or two over time) so I knew long before taking the stage that my task was to get this Ticonderoga-class ship to stop on a dime and begin responding more naturally: that is, without prompting.

Audiences are you like you and me, though: if you do a thing worth watching then they will tend to watch it. The key then becomes maintaining their engagement.  My philosophy is that whether you’re a teacher, sword swallower, speaker or comedy juggler, you must strive to be be interesting every moment from beginning to end.  Some things naturally make doing so more difficult (a drunken heckler) while others make it easier (a 4-year old drunken heckler).

Am I nuts? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com.

 

Indifference: The Cruelest Criticism Of All

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.27.56 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two types of critics: those who wish to help you improve  and those who wish to discourage you from improving. It’s difficult to generalize about the former: these generous critics may or may not have not have experienced the trial-and-error process necessary to achieve success.

The latter, however – the cynical, petty critics – have little or no personal experience with success or, for that matter, even failure. If they did, they’d know that criticism – even unfair criticism – has no discernible effect on those who see failure as a speed bump and nothing more.

Those who criticize in order to discourage are engaged in projection: why else do they do so unless criticism had a discouraging effect on them?

So don’t waste time wondering if criticism comes from “a good place”: the critic knows where it comes from and all that matters. Your job is to be thankful that you even merited their attention, indifference being the cruelest criticism of all.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform live at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood.

Panic vs. Professionalism

When it comes to life or death decisions, your monkey brain does a far better job than your conscious mind. If you’re in a car skidding out of control, it can save your life. It causes your eyes, ears, hands and feet to focus and function maximally, thereby preventing you from allocating precious mental energy mid-skid to such potentially-deadly thoughts such as “I’m such a loser for driving so carelessly on ice”.

Such thoughts – if thought at all – are best reserved for such a time when survival is assured. Unfortunately, our monkey brain never shuts up, treating every decision we face as a life-changing, if not potentially life-ending.

Being a professional means learning to ignore your monkey brain.

Some time ago a particularly talented and accomplished friend arranged to attend my show. I felt honored by this and told him so. I was honored even more when he announced his intention to attend my return engagement at the same venue just ten months later.

Shortly before the show I was walking on the sidewalk outside the venue and there was my friend! “Hey, are you doing any new material?” he asked. “I’ve got some new stand-up” I said, meekly. “Just new stand-up?” he said. “Plus I kick a coin into my eye socket now” I added, now more desperate than meek.

“But haven’t you always done that one?” he wanted to know. I explained that it was never a staple of my act and now it is, thanks to a new context I found for it.

“Well, I may not stick around for the entire show”.

It would have been easy to listen to what my monkey brain was chattering at me: “You’re a loser! Why would you ever think he’d want to see the same show he saw just ten months ago?”

At that moment – less than two hours before taking the stage – my job entails, among other things, being in a positive frame of mind. If circumstance did not quickly place my friend in the company of others, I would have had to politely excuse myself from his presence.

In other words, although not yet onstage I was already work and I wasn’t going to let anyone prevent me from finishing the job.

I often think of the movie Apollo 13, in which the astronauts and their support team on earth must show tremendous creativity and work ethic in order save the astronauts’ lives. As professionals, they know that frustration is deadly. A sense of being overwhelmed is deadly. Reflecting on the unfairness of it all is deadly. Wondering how it will all turn out is deadly.

Such subjects are appropriate over beers once the mission is complete, but when you have a job to do they serve only as distractions. When saving a life means saying “You’re going to build a filter out of duct tape, nylon and a coat hanger”, it doesn’t help to add “Does that frustrate you?”

If it’s not part of the mission, it compromises the mission.

Not long ago I would have thought that my friend’s boorish behavior came at the worst-possible moment. But as a professional, I realized that his timing was perfect: after all, I had a job to do and was therefore free to politely ignore him, which is what I did by focusing on the task at hand.

Do you have thoughts on professionalism? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com or wach me juggle in fast motion on The Tonight Show.

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.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.02.15 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 9.40.46 PM

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.

Perfection: The Enemy Of The Better

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 7.36.35 AM

I enjoy minimalism. I’m also an advocate of it when it comes to personal growth – a little bit better at something or other over the course of your entire life and you’re doing pretty darn good.

Many people are impatient with small improvements over time because they have a perfectionist inside them whispering “If I can’t do a thing perfectly right now, what’s the point?” Whether the issue is saving enough money for retirement or getting married, the attitude is “It’s far too late for me”. And then a decade passes and you look at a photo of yourself from the present and think “Man, I looked great. If only…”

Perfectionism is ultimately a form of nihilism which allows it’s practitioners to say “What difference does it make?” And so your blog goes unattended for weeks (or months), you fail to finish anything you start, etc.

In a post-internet world in which the appetite for new information is constant, the costs of stinking up the place on a regular basis have never been lower. The world isn’t even riding on your success. That the world doesn’t care about your failures is a great consolation.

So you wrote what might be the worst serious attempt at a blog post in the history of the internet. (Consider describing it as such and posting it to Tumblr). So what? Life – and your work – go on.

When America’s Got Talent! invited me on their show I thought “Sure, why not?” I did entirely on my own terms, what more could I ask? The audience at the taping seemed to be mostly 13-year old girls. Not exactly in my wheelhouse. I went on to become the only performer on the history of the show to be buzzed off by merely describing my act.

The point is I don’t regret it: I don’t have time to.

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