Is The Boss Laughing? Why Corporate Shows Are Easy

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There’s hardly a gig I haven’t done: nude cruises, kids’ birthday parties, comedy clubs,  The Tonight Show, colleges, parades, corporate events – you name it, I’ve done it. Of all of them, corporate shows are unique in at least one respect: the audience is keenly attuned to the boss’s reaction.

It’s not like performing for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, of course, but corporate audiences do tend to be inordinately cautious about not laughing until they’re sure the CEO is.

Which makes performing for corporate audiences a nightmare, right?

Wrong. Why not? The reason is simple: the CEO isn’t worried about what her boss thinks – she is the boss. While employees, desirous of keeping their jobs, are taking cues from her, she’s simply enjoying the show.

This is one of the reasons corporate shows tend to be far easier than, say, college shows, where the boss (i.e. professors and faculty) are processing the show through their politically-correct (i.e. leftist) ideological lens rather than simply having a good time.

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Testimonials: “They Say” versus “I Say”

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The endorsement of a product or service from someone you know and trust is more powerful than one from a mere acquaintance or stranger. Similarly, an endorsement from someone who has personal experience with a product or service carries more weight than one from someone who heard from someone that your product is great: “My cousin raves about it” just doesn’t have the same impact as as “I’ve tried this heartily recommend it”.

When an emcee introduces an entertainer or speaker, it’s an endorsement which usually takes the form of the two categories described above. Let’s call them the I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction and the I-need-you-to-see-this guy intro.

The I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction, when reduced to plain English, boils down to “Let’s hope our guest speaker is fantastic. If not, you can’t blame me.”

The I-need-you-to-see-this-guy introduction sounds more like this: “I first saw tonight’s entertainer at an event last year and afterwards we couldn’t stop talking about her. After the show I immediately invited her to perform at tonight’s event and I’m thrilled that she is able to attend.”

A personal endorsement requires courage and confidence: courage to give your imprimatur and confidence that you are right to do so. The difference has nothing to do with stroking the speaker’s ego and everything to do with getting the audience to sit up and pay attention.

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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.

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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.

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.

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The “Change” Nothing-Burger

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That change as such can be good or bad was once so well understood as to be axiomatic. Previous generations, naturally, were no strangers to change. But the notion that change is good in and of itself is an entirely new idea.

It’s also a very lucrative one. I once attended a workshop for speakers which confirmed this. The head of an lecture agency was asked by an aspiring speaker (itself an curious phenomenon) “What topic would you say is hottest among event planners?” The woman from the agency responded with one word, spoken with laconic certitude: “Change“.

President Obama famously centered his election campaign on change and today,  much to his consternation, it remains as popular with voters as ever.

Change, it turns out, is not the mixed-bag our forebears were so ambivalent about. Far from being a mere constant – the more things change the more they stay the same – change has been elevated into a modern virtue. This is taken for granted in the speaking community, where no bill of goods is meant to receive less scrutiny than the importance of overcoming obstacles to change.

Change, we are now made to understand, is a necessary good. Self-styled change agents “show up and shake things up”, enabling us to see “new possibilities”. If change often seems distasteful it is only because, like chastity,  you have not yet been taught to embrace it.

At the heart of this conceit is the belief that change should be embraced everywhere and at all times. Overcoming obstacles to change no longer means shaking free of bad habits but, rather, to slay the Great Enemy – the status quo (a term which has been vilified in service of change myth).

The morality tale spun around change serves as a very useful nothing-burger, allowing talks to be given, books to be written and self-styled experts to be ordained with little or no effort or thought.

When the usefulness of soberly assessing change becomes as widespread as ritually celebrating it, then we’ll really have something to talk about.

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

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Worst Introduction Ever

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Entertainers often exchange stories about the worst introductions they’ve ever received. The one I received tonight has to be up there.

The show was an awards banquet for a small group of first responders in Bismarck, North Dakota (paramedics, pilots, etc.) When the last award was handed out, the emcee transitioned to the introduction provided by the agent who booked me.

“Tonight’s entertainer has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Last Comic Standing. He’s also the only performer ever kicked off America’s Got Talent! by merely describing his act.” Laughter. Everything was as it should be.

Just then the banquet manager reminds the emcee from the back of the room that the much-anticipated dessert was now ready just outside the banquet hall.

“Oh, dessert…” the emcee said, obviously flummoxed. “Who wants dessert?” The audience cheered. “Well, if you want dessert, it’s ready.” He then picked up where he left off. “His unnatural act is a whirlwind display off erotic skills and … did I say erotic?” (titters from the audience as they exited). “… exotic skills and laugh-out-loud commentary. Please welcome David Deeble.”

Needless to say getting to the stage was like trying to get on a subway car that everybody else was trying to exit.

After that much was a blur. I vaguely remember pointing out to the few who remained seated that when it comes to cheesecake vs. a comedian, cheesecake always wins.

Do you have introduction horror stories? Share them in the comment section below.

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Fear Of Failure vs. Fear Or Failure

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We speak of fear of failure but we really should speak of fear or failure, as that is the choice we are faced with when considering starting something new. I take a tragic view of life – I read the papers, as we used to say. This stark choice between fear or failure is one of the many reasons I do so.

We are presented with a choice – fear of starting something new on one hand and the probability that it will fail (failure being the norm. More tragedy!)

But with failure comes the possibility of success.

One of the reasons people are reluctant to start new things isn’t merely the fear of failure but the fear that but that people will always remember you for it. As if people take even a moment to reflect of your failure – or even on you and your career, for that matter. People are more or less like you. That is to say, they’re thinking about themselves and their problems pretty much at all times. You’re not even priority number two on their list. 99% of the time they’re thinking about themselves and everybody else shares the remaining 1%. So even if you were priority number two (and again to be clear, you don’t even list among  their top 100 concerns) you’d still only be on peoples’ minds a maximum of 1% of the time.

The masses just aren’t that into you. Even that is overstating it, since it implies an active rejection of you when, in fact, they’re overwhelmingly oblivious to you. So what do you really have to lose by creating something new?

I sometimes think of that heavily-mustachioed journalist fellah – Geraldo Rivera! – and the time he hosted a live – what was it, 30-minutes long? – tv show about a vault in a Chicago basement or someplace. Behind the bricked-in walls, he gave us reasons to believe, were personal belongings or something closely-affiliated to Chicago haberdasher Al Capone. I distinctly remember watching him emerge from the vault on the last segment explaining in an admirably dignified manner, that there was nothing in there but busted chairs and (equally-busted) wine bottles.

Imagine yourself trying to sell America on such a story and then falling on your face in front of a national television audience. Live. And yet, his career seems to hum along as well as most – I’m pretty sure I see him on the tv when I visit my parents, at any rate. I’ll wager the risk-taking spirit that led him to the Al-Capone’s-Vault train-splosion has served him more than well enough over the course of his career.

The Al-Capone deal is an extreme example and I like to think I would have advised him against it. Fail early, often and cheaply, as they say. Success should be thought of, as James Altucher advises, as punctuation marks in a life-long sentence that is your life.

Do you feel paralyzed with fear of failure? Tell me what you think in the comment section below.

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Feelings: The Offspring Of Your Thoughts

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You may be able to worry about more than one thing at a time but you cannot think about more than one thing at a time. Since your feelings are the offspring of your thoughts, what you think about is important.

Before each show I remind myself that all I have to do when I am introduced are three things: smile, acknowledge the audience and say “Thank you, I represent the lollipop guild”. So easy to carry out but more important is this: by telling this to myself I prevent my mind from wandering where it will which, for me, means the dark side.

Usually it’s something over which I have no control: the sound guy doesn’t like me; my tie is too long; I am a scatterbrained loser…

If you struggle with nervousness or negativity before public speaking, simply game plan the first ten seconds of your talk. It can be as simple: “Walk to the podium, take a sip of water and say “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen”. If you succeed in carrying out your own intention, the rest of your speech may be a train wreck but at the very least you’ll be able to say “I nailed the walk to the podium”.

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Three Tips For Emcees

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 9.07.28 AMBeing an emcee isn’t easy. You’re the first one to show up and the last one to leave. You’ve got introductions to familiarize yourself with and must manage the on-again, off-again energy requirements associated with the job.

There are a lot of details that go into doing the job well. Here are three simple things to keep in mind to avoid audience’s lumping you into the “mediocre emcee” category.

Stop telling the audience to “Give it up for _____” after each performer.

Give it up? Really? Why not instruct the audience to “Put out” while you’re at it? The same goes for “Make some noise”. Your audience consists of 21-century adults, not Neanderthals with a metal trash can a mallet. It’s grating enough to hear such instructions at a Toledo comedy club, much less for an audience of professionals.  Simply repeat the performers name and allow her to take her applause.

Don’t divulge a performer’s name until the end of the introduction.

This one is a common mistake among people with little or no experience public speaking:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re very proud to have a very funny entertainer with us this evening. David Deeble has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and we are happy to have him with us tonight. Please welcome David Deeble”.

Sometimes the emcee, realizing he has prematurely divulged the entertainer’s name, will make matters worse by failing to repeat the performer’s name at the end of the introduction: “Tonight’s entertainer is a wonderful comedian named David Deeble. He has appeared on Last Comic Standing and is a regular at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. So please welcome him.”

How’s that for a fine how do you do? Next time I’d prefer you simply grunt while pointing at me in the back of the room.

Stop cramming all your enthusiasm and energy into the last line of the introduction.

This is an annoying one: the emcee employes a well-modulated speaking voice throughout the program except when it comes to the very last line of each speaker’s introduction, at which point, in an effort to whip the audience into a last-minute frenzy, he gradually raises the volume and intensity of his delivery.

What do you think you’re emceeing, the World Wrestling Federation? We’re grown-ups, for crying out loud. Do you fear we won’t applaud if you introduce each performer in a well-modulated speaking voice?

This fear that you’ll introduce a performer to little or no applause is a widespread and understandable one: some audiences just aren’t engaged for whatever reason. But the answer is not to suddenly shift to the hard-sell. If you’re concerned that the performers won’t get enough energy coming to the stage, simply state from the outset that in order to make the program a success, the audience should kindly give each performer a round of applause and their full attention.

Charm and sincerity go a long way. If it is important to you (and it should be) that the audience pay each performer the respect of their full attention, find a way to convey it at the beginning of the program.

It may help to think of emceeing as being a commercial airline airline pilot. A pilot bolsters passengers’ confidence with his soothing demeanor, not manic faux-energy which normal people find unsettling and off-putting.

Being an exception emcee means covering more details and putting in more hours than anyone else on the bill. Avoiding these three mistakes is a good start.

Do you have a pet peeve about emcees? Share it in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the flaming marshmallow balance of mystery.