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.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance on the Late Late 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.”

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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.

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.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

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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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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Excellence, Low Expectations and Graphic Design

It’s said that one of the nice things about being a pessimist is that you’re rarely disappointed. This has certainly been true in my experience, which is why I am no longer disappointed when I am referred to – to my face! – as “the next customer”: I simply expect it.

Incompetence is the rule, not the exception, and when a professional not only embodies its opposite but greatly surpasses it, that professional is someone everyone wants to work with. Such a professional is Holly Davis of Honeycomb Designs.

Holly exceeds her clients’ expectations at every turn. I connected with her after she left a comment on my blog about running over a deer in Germany and boy, was I glad she did.Since then, she has worked her special brand of magic to create for me everything from logos and t-shirts to posters mailing-list sign-ups.

My theatrical logo…

Theatrical Signature

 

My corporate logo…

Corporate Signature

 

A poster promoting my shows at The Magic Castle…

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A poster promoting my corporate work…

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A poster promoting my U.S. military tour…

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My t-shirt design…

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Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

 

Big, Empty and Quiet: 7 Ways to Foster Energy in an Otherwise Dead Room

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Sometimes by solving one problem you create another.

This came to mind recently when I performed on a cruise line featuring something called “freestyle cruising”. Long gone are the bad old days when passengers had two choices: dinner followed by a show or a show followed by dinner. Today, passengers make reservations to eat whenever they like – and at an increasing variety of onboard restaurants. In addition to dinner reservations, passengers have a long list of other by-appointment activities to participate in such as rock climbing or ice skating. This means more options for passengers and more onboard revenue for the cruise line. But here’s the rub: as onboard options proliferate, some passengers now complain about a lack of opportunity to take in each night’s headline entertainment.

One cruise line’s solution was to adopt what they call their “3/35” format: instead of the industry standard of two nightly, 45-50 minute performances, passengers now have three seatings to choose from, with each show lasting only 35 minutes.

Having protected itself from passenger complaints about lack of opportunity to get good seats at the shows, the cruise line now receives a new complaint: the extraordinarily low-key atmosphere that prevails these sparsely-attended, third-seating performances. This problem would be less acute in a small venue, but with showrooms at sea increasingly the size of small countries, one of the three shows invariably feels more like a dress rehearsal: an ideal atmosphere for teenagers in the audience to make out in semi-privacy but hardly the high energy environment one strives for in a live show. The message sent is less “It’s showtime!” than “Here’s your third-seating performance now leave us alone, you ding bats.”

Having come the long way around the barn, here are eight simple practices to avoid the “dead room” effect.

1: Provide incentives for people to sit near the stage. In the example above, the cruise line could place on each front-row seat a free bingo card or raffle ticket or one of the  trinkets (coffee mugs, key chains) for which passengers have shown themselves willing to knock over old ladies and infants.

2: Close off the balcony. But what if someone insists on watching from the balcony? Then make something up. Tell them the balcony seats have just been shampooed. That it’s just been fumigated and poisonous for a while. Or better yet, be straightforward and tell them the truth: that it’s your policy to close the balcony so long as there are seats available below.

3: Arrange for ushers to politely encourage people to sit near the front and you’ll find that others will soon follow suit without any prompting. Remember that people are far more inclined to sit near the front if they aren’t the first to do so.

4: Tape-off the back rows or, better yet, splurge for some seat covers  (“Reserved”!) to funnel people toward the sweet spot: front and center.

5: Play some pre-show music already! It can be high-energy like The Beatles’ cover of “Twist and Shout!” or classic ballads like Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Bewitched”. The main that is that it isn’t intrusive and adds to the atmosphere and anticipation. Burning 45-minutes of music onto a disc and playing it on a loop costs pennies and goes a long way to creating the atmosphere you want. What are you waiting for?

6: Three words: balloons, beach balls. I’ve performed for audiences which got so much pre-show enjoyment from watching someone send corkscrew-shaped balloons rocketing toward the ceiling or by batting around a beach ball that I got the impression they would have been content to do so the rest of the evening. If anything, the commencement of the show proper can actually be a letdown (not advised if where beverages are available).

7: For the love of God, have the courtesy to give an on-stage introduction. Asking an entertainer “Would you like an on-stage introduction?” is another way of saying “Are you going to insist I put on some pants?” Don’t fax it in, do your job. If you know a great, short joke that you can tell forwards and backwards, by all means, tell it. If you can engage the audience in anyway, by all means do so. Anything you can do to remind the audience that they are part of the show rather than idle observers is a step in the right direction.

These are just some of the ways to create some energy in an otherwise dead room. If you have thoughts on the subject, leave a comment below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury forced me to reinvent myself.

Four Ways To Botch An Entertainer’s Introduction

The best introduction I ever received was at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. The comedian who gave it was a big fan of my work and his enthusiasm was hilariously over-the-top yet unmistakably authentic: “Your next performer is unbelievable! How can I describe what he does? There’s no word for it! You just have to see it! You’ve never seen anything like it! I just have to bring him out so you can see for yourself! Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to David Deeble!”

He had the audience laughing during the introduction in such a way that suggested they were thinking one thing: I have to see who he’s talking about.

While no entertainer should expect to be introduced each time with such unbridled enthusiasm, this anecdote does provide some clues ensure that you don’t inadvertently place the evening’s entertainment behind the 8 ball before it’s even begun.

Below are a two of the best ways for emcees, event planners and entertainers to make an entertainer’s introduction an energy-depleting momentum-killer.

ENTERTAINERS:

MAKE YOUR INTRODUCTION AS COMPLICATED AS POSSIBLE

Simple, straightforward introductions are for celebrities whose accomplishments are well-known, not for you! I like to think of my introduction as indistinguishable from my resumé: “Tell them I’ve performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Last Comic Standing and America’s Got Talent – in that order. Then say I appear regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood – don’t forget the in Hollywood part – and that I’ve opened up for Ray Romano and Kevin James. Then tell them I specialize in performing at private functions and corporate events. Then tell them my website – www.daviddeeble.com – that’s two d’s, understand? – and conclude with ‘Please welcome the comedy of David Deeble!’ But with feeling, okay?”

INTRODUCERS, EMCEES AND EVENT PLANNERS:

YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE SUBMITTED A STRAIGHTFORWARD, EASY-TO-UTTER INTRODUCTION

This is a corollary of the above. Sure, memorizing a lengthy, in-depth bio and relating it to the audience with unmistakeable zeal is difficult, but don’t forget your place. After all, you’re dealing with an entertainer and showing deference should be your highest priority. Whatever you do, suppress the courage and commonsense to say “I want to give you the best introduction possible. I suggest we shorten this introduction and make up for the missing credits by bringing you onstage with lots of energy and enthusiasm”.

BEGIN THE INTRODUCTION BY DIVULGING THE NAME OF THE ENTERTAINER

By all means, take the wind out of the show’s sails! Performers tend to rise to the occasion when their name is followed by applause, so why not begin by stating the name of the entertainer followed seamlessly by the rest of the introduction? Better yet, conclude the introduction by omitting the performer’s name and let the introduction just kind of trail off. Here’s how you would put me behind the 8 ball: “David Deeble is a comedy juggler. Let’s give him nice welcome.

CONTAIN YOUR ENTHUSIASM, IF ANY

If you are a personal fan the work of the entertainer you are introducing, why on earth would you want to let the audience in on it? All it does is give the entertainer one of the best imprimaturs there is: a testimonial. Your introduction should say, in effect: “I don’t know who this gal is and the fact that I’m introducing her does not imply an endorsement on my part. I have been tasked with introducing her to you and that is all. Anyway, here she is.”

An introduction can set the stage for a fantastic evening of entertainment or leave the audience wondering if now would be a good time to sneak in a smoke. If you have any thoughts on what makes or breaks an entertainer’s introduction, leave your comments below.