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Giving Yourself To Your Audience-

  • March 29, 2013
  • Mark Schulman

If you’ve ever seen P!NK perform, she creates really extraordinary, physically straining shows, if only for the sake of confronting her own limitations, despite an unyielding moratorium on lip syncing. No matter how crazy she gets with her mystifying upside down spins in the silks or acrobatic drops 40 feet above the stage, she’ll only do it if she is singing live.  I’ve never witnessed nor worked with someone who is more committed to giving herself completely to her audience.

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri asked one of the great orators, Zig Ziglar, one of the great orators of our time, how he got rid of stage butterflies. His answer? “The day that that happens will be the day that you don’t do as well.” You need that little bit of fear to remind you to respect those moments and the consequences, or you start getting sloppy. “That’s true,” Guy said. “It’s something that I’ve lived by my whole career.”

Guy gets those butterflies because he cares. He takes on the responsibility of performing well, because his audiences or customers deserve the full value of their money.

Selfishness can kill or exaggerate stage fright at will. But the risk is worth it. No matter if I’m performing, auditioning, interviewing or playing with my daughter—it’s not about me. So, when I start to get too nervous, I now think, ‘You selfish bastard! It’s not about you!’  This immediately makes me laugh and squelches the nerves.

And people don’t ever love you because you’re perfect, says Dr. Paul Stoltz, author of The Adversity Quotient and a friend of mine. He serves as a frequent source for the world’s top media (CNN, CNBC, PBS). He notes that people actually love you for your imperfections, and how you handle those. “Why was TV detective Colombo so endearing? Because he was a fumbling, bumbling, faltering, brilliant guy.”

Paul remembers his first gig for a certain multinational insurance company at its corporate retreat in a remote village outside Johannesburg. Connectivity was dicey for a presentation that was wholly driven off his laptop. There were adapters and power strips everywhere. The crowd seemed very unforgiving. But he took a breath and laid into it: “Today, we need to talk about the thing that none of you are strangers to. Today, we’re gonna talk about adversity.”

And the audience started to laugh. “I thought that was the weirdest reaction. Did I say it wrong? Are they thinking I have no cred? Then, this guy pointed behind me, and there was smoke rising off the keyboard on my laptop.” The audience started clapping; it was brilliant. And Paul realized the opportunity at hand.

His advice: “It’s got to be connected, authentic, effective and impactful. The biggest shift for me was when I got outside my own skin and stopped having it be about me and made it about being obsessed with them. Then, by definition, you’re not nervous, because you’re scanning, looking, responding and adjusting, real time, all the time. And that changes the whole gig.”

That’s when you stop listening to the voice in your head that second guesses your work, the one that screams, ‘“That gesture didn’t work. You gotta move faster. Talk more.” Paul knows that voice starts to vaporize when you become obsessed with your audience. People know when that’s real.

(Thanks to Todd Kaplan for the photo)

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