Giving a great performance.
I recently read a Medium article — The Single Most Important Key to Public Speaking is Not What You Think — from Lisa Abeyta, founder and CEO of APPCityLife, whose stand out quote was: “Your high ratings are not out of sympathy but because of your courage and flawless performance under such difficult circumstances.”
My 15yo son Patrick (r) crushed it at his first theater performance. Parents’ pride aside, he engaged the audience, got the laughs, and got the ovation. There were a couple near misses that nearly broke the spell but proved successful in pulling in the audience further. He’s going to benefit from getting this right so early.
On the partent pride side, I’m happy because he is not an outgoing, gregarious, make-friends-easily type of guy like his older brother. Also, Patrick was a late talker, and didn’t start until he was 4; we were scared.
After dinner on the ride home, I recounted one of my best performances. It was not from my college theater class, which was actually a musical tap dancing show, a class I took as a joke challenge among my classmates who bet I could bull$h!t my way through anything.
My best performance was almost 10 years later on a high school stage in western Kentucky at an annual franchise owners meeting for a popular restaurant chain. The audience of about 100 restaurant owners, managers, and Corporate staff who had heard (or made) many promises before; the event was a closed knit salt-of-the-earth group who came to network with lifelong friends as if it were an annual reunion, which it was.
I was the new (asian) kid from Madison Avenue with new ideas about how to get more customers. As an (asian) outsider, it was obvious that this 50yo chain of Family Restaurants didn’t have any of the modern trappings a family with children expected: special meals and dessert, activities/toys with nice service, best hours to connect with other families. Over the years, the franchise owners had heard it all; they lived a daily life of serving their customers good food, they had a firm understanding of how to be good, and they forgot that new customers needed new experiences.
As I stepped on stage, I’m pretty sure a couple things happened. First, because they saw my name on various letters (remember this is 1986 before email, et al) they must have wondered why this Asian kid, in a slick Italian suit, with a Yankee accent, and the name Smith, came to be in Corbin, Kentucky standing before them. Second thing, was that I could be ignored, this was “kids meal” stuff, so they continued their private discussions, not missing a beat.
At the podium, I started the slide show and read my well-rehearsed speech; I memorized it. Looking over the audience, I got zero eye-contact, not even from my Corporate associates.
About 20 seconds into a 5-minute presentation, the lights went out, the projection failed, the microphone died. Lights can back up immediately, that got everyone’s attention. Without hesitation, I walked to center stage and continued talking; I knew the presentation cold, so what if no slides.
The audience shifted, noticeably looking at me on stage, wondering WTF happened and what I was talking about.
Fairly quickly, the slides were back up, the microphone fixed, and the technicians whispering to me that all was back to normal. I didn’t move an inch from center stage.
Afterward the President of the company came up to congratulate me on a fine performance; he confided that such a similar systems failure was his biggest fear. A dozen restaurant owners and franchisees also said “good job” and more importantly we got 100% acceptance of my new program with almost zero pushback.
There are a bunch of lessons learned for me, my son Patrick, and almost everyone. What you got?