Professional Speaker Magazine – “Humor Me” column
For Professional Speakers, The National Speakers Association is a great organization and one that I owe many thanks. When asked to provide an article for their “Humor Me” column in Speakers Magazine – I felt I had to share the following story related to a keynote speech I presented a few years back.
Thought I would share a behind the scenes look at the life of a professional keynote speaker…..enjoy.
New Outfit = $146; Standing O = priceless
I settled into my seat as the airplane door closed. The still-new polyester suit, dress shirt, tie and spiffy shoes finally losing their out-of-box wrinkles. It wasn’t the most comfortable suit and didn’t fit all that well, but I’d only paid $146 for it that morning, shirt, shoes, and tie included. Plus who would believe what happened because of it!
Let me step back a moment.
I had a week of city hops of keynotes mixed with magic shows with my last leg—Bentonville, Arkansas—a presentation for a fairly large international retailer. As you too have experienced, stuff happens, and when you’re depending on airlines, stuff also doesn’t happen. This evening waiting in Laguardia, the anxiety we feel when we don’t have time for delays set in as the gate agent started pulling out vouchers for hotel rooms. I groaned, “I have a 7:30 am sound check and an 8:30 am keynote tomorrow morning . . . I don’t think so.”
So I pulled out all of my politeness and asked the all-important question: “Where CAN you fly me to tonight?” I figured anything within a six-hour drive of Bentonville should work. I could get to St. Louis – Great. Off I ran to the gate while calling the rental car company. The clerk was happy to charge me the “frustrated-I’ll-take-anything-and-leave-your-car-in-another-city” rate. But no problem. Should arrive in Bentonville by 5:30 am.
Due to my recent multi events, I’d checked my bag with my clothes in it. Needless to say, my luggage wasn’t about to catch up with me. But I did have my speech necessities on board with me. (I did one thing right!) Then I started doing what most of us would do—prepare an opening joke about why I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. (Or maybe I could weave in a message around that.)
Somewhere in the 5 am hour as I drove into Bentonville, I passed a 24-hour retailer, a big one that basically owns this city. Coincidentally, the majority of my audience that morning work for that same retailer. Stop! Once inside the store, I quickly found the business attire section (yup, seriously, this retailer has one) and began shopping for clothes to wear at my presentation. I left that Mart not less than 40 minutes later with a brand new suit, a dress shirt, a tie (not a clip on) and dress shoes – all for the amazingly low price of $146.
But I wasn’t feeling comfortable about this. First, I felt self-conscious about the way I looked and didn’t want people to think I was a fake. Secondly, I felt hot, literally, and I hadn’t even started working the stage yet. (Polyester doesn’t breathe well, you know.) I deemed my outfit far from perfect, but baby, it was SHOWTIME.
Just a couple hours after leaving that Mart, I was on stage launching into my program, connecting with the audience, creating great SHOWTIME moments. But in the back of mind, an uneasy, scared feeling was stirring because of my perceived lack-luster outfit. “Do they know where it came from? If not, do I tell them? If I dare, will they be insulted, proud or disinterested? Will I be embarrassed, shunned? Will I lose my credibility? Will this thing fall to pieces before I even finish? I’d better not risk it.”
As I neared the end of my presentation, I repeated my message to Stop Meeting Expectations and Dare to Create Impact instead. In the next two-second two pause, my brain raced back to thoughts about my wardrobe. “Should I or shouldn’t I?” In a flash, I took the gamble and dove off into unchartered waters by asking, “How should your opening speaker look? Should I wear Brooks Brothers custom-made or an off-the-rack selection from a department store?”
I then said, “I wanted to feel how your customers feel and know what it’s like to walk in their shoes . . . for real. And that’s what I did—to not only meet your expectations but exceed them.” As I showed off my wardrobe, I explained that my whole outfit was purchased hours ago at their store for a mere $146. Before I could finish what I was saying, a few people stood up. Then they stood up in droves and cheered and screamed. I giggled in disbelief and stopped my talk right there.
How could I top that ending?
Sitting back in my airplane seat, I articulated my takeaway from this experience—that as professional speakers, we’re in the SHOWTIME business. So it doesn’t matter how we feel, look or think, the audience has expectations—and we’re there to TOP those expectations.