Have you ever traveled by rail in Europe? When I did a 12-city speaking tour with Ed Tate 3 years ago, we traveled around Europe mostly by rail. Every time we boarded or stepped off the train, the porter would remind us over the intercom to, “Mind the gap.” There is a considerable gap between the rail car and the platform, and you could easily trip or get a wheel on your luggage caught if you are not paying attention. It was important customer service for travelers.
How big are the gaps when you present? They will be different each time. I’m pleading with you to mind the gap when you are preparing to present. Every time you present you will be in a unique setting. There will always be some challenge; rarely do we get a perfect setting. We need to control the setting as much as possible while retaining a professional demeanor with our event planner.
Even though you, the event planner, and the hotel/event staff are on the same team and are serving the same audience, you all have different agendas. If you are presenting in a meeting room before or after a meal, there is immediate conflict. The head of the wait staff wants to have the tables as far apart as possible. Why? Because the staff needs to be able to move about freely without any hindrance. That doesn’t, however, take into consideration our connection with the audience. Hotels love large gaps between tables. I don’t! Why? Because you and I will have a greater connection with our audience when they are close together and we are close to them. Creating a connection is an intimate game.
I love this quote from Bruce Springsteen on a Westwood One interview. He said,
“Our job is to shorten the distance between ourselves and the audience.”
Have you ever noticed that comedy clubs have very small tables? The reason is to create a more intimate setting. The setting matters more than most people think. One of my comedy mentors used to say, “Laughter is contagious and when people are spread out, it doesn’t contage.” (Yes, I know that is not a word, but I hope you get the point, and it’s funny!)
Conflicting agendas can be a tricky thing. We need to educate the event planners and hotel staff while keeping our professional relationship in check. At one event at which I was speaking, my contact said to me, “It is the hotel’s policy to have wide gaps between the tables.” I gently reminded my contact that they were paying the hotel a huge amount of money, and they were the customer!
In this instance I could not convince them. I tried. Fortunately it was a great audience, extremely attentive, so it worked. It could have been better, but it worked. Had I been in front of a more challenging audience, it would have been more detrimental.
Sometimes there is another type of gap. It blows my mind when events set up a stage far away from the audience. Yikes! What are they thinking? Though I brought it to the attention of my contact, I was told that there was nothing they could do. The hotel had no more staging available because it was being used elsewhere. I smiled and said thank you.
For this program I was doing my clean comedy. Humor and laughs were important. In fact it was the very reason I was there. Had I performed on that stage, there would have been an awkward gap between me and the front row. I opted instead to move my bar stool and the lectern (that I would later use as a prop) right up to the front row. The downside was that I was lower since I was not on stage, but I was also much closer to the front row. Every situation is different, but as professionals we must adjust and handle as much as possible. We have to weigh out all of the factors and do what’s best for the connection.
I have to remind myself that often the people setting our stage have never been on stage. They are just doing what they are instructed by their supervisors. And their supervisors have their own agendas too.
When Johnny Carson was hosting The Tonight Show, he had a huge gap between himself and the audience. He liked it that way. When Jay Leno took over the show, he actually had a ramp built that would allow him to walk out closer to the audience. In a way that’s what I did.
In the end we must do our best with what we have. Many people who plan events do not understand the importance of connection the way you and I do. Sometimes the event planner will have another priority too. We have to respect that, be a professional, and do the best we can with what we are given.
I mind the gap; do you?
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