Turn down stage time? Darren? Yup! It’s not often I turn down stage time, but there does come a point in your career it’s the right thing to do. In my early days of stand-up comedy, I learned the key to becoming great was stage time. The more often you get up on stage, the faster you will grow. That will always remain true.
Emerging professionals must be careful early on in their professional career that they don’t say, “Yes!” to the wrong paid speech. Most of the time, at the beginning of a speaking career we are so eager to get paid and so naive thinking we can speak on anything. I remember thinking I could get up and speak about a topic and sound like I knew what I was talking about and that was good enough. Boy was I wrong. Even being “average” doesn’t get you referrals. It doesn’t get you raving fans. Taking the wrong paid speech, as a professional, can actually hurt your career.
For example, if I were to get a call now for a speech on leadership, I’d refer it to Ed Tate. I’m not a leader. I’ve not lead an organization. Just because I could talk about it, doesn’t mean I should talk about it. If I got a call for small business development, I’d ask if they were interested in a program on “YouTube Marketing,” which I do have experience in, if not, I’d refer them to Ford Saeks. Those are their specialties, not mine. Sending them the business is better for my career thanks to the law of reciprocity. I look good to the meeting planner too because I gave them what they were looking for.
This weekend, however, it was a completely different scenario. Here’s another reason to turn down stage time. I was speaking at a Toastmasters District Conference in the Philippines, and I was asked to speak five times throughout the three-day convention. I loved it! There’s nothing I’d rather do than speak! I was excited to get that much stage time. There were 470 delegates present and it was one of the better conferences I’ve attended.
They had great energy, authentic dancers, professional lighting & sound — all taking place at a fabulous resort. When I took the stage for my first presentation, I knew something was different. I could immediately feel the cultural differences from audiences I’m used to speaking to. Their happy and shy nature became apparent when the audience interaction portion wasn’t working. Yikes! I’ve never had a group of speakers “not” participate. They weren’t being rude, they were just extremely shy.
The next morning, take two, the breakfast of Champions. They had a special breakfast for all of their District Champions past and present. It was a small group of 20. They were great, and I felt better again. That afternoon, I did my Own the Stage live coaching session. Out of the 470 in the audience, I only saw one hand go up to be a volunteer. Double yikes! Understand, they enjoyed the content, they just weren’t eager to be involved.
My next program was my comedy program, Just for Laffs that night after dinner. To my surprise, the setting was outside with round tables at buffet just before the dance contest. When announcements were made most people attending were enjoying the socializing time. I was going to make the most of it, but decided I needed to re-evaluate.
Based on the reactions and lack of laughs I got during my regular program I knew this was not going to be pretty. For the good of the event, I pulled the conference chair aside and gave her my insight. I didn’t tell her I wouldn’t do it. But, I did educate her, based on my 20 years of experience, how it was going to go. If you have studied my Get More Laughs by Next Week program, you know how particular I am about “the setting” for a humor program. Comedy and humor just don’t work in an “open-air” setting.
Consider this… if I were to have gone ahead with the program, I would have gotten polite laughter, if any. Participants would have thought my routine was just not funny. They wouldn’t have considered the effects that culture and setting would have played in it all. I would have done it and endured the pain if they insisted, but think about how that experience would have affected the conference as a whole? It would have been a blemish on a great conference. That setting was great for the music and the festival dance contest they had planned. A couple people noticed that I didn’t perform. I explained why, but that’s better than if I had performed and it turned out to be a downer.
After 20 years of experience, there’s a time to turn down stage time. It shouldn’t be turned down because you’re nervous. It should only be turned down if it’s going to hurt your professional career because it’s outside your area of expertise or not the best thing for the event as a whole. I’m delighted the conference chair was open to my insights. It made her look better in the long run than if I did go up and bomb. Yes, Virginia, I did turn down stage time.
Please share your thoughts below! What would you have done? Have you ever given up stage time?