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?
Hi Daren. Not sure if you remember me. We met outside Philadelphia and I was friends with Kevin Knox. My wife is from the Philippines. I wanted to tell you before you left that the culture difference makes speaking there very interesting. I bombed there while speaking and later figured it out. Good choice on your decision to not speak. I wanted to fly over and attend the conference but could not get away. I was just there in early march.
So true Darren, especially about the ‘early in my career I can speak to anyone’ part! Years ago, I said ‘yes’ to a 90-minute motivational speech for aeronautical engineers. To put it into terms to fit the scenario, imagine a World War 2 dogfight: I got shot 5 minutes into a 90-minute speech and trailed smoke and flame for another 85 minutes until I crashed. Ouch…
Making much better decisions these days!
Darren, that was a wise choice. Unfortunately many speakers would not have the insight or “guts” to cancel like that. Some speakers I know would trudge through the event, then complain about the setting and outcome.
Cultural differences are a big factor in planning a presentation, something many rookie event planners don’t realize. I’m sure you’ve seen this even in different areas of the U.S.
Hey Darren, great to hear! This is the first post in a long while that I’ve read all the way through — really caught my attention. Really cool to get your insight and support. Keep it up!
In the highly competitive market we have here in the Philippines for speaking and training, I’ve often found myself wishing I’d said no to an invitation to speak or train. Many times though it was difficult because of the fear of disappointing a client who would in later dates call someone else when they remember how we turned them down. I recall early in my career I was compelled to be an overnight substitute for someone else who lost her voice from pharyngitis. And even if the topic was Greek to me I burned the midnight lamp poring over the books and materials given to me to handle. It was particularly daunting because the audience would be subject matter experts themselves in the topic. And despite my protestations that I’d never been a participant to the topic let alone a trainer of it, the session went through.
The next day with only a 30 minute power nap to fuel me, I did my best thinking that the trainer now owes me big time for this save.
I taught the topic by letting the class discuss it and share their insights. I decided to make it very interactive and fun. Bottom line, the loved it and gave me a nice rating. Of course I went home feeling like a phony but that client became very loyal through the years.
I’ve since then bulked up on my own experiences with the topic. Still, when I look back on it, if there had been anyone else available at all, the stress, fatigued, and dent to my self esteem would have things I wouldn’t have traded for the loyalty that followed.
Having said that, I also recall with quiet satisfaction a time when a major storm created a flood waist deep and made me turn my car around to avoid submersion. During that time a class of 34 people were waiting for me at a government agency. In hopes of arriving only a bit late, I rolled up my pant legs, and climbed onto the dividing fence to gingerly traverse the deep, and turbulent flood water to get to my class. I had to wear sandals to avoid standing in soggy socks and shoes all day. When the head of that government agency did the opening remarks, he looked at my exposed toes and then at me and said: thank you for doing what you did to get here, it would have been a shame to make everyone go home after they showed up to take your class. I had no regrets then and no regrets now. Their loyalty is one well earned. My point is that on many occasions we have little control over our circumstances. I agree with your decision not to give the talk on comedy that night. It was humid and far too many of the listeners would have been too caught up in the festival competitions to allow themselves the opportunity to learn something new. If it were my choice, I’d have wanted to hear you just before the costume ball. First it would’ve made the waiting for dinner go more pleasantly, and second it may even have benefited from the “mask” theme of the ball.
Filipino audiences also tend to have difficulty following one liners or more sophisticated types of humor. We usually go for ones that build up to a punch line because of a short story. For instance: there were 3 guys caught and tried for very serious crimes. One was a doctor, another a lawyer, and an engineer. When they went up to be executed by guillotine, the executioner asked who’d like to go first? The doctor said: because I value human life then I lay mine first if only to allow the other two a chance to live longer. The executioner then said: according to our laws if the blade does not drop then divine intervention was present and we let you go. How would you like to meet your end? Face up or down? The doctor said: face up. A drum roll occurred and the executioner yanked on a chain and … Nothing happened. The crowd cheered and the doctor was instantly pardoned and released. The executioner then asked the two inmates who would like to go next. The lawyer replied: I believe in the order of things and therefore volunteer to go next. To this the executioner said: fine, you know the rules. So face up or down? The lawyer, not wanting to jinx his chances decided to follow what the doctor did and said: face up. This time the executioner stood on a barrel to jump and yank the chain. After the drum roll he jumped and … Nothing! The crowd roared again and the lawyer was pardoned and released. Now the executioner looked at the final inmate, the engineer and said: well you’re the last one so I’ll save time and just ask you how you want to meet your fate, face up or down? To this the engineer scratched his head and looked at the chain release mechanism and said his final words, hmmm. I think I know what the problem is!
As ever, I’ve become a big fan of your very well prepared and developed presentations. Darren I wish you all the best in your future talks. Do count me as a willing ear and I’ll respond as quickly and concisely as I can.
Dino Santos, DTM
I was very surprised to read those words. Hey, I am not one to spread bad juju I am not going to repeat them here. It was enlightening as to the particulars of the situaiton. As always good education. Thank you, Darren
What great insights, Darren. I love the way you always have the most appropriate win/win conversations with everyone.
Thank You Darren for this story and the appropriateness of when and when not to speak depending on the situation. I have not commented previously, however I have read your stories and truly thank you for sharing your experiences.
Your quote is on my Executive Director’s email. She loved it right away and is being sent out whenever she sends communication from the Hawaii State Center for Nursing. Mahalo nui loa for all you do for us in Toastmasters. I also try and emulate your quote.
” We should not be judged by our own growth, but instead by the growth of the people we mentor.”
Well done, Darren. Every single time we say ‘no’ to something, we are saying ‘yes’ to something else. Often it’s ourselves and our well-being we are saying yes to! In your case, it was both your fans and yourself! That takes courage and confidence.
Thanks for this article, Darren. I’m looking at going into professional speaking and this article was extremely insightful and timely. Thank you for the insight.
I was there, Darren. Now I know why your Just for Laughs portion that I was waiting that evening was taken out – it was for a good reason then. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this wisdom on turning down stage time on certain times.
On the one hand, thanks also for sharing your expertise in owning the stage and crafting a world-class speech at the Conference. You may haven’t got a lot of laughs as you were expecting but I’ve got a lot of world-class insights from you, World Champ!
See you on your next stage time! (through your videos :D)
I was one of the audience and yeah you’re right we, Filipinos, are generally shy in nature. But rest assured, your presence and insights were a goldmine especially that I’m coming from a place where it is rare to have conferences as substantial as that.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience from both of you and Dr. Shautna. You’re always welcome to visit Phiippines again, and enjoy the sun, sand, and our smiles. Kudos! ^_^
Darren, Your writing is clean and concise…in this article you used “lead” when you meant “led….I’d use the word “reserved” instead of “shy” to describe your audience….thanks for so generously sharing your expertise. You know you would be the first one I’d recommend to any friend who wants personal coaching!
Awesome as usual. Thank you for sharing a situation that was somewhat uncomfortable. I would never have thought of doing something like that. It is another tool I now have my tool box to provide great value to my clients.
I never know when I will need the techniques I learn from you but it is sure nice knowing I have them when I need them. :
Thank you for sharing this and sharing it as you have, Darren. As with your sessions, your written word describing this conference creates the mental picture that is easy and intuitive to relate to.
You held a piece of white paper, came to our table and sit just beside me. Another speech, oh no you had so much “stage time .. are you going to steal away the limelight from the performing “artist” from the various divisions. You have your dinner quickly and left hastely. …. preparing for your “stage time”… ouch, please dont give them their “stage time”.
I was glad, you disappear quietky for the night.
Thanks for being so thoughtful…. Every one wants “stage time”
Singapore delegate at Cebu Convention