Recently, Lanita and I went to a Charley Pride concert at a nearby casino. He did a great job, but not during the first five minutes. After he sang his first song, he said, “I’m glad to be in River City.” He was specific, just as any good performer or speaker must be. The problem: he was not in River City, the nickname for Louisville. He was at the Belterra Casino Resort in southern Indiana, with Cincinnati the closest city. His band members tried to alleviate a few awkward moments as they gave him the correct location.
Fortunately Charlie’s audience was made up of long time fans, so they were pulling for him to make the correction and get on with the show. He played off his audience by talking to people on the front rows and borrowing a handkerchief to remove perspiration from his face. This got him back on track and the audience loved him.
This embarrassing moment reminded me of the importance of you as the speaker knowing as much about your audience as you can—especially the name of the place where you are speaking.
Sometimes our surroundings take our minds off our tasks in very negative ways.
An aspiring actor received a call from his agent to report to a Broadway theater within the hour. An actor with a small part had gotten ill and the director needed an immediate replacement.
“The only line you have,” said the agent, “is ‘Hark, I hear the cannon roar.’ When you step on stage that is all you have to say. “
On the subway to the theatre he kept practicing his line to find the right emphasis, “Hark, I hear the cannon roar!”
He arrived at the theatre just in time. He put on his costume, still rehearsing for his special moment. He was shoved on stage and immediately two explosions boomed off stage.
He was so startled that he shouted, “What in the world was that?”
Several unhappy people resulted from that cannon roar.
At a prayer meeting the minister says, “Anyone with needs to be prayed over come forward to the front at the altar.”
John gets in line, and when it’s his turn, the preacher asks, “John, what do you want me to pray about for you?”
John replies, “I need for you to pray for help for my hearing.” The preacher puts one finger in John’s ear, and he places the other hand on top of John’s head and prays and prays and prays. The church joins in with enthusiasm.
After a few minutes, the minister removes his hands, stands back and asks, “John, how is your hearing now?”
John says, “I don’t know, Reverend–it isn’t until next Wednesday.”
This story reminds us that before taking action we need to understand the context of the conversation. Ask questions. Paraphrase what you understood the other person to say. As I often say, meaning is in people, not in words.
A skill that does not come easily for me is the ability to think on my feet. I usually think of the right words ten minutes later. One teenager certainly perfected this special knack.
When working in the produce department of a grocery store, he is asked by a customer, “Do you have a half head of lettuce?”
He says, “Ma’am, we don’t sell half heads of lettuce.”
“Would you be sure? Please check in the back.”
So he goes to the back as the manager comes out. The young man does not realize that the woman is following him.
He says to the manager, “Some idiot out there wants a half head of lettuce.”
Then, when he sees the horror on the manager’s face, he turns around and sees her right behind him.
His quick response: “And this fine lady wants the other half. Would that be okay?”