Recently I had the horrific job of following on stage two legends of music, Marie Osmond & Olivia Newton-John, who were busy singing a duet to a media heavy audience.
Backstage I could see everyone looking at me as if to say, “And what do you think you’re going to do to follow this?” It was almost a dare from the AV team and other performers waiting to see how I could go on stage after two of the most accomplished, acclaimed, and beloved performers of all-time.
Having been a performer and speaker for over 15 years this kind of thing is where I thrive. I don’t want to sound cocky, however I have ultimate confidence in my ability to follow anything, and it makes me better to have to follow the best. So I welcomed the challenge, and in all honesty, had no idea what I should do. But that doesn’t mean I’m not completely unprepared – as a Speaker I have 25 different directions I can take the next story, point, or piece – I just have to know how to use what has just happened to my advantage.
So I’ll take you to the moment.
Everyone in the audience is standing, holding up their phones and lights, it looked like a real concert out there! Marie and Olivia are swaying back and forth singing, harmonizing their song, the screen shows them, as well as a video of children struggling through life’s challenges. It is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
Standing ovation lasts a very long time.
They come off stage, down the same steps I must go up, after many bows and cheers from the audience for them.
And now I enter.
1,000 people stare blankly at the un-famous person who has just stepped into the spotlight. No one knows me, no one cares about me, they are busy tweeting about what they just saw. Thankfully I realize this and have had this type of opportunity/challenge before.
Here are my 3 Tips to Speakers following THAT, or an experience of similar magnitude:
1. Acknowledge What Just Happened.
My opening line was – Nothing at all. I just stood there in silence. As the audience was silent as well, wondering what I was doing out there, or going to say, I let the silence become awkward enough that they really began to wonder what I was going to do. There is a certain rhythm to how long silence should be allowed. I stepped past that by about 3 more seconds, and with stage time, that’s like 10 minutes. I stood center stage with a curious, almost shocked look on my face, head titled to one side, and then laid into the mic, “What in the HECK was THAT all about? Ladies & Gentlemen, we just saw Marie Osmond & Olivia Newton John on this stage! That was unbelievable!” Crowd goes nuts. I’m off to the races.
Lesson: When we’ve just seen greatness we must acknowledge the obvious. This sounds obvious, but so often speakers walk out on stage and begin into their speech and WOOOAH buddy, give the audience a chance to take in what just happened. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the moment. Let everyone savor it. Be a TEAM Player. Tie the last piece into the next piece. Establish some common ground. And then – carefully go into your prepared proven piece.
2. Do or Say Something The Previous Speaker/Performer/Act Didn’t Do.
If you know me, you know I have spent my entire life and career working on these types of quirky things, bits others don’t do, or even want to be able to do. The reason I have worked so hard at these types of routines and bits is for a moment like this, to be able to follow The Osmonds singing The Star Spangled Banner, the Jet Fly Over, the baby dressed as a bear, the In Memoriam video….
Question is: What is your number or “bit” that is so unique, so extraordinary, that it stands alone?
After acknowledging the fact that I’m a singer, but I’m not about to sing after Marie & Olivia, because they are just that much better than me, I instead go into my routine of what makes me different, what makes me stand out in a sit down world, with my Signature Moves, and remind the audience that they all have their Signature Moves as well. And then I go into my Big Mouth-Dentist-Faces routine. By about second :20 on stage, the audience has forgotten what they’ve witnessed prior to me and are now laughing, which is a complete about-face to what was on before, and I have them where I want them. 10 minutes later I’m the one receiving the ovation.
Lesson: Flip the switch in the mind of the audience with your uniqueness. If they’ve just seen magic, don’t come out and do magic – sing a song instead. If they’ve just seen the funniest comedian alive, don’t come out and try a joke, unless you know it will kill, and go into the most serious, solemn story you can hit them with. If they’ve just witnessed the saddest speech in the world, such as Elizabeth Smart and her abduction, then you enter the stage, pay homage to what you’ve just experienced together, and quickly segue into what makes you the person who can take the audience to that next level of joy, laughs, or deep thought.
3. Serve The Audience & Event Before Self = Customize.
This may seem obvious, but sadly it’s not. Too often speakers show up with the canned speech, the bits we know worked yesterday, as well as for the past 10 years, but don’t customize to the moment, the theme, the feeling in the room. There is a spirit that envelops a room when something incredible has taken place on stage. As a Speaker we are to honor this and help move it forward. If the feeling in the room is ENERGY then it is our responsibility to keep it rolling, if the sense in the room is DISRUPTION from the CFO’s powerpoint that just introduced the new comp plan and everyone is freaking out in a negative way, how do we LIFT the anger or disappointment to a higher realm of acceptance and positivity?
These are principles we are not taught in speaker/performer classes, but are the 6th Sense of the Professional Speaker who can adjust on the fly and wrap the concepts from the previous speaker into our message to drive home what was just portrayed. So it doesn’t fit into your powerpoint? Add the thoughts in anyway – tell the audience after hearing the last speaker you’ve just made an adjustment, as it was necessary, and you agree with the new direction of the client who hired you. It is your responsibility to be this voice of clarity, confidence, and competence, even when seen as a Humorist.
Lesson: Be Prepared, like a Boy Scout, to bring home all that has been said before you, like a ribbon on a present, customized in the moment, and the client will worship you, the bureau will be in awe, and you will appear a genius. Even if you’re just the funny guy. And they’ll bring you back for more events, for years to come, in every capacity. I’m not joking.
BONUS Tip: Show up Early & Listen to the Previous Presentations.
Do this and you’ll not only make a friend of new speakers, you’ll up your game, impress the client, and when you reference those that went before you and tie it into your speech, you will have done your job as a PROFESSIONAL Speaker, not just a Public Speaker.
And as always: Have Fun.