A while back, I had a gig in Germany for English speaking women. It was the first of a series of gigs for a client, and obviously, I wanted it to go well so they wouldn't regret committing to me for the rest. I planned my points, my jokes, my exercises, and my vulnerable heart stories. I had every beat of my talk figured out down to the minute.
So, I put on my power suit, and I get to the gig and -- it's in a bakery! A noisy German bakery where my group was in a corner, surrounded by Germans, who speak German -- loudly. There was no stage, no mic, just me standing at the end of a long table.
(Really? I'm supposed to make jokes about my cellulite and talk about my disturbing Jewish family, while surrounded by Germans eating strudel?)
I thought, "This is not going to go well."
I started my speech and yes, I was right; what I planned was not going to go well. The ladies were unable to hear me, so they weren't even looking at me. And people who aren't looking usually aren't laughing - especially if they're eating strudel.
So, I let go of all my material, and sat down at the table with them. I went completely off script, and just had a down-to-earth, honest chat with them as if I were at a Passover (or, maybe Thanksgiving) dinner. We went around the table doing some exercises, and at the end, they shared their own heart stories. By then, the noisy lunch crowd was gone, and what was left was a group of women connecting and sharing, and I wasn't the speaker: I was one of them.
Afterwards, we hugged, and I signed copies of my book, "The Message of You™" while encouraging them to share their stories and messages.
When I looked at the follow-up surveys, I was surprised to see I'd received a perfect score.
Sometimes what seems like the worst thing that could happen - (that everything you planned doesn't fit the situation) - can be the best if you can let go of your preconceived ideas -- and just be truly present with those around you.
Next time you're in front of an audience, take time to ask yourself, "Am I really connecting with my audience - or am I just 'performing'?"