Win When You Don't Fit In
Whether at hybrid/online or in-person events, strive for unexpected affirmation from your audience.
Whether online or in-person, winning over your event audience is one the best feelings of professional success.
While getting feedback when presenting at hybrid/online events is different than when in-person, you can still find tremendous affirmation from unexpected sources.
I’ll provide a pandemic update this post, which was from an in-person event, pre-COVID.
It’s not unusual for me to have to entertain at an event when dinner is being plated. If you've taken the mic at an awards show, you might know that this is often not even the biggest challenge when it comes to winning over an audience.
But, when I joked that tetrahydrocannabinol was my real last name and got a laugh within the first few seconds, I knew the honey-glazed chicken wasn't going to prevent me from getting along famously with the audience at the GrowUp Conference AwardsGala. The key was pronouncing "tetra-hydro-can-NA-bi-nol"correctly.
The highest praise, however, came after the show from an industry leader who told me he wasn’t looking forward to seeing me perform. He didn’t think I was a good fit; he said, "you're not one of us". Yet, he told me, after watching me Host, that he was totally impressed and has a whole new level of respect for what I do. (And that, BTW,I'm still not one of them).
It didn’t matter that I don’t use their products, or that I haven’t been a subject matter expert for decades. Weaving the endocannabinoid chemical regulatory system that keeps my body in a balanced state of homeostasis into a fictional narrative about talking to my dealer in he heart of Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood proved to them that I knew what was important- that they were in the spotlight. It was their gala awards night; their time to shine, and I took the time to better understand what's relevant in their world.
They don’t think I actually talked with the dealer, “souvlaki guy”, about soil nutrients, irrigation, light cycles of the vegetative and flowering stages, or how side effects from when THC binds with receptors in my brain can be muted by teasing out CBD through crossbreeding. What they do think is that I treat my audience with respect to its distinct interests and achievements; not the same as every other of the dozens of audiences for which I’ve hosted awards galas.
I’m not going to lie: I put in a lot of hours researching, and then some, including the drive to Niagara Falls, to memorize all of the industry jargon and categories of nominees attending, a half dozen+ of the more than 85 known cannabinoids, hot trending topics, including hemp derived CBD skincare products, the names of all the keynote speakers from earlier in the day, and other custom content I included in my opening monologue. It was time well spent.
It established a relationship with the audience that planted the seed for them to be receptive to my creative ad libs throughout the rest of the Gala because of the trust I built at the beginning.
Ultimately, the intent of this kind of effort is that such relationships will germinate future business. At the same time, I believe the work put into cultivating these unique circumstances is about taking pride in my work. The effort is not always acknowledged, and sometimes it doesn’t even lead to more gigs. But, like me, I’m sure you also find it very rewarding to deliver a high level of value to a client, regardless of the validation. Finding out after the fact that one of the client team members had doubted I would deliver any value at all was in inspiring reminder to, myself, keep an open mind.
Whether you’re sales-driven or not, you know this audience-centred process is something you have to relentlessly practice. It might seem pointless to learn even just a little bit about what’s relevant to an unfamiliar audience because often, especially when you're an outsider, it doesn't lead to closing the deal on new business. Why bother? Why not just give them your tried and true material; that which you know has worked in similar environments before? I could have, and it would have been fine.
I don't want to get caught striving to be "fine". Sometimes it takes a situation when you don’t fit in to serve as a reminder that, with respect to time taken to connect with an audience, it’s important to fit it in.
UPDATE: With an online audience, there’s not much of an opportunity to mix and mingle after the show. This can eliminate the possibility of getting unique affirmations in person. When possible, I recommend building that into the experience.
At the very least, most virtual events build even more robust and data rich attendee experience analytics into the platform than exist for in-person events. So, while it’s easy to be afraid of the chat scroll, or survey results, request the intel from the organizers and definitely welcome it when offered.