April 26, 2011

One special moment

On the TV special "Talking Funny" the other night, host Ricky Gervais facilitated a conversation between fellow comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and Chris Rock.

During the conversation, Ricky Gervais mentioned the the responsibility of performing -- people pay money to come to the show, find a babysitter, drive around to find parking... it's a major commitment for the audience.

In response, Gervais says, "I better have something special to say. I don't think it's just enough to do 60 minutes of them laughing, because they can't take that with them. Whereas if you say something that's interesting or resonates, or that's different, they can take it with them. All the best bits you remember [referring to jokes the other comedians still remembered hearing decades ago], it stayed with you for twenty years. And it's the gift that keeps on giving."

For Ricky Gervais, it's not enough to entertain the audience, a point he brings up several times during the conversation. He even mentions cutting a bit from his show if it's too easy, or gets a "cheap laugh." He wants the audience to know he's worked hard on a bit, and that it wasn't just a throwaway joke. He wants to feel proud of his work. (Louis C.K. made a similar statement about cutting a joke that's funny if he doesn't believe in it.)

Most performers might be ecstatic to get an easy laugh or to draw a standing ovation for very little work. For Gervais, there has to be a deeper connection with the audience; he wants to send them home with something so memorable and unique, they'll still be thinking about it twenty years later.

How many of us put this kind of thought and care into our presentations?

How many of us think (or care) about what our audience is giving up (money, time, deadlines) to hear us speak?

How many of us actually make the effort to give our audience a "gift that keeps on giving?"

How many of us just want our preparation to be as easy as possible, for the presentation to glide by with no effort, and to reap rewards for little work?

Can you imagine how rewarding it would be to know that you've given the audience something so valuable and profound that years later they're still responding to your message? (I've had this experience a few times, and I don't have to imagine it -- it's pretty fabulous.)

Maybe this isn't realistic on an everyday basis, when the boss pops his head in the door of your office and says, "Hey Sam, can you give a report at the staff meeting in 15 minutes?"

But what if we were to keep this idea in the front of our minds, striving as often as possible to add one special moment to each presentation?

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