My synagogue held a comedy night. This is a night where anyone can get up on stage, stand in the spotlight and share their greatest stories or jokes in an effort to leave the crowd doubled over and gasping for air (in a good way, of course). Well, on this particular night, they were slightly short on people willing to test their abilities to strike the crowd’s funny bone, so I agreed to help them out and signed up for a slot.
I really wasn’t worried about it as I have this one piece that has always brought about a positive response from the audience, so I already had the material I needed. All I had to do was present it and wait for the smiles and laughter to erupt before me. This was going to be an easy gig, I thought to myself. Turns out that I was wrong. Horribly and tragically wrong.
Before I even stepped one foot on that stage, I even questioned whether the material I had chosen was right for the audience in attendance that night. Certainly, the people there appreciated a good punch line or they wouldn’t have shown up. However, maybe the content I planned to use wasn’t right for them. Was it? Wasn’t it? Ugh!
With no time to change my plans and come up with new materials, I simply went on stage and started my original piece. And when I hit a line where everyone always laughs (and I mean always), I paused and…nothing. No roaring laughter. Not even a chuckle. Just deafening silence.
As my eyes quickly scanned the crowd in the hopes that my ears had somehow deceived me, all I saw was a bunch of blank stares looking back at me. Have you ever heard the phrase “deer in headlights”? Well, I was obviously standing in front of a herd and my headlights were brighter than LEDs on a dark and moonless night. I had just bombed.
Now, herein lies the problem. I was already part of the way through my monologue, so it wasn’t like I could just switch gears and change stories. No, I really had no option other than to finish what I had started, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to impact my audience the way I wanted. Not only had my bomb gone off the first time, it was going to go off again and again and again until I could drag my bruised and bloodied body off that stage and put this whole event behind me.
Admittedly, closer to the end of my time in front of the crowd, I did get a couple of little chuckles. Honestly though, that didn’t make me feel much better. That night was definitely the worst I’d ever experienced in my on-stage career. And although my material was good, which had been proven by the number of laughs it had garnered from crowds before, it wasn’t the right material for this crowd. It wasn’t ever going to elicit the response I had hoped for. Essentially, I was barking up the wrong tree.
Although this was a good lesson for me personally, it was also a good lesson for me professionally. When it comes to business, you won’t ever be able to sell someone something they don’t want. For instance, if someone is looking for silver, you can work your hardest to sell them gold, however you’re just wasting your time. They want silver. So, they’re not going to buy until you can place a shiny gray bar before them.
Certainly, this was one of my most humbling experiences. It was also one of my biggest learning experiences as I now fully understand that the only way to reach your audience is to know them. Know what they want. Know what they need. And offer it to them.