It was my very first gig. I had just done my very first set.
I was in the front seat of my car outside the bar. My pal David, a veteran songwriter who came to support me, was in the passenger seat. He listened as I ranted:
“You people are crazy! That’s all! Just crazy!”
The ‘you people’ I was referring to was musicians in general, performers especially – and anyone who did anything involving a stage.
Things had not gone well during my first set. Despite all my rabid preparation, I hadn’t realized how different everything would be with all those freakin’ people in the room. I felt exposed. Every flub was a jolt. Every shout from someone, I took personally. My voice sounded dumb in such a long narrow bar. You name it, it plagued me.
Welcome to the learning curve of the stage.
Now, I can guarantee that you won’t have such an extreme reaction when you do your live event. In fact, by the third set of that evening, I had relaxed – and people were throwing tips into my jar. (Mind you, they were much much drunker by then.)
My point is this: Live events come with a slew of unknowns. But you can make them successful! I went on after that first gig to play 15 years on the stage – sometimes over 200 dates a year. Then, when I reinvented myself and started a company – I began doing multiple 3-day events each year. Last year alone I hosted nine events.
So, I know something about events. I know that events are, by nature, unpredictable. I know events can make you nuts. I know that you’ll be stretched to your limits each time you host one.
And yet, everyone dreams of doing live events, retreats or workshops as part of their business offering.
Well, first, you get better results. (People move faster when they’re in a room without the usual distractions.)
And second, you have more fun. (Online training is great but it can feel like crickets sometimes.)
Plus, it’s just more happiness for you as a leader and more opportunities to post great live energetic shots on social media.
So what are the unknowns that you need to be aware of? There are many. (Oscars, anyone?) If you’re not prepared, you may mistake some of these very normal things as signs you’re failing, or worse, shouldn’t be doing live retreats. You’d be wrong.
Here are my top must-know insights from 20 years of doing my thing on stage:
1 – Emotions happen in live settings. Learn how to manage them.
First, a caveat. If your workshop is called “Tactical Management and Human Resource Compliance,” you won’t, perhaps, have to worry about highly charged emotions.
However, you’d be surprised at what can come up for people in a room. One of my clients – a business strategist – frantically called me for some coaching after one of her retreats. After experiencing the guided meditations I do at my events, she decided to open the day with one.
One of her attendees got triggered by the depth of that experience. This person’s emotional upheaval took a lot of time to deal with. It was disruptive. My client wasn’t prepared to hold the space for so many emotions.
How I Prepare for Emotions in a Live Setting:
Bummer there’s no “9 point plan” for emotions. For starters, just know they happen.
Here’s what will help…
When someone gets emotionally triggered at your event, your go-to plan should always be to get present. And I mean Jedi present.
You’ll be tempted to get mental and try to “fix” this person. Don’t try to fix them. Just listen and be there 100%. Ask guiding questions and have compassion.
You will know when it’s time to move on. If they are refusing to budge and becoming disruptive, here is some language that might help:
“I totally understand what you’re sharing here. And here’s the thing. We do need to get through this session, and I have lots of great material to cover here. Can you set this in a parking lot for now and return to it? I think there’s some great stuff for you there – but I want to honor the time of everyone else in the room. Does that work?”
This person may or may not be pissed at you for this. But at this point, you’ve been clear.
2 – You’ll be tempted to fire hose people with all of your information.
The nervous energy of being on stage can make us a bit hyper. You will try to cram way too much in, talk way too fast, and throw way too much information at your participants. You will overwhelm them.
How I prepare for the tendency to fire hose:
So you know that voice that likes to tell you you’re a fraud and that everyone will want their money back if you don’t give them every last tidbit of information you have ever known on this topic and then some?
Well, here’s the deal.
This voice never ever ever gets to join you when you’re planning your content.
When I stopped listening to this voice– I could then relax and find the best way to teach any given concept. And almost 100% of the time, the best way is to go slow and give less than you might think.
3 – People can be lame and blow you off. (And they won’t even be decent enough to email.)
This one goes into the file labeled “cost of doing business.”
No matter how high or low your ticket-price, you will still have no-shows. It sucks, but it happens.
Some people just do not honor their contract with you or consider being respectful of you when you’re hosting an event.
In fact, most folks don’t even know all that’s involved in putting on a live event. So they blow you off without even thinking.
Let it go.
How I prepare for potential no-shows:
First, make sure you always require some kind of payment for a live event, even if it’s “free.” For example, at Uplevel, even if we offer a free ticket with a program I’m teaching, we always require a deposit to claim that ticket. The money is refunded upon registration at the event. It is not refunded if a participant doesn’t show.
Secondly, I stay in touch and keep the excitement alive after people register for the event. I add value to keep them anchored to the event as it nears. I don’t just send “reminders.” I always send content and to keep them engaged. This does wonders for our no-show rates.
4 – You will expend an enormous amount of energy.
When I was on the road, I’d return from tours and melt onto my acupuncturist’s table. I learned the hard way how to honor my energy – from diet, to healing work, to personal practices – so that I didn’t end up so depleted.
Now, when I do events, I’m not floored like I used to be. That’s because I understand how much energy it requires to hold a room for two or three full days. I have a set of core habits that are non-negotiable.
How I prepare for the energy of the stage:
First off, I remember that my energy is the reason I make money at all.
This is true for you too. Do not take that fact lightly.
It doesn’t mean you become a crazy diva. It does mean that you be careful about things like alcohol and sugar intake prior to and during the event. It means that you set up a fine-tuned sleep environment so that you are getting 8 hours of sleep at night before and during your event.
It means that you drink tons of water when you’re on stage, and plan healthy meals in advance.
Oh yeah. I also plan my outfits well in advance (including shoes and jewelry.) This eliminates all the potential time and energy you waste on clothing choices in the morning before you step on stage.
5 – Occasional raging moments of self-doubt happen.
For sure, you will love being on stage and the energy of the room. But you will also have a few WTF moments when you doubt yourself… perhaps when something goes wrong (which it will) or someone looks at you with hostility (which will be your own projection) or you say something profoundly stupid (see #6). Standing in front of people in a live setting is as real as it gets in a business.
How to Prepare for Self-Doubt:
This is called practice. Books like Tara Brach’s Radical Self Acceptance and Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion are must-reads if you are this sensitive. Also, read this article on overcoming the fear of being seen. Beyond that, embrace your training. You’re lucky to be doing this work.
6 – The illusion that you are supposed to be perfect now that you are leading events.
About two weeks before the event, a voice will appear in your head. It will say something like, “Oh shit! I’m not perfect yet!”
You will then obsess over the following things in no particular order:
Your weight, your expertise, how you dress, your hair, your weight, the embarrassing fact that you’ve watched Lake House like 32 times, or that you yelled at your daughter last night, and the three ginormous zits that just appeared on your chin, and of course, your weight.
You will always think a more perfect version of yourself should show up to the stage. Please let this go. She never arrives. Be yourself. Be not perfect. Your people will love you for modeling something they so need to understand as well.
How I Prepare for the Perfectionist:
No way to prep for this one. You already are your perfectly imperfect self. Go for it.
Final thing to consider…
I learned all of these things by just doing them, and then learning from them.
The biggest thing about live events is that you will always walk away with lessons. Make sure you write them down – and make sure you list action steps for how to prepare when you do your next one. Use the wisdom from your experience. It’s a blessing!
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