Day 5: Declaw Your Audience
Everyone else has already moved on. Join them.
Declaw Your Audience
We’re wired to see strangers as a threat, and silence as judgment. So let’s bring on a roomful of silent strangers, shall we? Good times!
But in reality, there’s something else going on here.
An audience only has a few kinds of feedback they can give you. And most of the options are for when they want to give you negative feedback.
They can yawn.
They can sigh.
They can fall asleep.
They can throw things at you.
They can boo.
They can talk to other people around them.
They can you yell “You suck!” but this is very uncommon.
They can clap.
They can laugh.
They can nod.
They can go “mmmmm” like their in the middle of a Baptist service.
You may have noticed I didn’t mention Silence in either of these categories. That’s because it’s too important to put in a list. Silence is the thing we most often interpret as boredom but most often means rapt attention.
An experienced comedian once gave this advice to a young motivational speaker: when your audience is laughing, they’re telling you they think you’re funny. When your audience is silent, they’re telling you they think you’re interesting.
It’s so important to reframe silence because you can’t avoid it. You’ll get it in the first few seconds you’re up there. The second you get on stage, people will form an instant, immediate impression of you. Malcolm Gladwell covers this in his book Blink. He says it takes 2 seconds for someone to make a decision about you. That’s scary stuff. But I look at this way: when I get on stage, my audience is not judging me, they’re observing me. They’re looking at my haircut or my clothes or more likely, the way I carry myself. Whether or not I’m smiling. They’re making observations, sure, but observations are not the same as judgments. So accept that it happens and then move on. Because too much thought about this only results in you misrepresenting your audience. You don’t want to give them more power than they deserve, or are even asking for.
Which leads me to me the last and most important thing I can tell you: no one really cares about you.
Hear me out.
The “Nobody really cares about you” philosophy comes from a very smart comedian friend of mine named Pat Lynch, who was kind enough to explain it to me like this:
“This experience of really being “crushed” by a bad performance stems from this: you are often airing very personal ideas in a very public forum. So when you fail at it, you’re failing in a way that is inherently personal. It’s a direct indictment on you, your creativity, your ideas. You stood up and shared something that you believed in, and a roomful of people dismissed it as subpar.
“And that’s what drives you to that point where, the next day, you don’t want to leave the house, foolishly fearing that you are the topic of the world’s conversations, and that the masses are waiting at the end of your driveway, prepared to relentlessly mock you. When, in reality, by morning you’re the only one giving a passing thought to your performance the previous night.
“Overcoming the sense of being “crushed”, in my opinion is largely about practice and perspective. The public shaming you feel is largely a punishment of your own creation. It takes a great deal of maturity to admit this, but you’re not as important as you think you are, at least in terms of the notion that your failures somehow capture the long-term attention of the public at-large. They don’t. You’re lucky if you’re the center of your own universe, much less the center of someone else’s.
“After your horrible, soul-crushing experience, everyone else around you moves on. Join them.”
It’s easy to think that everyone will be paying very close attention to your mistakes, recording them for all eternity, but there’s no way they’ll think about it for more than a few seconds. That takes some of the pressure off, doesn’t it?