There are times in our lives when our number is called, and we have a job to do. Sometimes it’s not a pretty job, and sometimes it’s not a fun job. Sometimes we even know that our very best may not be good enough. In the end, we are really left with two choices: We can quit because of impending failure, or we can fight, despite our impending failure. A few weeks ago, I told you of a brave performer who accepted that challenge and he battled the mighty Jimmy Buffett. Today, I will tell you of another brave performer named Rob Jolles, who battled the mighty Bill Clinton… sort of.
It all happened pretty quickly. We turn our watches back ten years to find Rob Jolles making his way in the world of professional speakers. In that world, the more you work, the more you are seen, and the more you are seen, the more work comes your way. In short, I had not yet learned how to say “no” to a potential gig. On a Sunday morning, I got the call from one of the speaker’s bureaus that frequently booked me as a professional speaker…
“We’ve got a gig for you, if you can take it. There’s been a last minute cancellation by a speaker for a keynote in Los Angeles for tomorrow afternoon. You’ll need to jump on a plane today, and it’s yours if you want it.”
I did my usual second or two of pretend thinking, and then snapped, “I’ll take it!” I had another gig already lined up in Chicago for Tuesday, so I could fly out to LA, nail this thing, jump on a plane, get into Chicago late, wake-up, drill my 8:00 am in Chicago, and be home by noon that same day. Life was good.
The bureau was happy, and so was I. I was quickly briefed on the client, the size of the audience, the speaking slot, the title, the introduction, and the AV requirements. Just as I was about to get off the phone, I noticed a bit of a stammer in the voice of the person who was booking me. “Oh, and one last thing. Uh, you are actually taking the place of Bill Clinton on the schedule. Turns out when he was announced to the organization, almost everyone was happy about hearing him speak, but of the 425 people, they received about 25 letters of protest. Some of these letters were rather aggressive and threatened law suits and other legal action, so the client decided it was best to cancel his appearance.”
My jaw dropped. When I asked if the audience was told their rather prominent keynote speaker had been replaced by a rather pedestrian keynote speaker, I was told, “I don’t think so, but don’t worry about it, you’ll do fine.” I got to work setting the trip up.
It’s over five hours in a plane to fly to Los Angeles, and I had plenty of time to work. I had delivered this talk to plenty of audiences that were excited to see me speak. I felt confident that this presentation had a good message that would fit this audience, especially when the audience was ready to hear Rob Jolles. I spent those five hours working on how to get my audience to want to hear my message. I had a tough job ahead.
No, the people in this audience did not jump out of their seats when they heard my name called. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I could ever remember a quieter audience when I began. But for those of us who perform for a living, we know that it’s not where you start, but where you finish. I finished strongly. Maybe that was because they felt sorry for me, but I’d like to think it was because the first ten minutes of my presentation was carefully written and rehearsed many times. Maybe it was because I began by establishing multiple utilities, (what’s in it for the audience,) or the fact I grabbed them with an early story, a well-timed visual aid, and a sense of the big picture. Or maybe they liked it because they saw a person who got the call, came down the fire pole, and did the best he could. In the end, it was a very highly rated presentation and the audience was happy, the client was happy, I was happy, and life was good.
There’s a reason why I have never told this story. As hard as it might be to believe, I practically forgot it even happened. That’s because of what happened next. I jumped on that late afternoon flight to Chicago, feeling as if there was nothing I could not do, and headed to my next town to deliver a presentation that I felt would be far easier. It ended up that I never gave that next presentation. I arrived in Chicago very late that evening, went to bed, got up, put my suit on, and walked into the lobby of the Marriott hotel to find a group of people crowded around a TV in the bar area. The date was September 11, 2001, and the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. Three hours later, I was in a rental car, trying to find my way home from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Yes, life is good, but as we all know, life can turn on a dime.