Tuesday, 1 September 2009


I was fourth to present, and right up to the moment I stood up in front of the 300 or so open-eared individuals, I rehearsed, re-wrote, practiced, and concentrated on my script, completely ignoring the other three speakers that spoke before me. I went on stage, delivered a decent, seamless talk - complete with prompted jokes, and timed pauses. The audience laughed at all the right points, responded well to the content and ticked all the right boxes on their “conference speaker satisfaction survey”.

But on the train home, I read an article about an outdoor concert that was the complete opposite of my own experience. One I wish I’d read before I’d spoken. It read that during an open-air solo piano performance, a small airplane flew above the audience. Backwards and forwards, looping the loop and buzzing about just enough to be a distraction to both the pianist and listeners alike. But rather than be put off by the distraction, the pianist began to improvise midway through his recital to accommodate the engine’s hum as if it was another instrument. The airplane becoming his partner in an exquisite, unique duet. Quite, quite amazing…

But the amazing thing here wasn’t the pianist’s skill in improvising his piece to fit with the plane’s hum – his skill was in recognising the opportunity! The opportunity to be brave, to go ‘off-script’ and to try something new –creating something totally unique and absolutely memorable.

Something I’d missed with my own performance. I’d been so lost in my own script, that I’d failed to hear any visual and verbal gems from the previous speakers. Pearls that I could have used to my advantage. Now of course it’s important to be prepared and to do all the hard work before any sort of gig - this will obviously enhance any results. BUT part of that preparation I believe, should always be to prepare to accept the role of chance. Maybe even build it into the overall plan?

Since reading the article, I now relinquish the control that arguably I never had in the first place, and during any presentation – large or small, now try to pick up on the slightest ‘hum’.

Try it. Try listening for that distracting hum. Don’t be worried that something might send you in a different direction – be brave. You never know where you’ll end up.


  1. I like this a lot. Will definite take on this insight personally and it's a great story to share with the people I work with.

  2. It's always good to be open to the possibilities of improvising. But there's nothing worse than that feeling of being off-script, and not knowing how to get back on!