As it turned out, that was the least of my challenges. Just a few minutes into my story a couple of men at the bar started talking in very loud voices, so loud that I wasn’t able to hold the attention of everyone in the audience and people started looking in their direction. Finally the owner of the theatre got up and asked them to keep it down. I avoided looking in their direction as all of this was transpiring so as not to be (even more) distracted.
While I continued, I could hear the waiters just to my left talking quietly to one other. I doubled down on my concentration, focusing on a few couples who rewarded me with smiles and laughter. Then one of these couples got up to leave. That’s odd, I thought. They looked like they were really enjoying themselves. Then a few more people got up to leave. Wow, I thought - I have really misread this crowd. At the same time, more people wandered in, and one new couple in front of me didn’t even seem to be aware that I was performing. I forged ahead, determined to deliver a good story no matter what, shifting and re-shifting my focus to whomever was obviously listening at the moment. By the time I had finished and stepped off stage, the audience had shrunk considerably. I was pretty sure it wasn’t because I had given a bad performance, so I was confused, and trying not to take it personally. (See previous take-away.)
The MC said I was a pro for not missing a beat with all of that commotion. While I appreciated his kind words, I mostly just wanted to know what had happened. Later, privately, he explained to me that a lot of people had come to the bar for a drink before the concert downstairs began. When it was approaching time for the concert to begin, they had to leave. He said one couple even asked him to be sure to tell me that they really enjoyed my story but needed to take their seats downstairs.
I learned a lot that night. Here are my take-aways:
#1 - Don’t assume you suck just because people are walking out. Boy, was I glad I hadn’t jumped to any conclusions.
#2 - The folks who stay from start to finish deserve your all, so bring it, even if there’s only one person left. In fact, I was so grateful to that handful of people who stayed until the end that I was super motivated to deliver, just for them.
#3 - Fall in love as many times as you have to during a performance. Here’s what I mean. In a situation with a lot of distractions, find those people who are smiling and clearly interested and pour your energy into them. Then, if they get up and walk out, leaving you like a jilted lover on the stage, shamelessly rebound as fast as you can, finding someone else to love. If it happens again, as it did to me that night, rebound again! The important thing is to not dwell on the who or why, but stay present in your story and with your (remaining) audience.