How to Plan for the Unexpected
If you’ve ever been a part of a live event you know that something’s going to go wrong. You can count on it. As a performer I’ve learned some lessons over the years that have kept me from being afraid of those inevitable failures, understanding that the human element, combined with gear that will eventually break down (and usually at the most inopportune time), will never offer up a perfect event. As I tell my team regularly:
PERFECTION is unattainable, but EXCELLENCE is always within reach.
Here are a few quick hits on how to manage those unexpected, imperfect moments in a service:
You control the awkwardness. When you forget the lyrics, a guitar string breaks, or a track quits in the middle of a song, your reaction can either put the audience at ease or make them squirm in their seats. I prefer to own up to all gaffes as quickly as possible. The audience knows you’re human and that mistakes happen. It also endears you to the crowd if they see your faults, and that you’re not afraid to hide them. The worst thing you can do is act like nothing ever happened.
Don’t overcompensate for an obvious mistake. It’s human nature to want to make people forget the awkward moment you just created. Repress the urge to over-sing or over-play after a mistake. Unless your event has been poorly planned or rehearsed you’ll typically receive grace from your audience in such moments.
Don’t throw a team member under the bus. A cardinal rule I learned while touring was to never glare at the person who messed up. By demonizing the culprit of the mistake you paint yourself as a diva, and nobody likes a diva. If the drummer plays the wrong pattern during a crucial moment in a song have a talk with them AFTER the event. It’s important to succeed and fail as a team.
Don’t embarrass the production team. Don’t call out the audio engineer or lighting director during an event. You don’t know what problems they might be experiencing and the audience typically doesn’t have a grasp on the technical side of the event.
Be honest with yourself about potential pitfalls in your service. During big events like Christmas and Easter, when we typically have more moving pieces than on a regular weekend, I pinpoint possible bumps in the road. What will we do if…? The best way to plan for the unexpected is to have a plan for the high risk moments.
Turn a mistake into something memorable. The show must go on, right? All of these things have happened to me:
- The power goes out in the middle of a song - keep playing and singing. People always remember that “special” moment when you made something out of an odd moment.
- The person leading a song has a coughing attack - step up to the mic and help them finish the song. People will remember the teamwork and “family” moment that was created.
- There’s an awkward pause between songs due to technical difficulties - use that moment to introduce the people on stage, or acknowledge something significant happening in the life of one of your team members.
Ultimately remember this: We’re all in this together. We’re family. If you’re afraid of failure then the stage is not for you. Knowing that you’ll never be perfect and that your brain and the gear you’re using are going to fail you every now and then sets you up for managed expectations. Then, when the unexpected does happen, you’ll take it all in stride.