“Your Turn Challenge” – The Transcription

To say that I despise watching myself on tape is an understatement. I would rather do pretty much anything else, anywhere, always. Manual labor? Check.  Taxes? Check. I know I’m not alone in this. Anyone who makes a living being in front of people especially – entertainers, speakers, trainers, hosts – usually shares this same dislike of watching themselves.

And yet I, and I think we all, know it’s one of the best ways to get better.  It’s obvious, right?  Study yourself to improve– your content, delivery, style, timing, pacing, and overall presentation.

So why do I avoid it so much? I used to watch myself on tape all the time. It was how I got better. Years ago as a headliner, or “guest entertainer” on cruise ships as they are referred to, I usually only worked 1 or 2 nights in week-long cruise. Guest entertainers perform in the main theater onboard, so naturally the entertainment needs to change every night. What that means is that you find yourself with a lot of free time on cruise ships.

Before every show I would ask the lighting technician to throw a gigantic VHS tape into his even more gigantic console to record it. And then religiously the next morning after breakfast, I would study the tape. I thought of myself as an NFL athlete with my game each week.  Monday morning I would hit the film room, i.e. my cabin, and study.  It was like Jon Gruden’s QB Camp in that cabin – I would rip myself a part! I would practice all week long until it was time to get back out there, and try again to make it ever better  The only difference was my “opponent” was always the same – me.

I did this for years. And looking back, thank God I did because I can attribute much of the polish of my show today to that time of my life when I dedicated myself fully to my craft.  But somewhere along the way when I transitioned from ship-life to land-life, based in Orlando, the study sessions stopped.  Naturally, when you don’t have someone cleaning your place twice a day, 24/7 buffet available to you, and 1 gig a week, life gets a lot busier!

So perhaps I couldn’t tape and study every show, but I should have been able to do it once a month, right? Once a quarter at the very least? Keep in mind that the show is my product. So just like any other business, don’t you think you should be looking at your product from new angles to see how you can innovate it? Or at least be quality-control checking your product?  Like… all the time!!?!  YES!

About 6 months ago, a dear friend and fellow performer gave me a great idea that I should have Speaker / Magician Tim Gabrielson makes a funny faceacted on immediately. Tim Gabrielson is a corporate comedian, magician, keynote speaker, and author. Tim is one of those people who just has great vision when it comes to the stage.  Whenever Tim is in town doing a corporate show of his own, I always ask him to swing by my Las Vegas show to take notes for me, because he always gives such helpful feedback and advice.  Everybody needs a Tim 🙂

As I was getting my post-show notes, I specifically remember Tim asking me when the last time I transcribed my show was.  “Transcribe?” “Yea, transcribe – you know, when was the last time you sat down and wrote out your show.”  I was embarrassed to say I had never done this.  And I mean ever… since I started performing.

Even on my cruise ship days, I would take notes on how I could improve, but I had never written the whole show out from start to finish.  I had never had a working script. The show had just organically developed over the hundreds and hundreds of performances.  Something works, it stays in.  A new line bombs, it goes out.  And when you’re doing that many shows all the time, there’s no chance of you “forgetting” your script… it just becomes part of you.  Lines and bits and full routines have drifted in and out throughout the years with no real tracking on my part.

Surprised, Tim was emphatic that I do this as soon as possible.  And he was insistent that I do it myself, and not pay a service to do it for me, because the process of self-transcribing was the most important part.

So I decided that this January as part of my recharge process, I would transcribe the show.  I am proud to say that I have just now completed.  It was painful.  So… very… painful.  5 minutes into my show (about 2 hours of transcribing), and I was wondering why anyone would ever want to watch me, let alone pay to see me!  Did I mention how much I hate watching myself??  Obviously, I’m hard on myself.

WOW.  What a great experience.  Certainly humbling as well.  I would highly encourage any entertainer or speaker to go through this process, as it is quite eye-opening to see not how you think you look and sound, but how you actually look and sound.  When you’re able see your show / act / presentation written out like a play, you can see “what if” more clearly.  What if I changed the intro?  What if I trimmed this section?  What if I moved the opener to the closer?

So what did I learn from transcribing my show?  Well, little picture, I learned the following:

– I need to slow down… A LOT.  Watching it felt like I was trying to cram a 3-hour show into 75 minutes.  I could see that a lot of my one-liners and comments were lost because of speed and mumbling.

– I need to not use my volunteers’ names so much on stage.  I counted that in a 7-minute routine with a 6-year-old boy on stage, I said his name 39 times.  39 times!  In 7 minutes.  That has to be a record 🙂

– I repeat certain phrases way too often like “you guys” and “give X a hand” where X is him, her, yourself and me.

– My tone can come off loud and abrasive (read: sometimes I sound really annoying).

The list goes on…

More importantly, what did transcribing my show TEACH me?

1) Doing something you’re avoiding is a very good thing to do.

2) Changing your perspective is a very good thing to do.

3) Getting out of your comfort zone is a very good thing to do.

Duh to all 3, right?  Nothing new here, but good points to be reminded of.  Interesting that each of these points means something very different to each one of us.  For me, doing the show for 500 people is in my comfort zone, but watching that same show in a room by myself with headphones on is outside that zone.  Ha.

What’s the one thing you have been avoiding, that just might be the key to your next step in personal or professional growth?  You should probably figure that out, and do it.

This post is part of the “Your Turn Challenge,” a 7-day blogging challenge created by Winnie Kao, special projects lead for marketing / business guru Seth Godin.  Learn more about the “Your Turn Challenge.”