What do presenting and DJ-ing have in common?
As I recently discovered at the Toastmasters District 59 Conference… a lot.
If you love your content, love your audience and, therefore, put love into your preparation, then presenting and DJ-ing are both a blast!
So They Bought My Pitch. Now What?
With Basel hosting the Toastmasters European Conference, I wanted to make sure that my fellow Toastmasters visiting from around the continent would come away entertained after the gala dinner.
Oh yeah, lest I forget. I’m a music freak from the days of Woodstock and a dancing’ fool from forever and always. I wanted to spread the love, baby.
So two months before the conference, I approached the Basel organizers with a pretty simple pitch: Let me be the DJ for the gala dinner dance party.
And they bought it. Yep, DJ Jacko would spin the tunes.
Be careful what you wish for, Jacko! Now the work would start, and this was uncharted territory.
Over the years, I had taken over the turntables and stereo equipment at many a party.
But in Basel, this wasn’t just a party. This was 250 people wanting to let it all hang out after a day-and-a-half of workshops, competitions, a gala dinner and an award ceremony.
And these 250 people were my fellow tribesmen and women!
The pressure started to rise.
Where would I start?
Content Is King
Yep. This has been my big focus in recent years, as a Toastmaster specifically and as a public speaker generally. Delivery is important, but it’s my belief that great content is what puts you over the top.
It’s the same thing in DJ-ing. You could play it safe and just bang out cookie-cutter club music.
You could boom-boom-boom the same beats and similar rhythms all night long, so that the masses just keep on keepin’ on.
Or you could inspire people with music, with content, that pulls at the heart and elevates the soul.
I went with music that has inspired me over the years and even as I prepared over the recent weeks. I selected what I thought would match with the 30-and-up, urban crowd of European Toastmasters.
Beyond that, I did not play it safe.
I had written my own informal briefing, so now I would shoot for the moon.
Sequence & Organization
A great presentation takes the audience on a journey. Why shouldn’t a DJ’s playlist do the same thing?
As much preparation as I had put into selecting the music, I put even more into sequencing it.
I didn’t want to force the dancing on everyone… at least not in the first two songs.
And I absolutely did not want any announcement from the stage that I was DJ-ing or, even “And now it’s time to dance!” On the former, they would figure it out, and on the latter… they would figure it out!
In my briefing, I determined that the segue — from dinner/awards to dancing — should be easy and unpretentious. So as soon as the award ceremony culminated, I started with funky lounge pieces that, I intuited, would build an expectation. Something big was coming!
And it didn’t take long to deliver on the expectation.
By Song 3, the space shuttle had left the launch pad… and my fellow Toastmasters had left their chairs for the dance floor.
Fun, upbeat, rhythmic tunes to get everyone expressin’ themselves and shakin’ their booties on the dance floor.
A bit of Latino, a bit of funk, and there was no turning back. We were in the stratosphere, and we partying hard.
But you can’t hold that pace all night. So toward the middle, I reduced the rocket power, to give the journey a sensuous, slow section so that humans could do what we long to do.
A few slow songs to let the established Toastmaster-couples cling to each other and, of course, to facilitate a few, well, eh hem, you know… a few blossoming relationships or just, plain ol’ hook ups. Why not? Toastmasters are human, too, and dancing and partying and loving are what tribes do!
But enough was enough. So move over, romantic ones. Slip out the side door or get ready for the rocket power.
It was time to build toward the grande finale… a crescendo that had the place screaming past the moon, with no hope of earth’s gravity holding us down.
Houston, we have a problem. We just passed Pluto!
But It Doesn’t Just Happen. Preparation Is Queen
I can’t emphasize this enough. For a presentation, a pitch, or spinnin’ music to inspire people to shake their booties like there’s no tomorrow… preparation is critical.
If I would’ve shown up with a bunch of good songs and then started to assemble my playlist and sequence on the fly, it would’ve been a disaster — if not a disaster, then I would have, at very least, disappointed myself for not giving my best to my tribe of dancin’ fools.
Indeed, I had all of this prepared, including the cues — the points at which you cut into and out of each song. While I did skip some material on the fly, it was much easier to consciously decide to modify than it would have been to start composing on the scene.
We also had a few tech challenges just before “going live.” But because I had prepared over the previous months, I didn’t have to worry about the actual presentation of the music at that point; I could focus wholly on solving the problem.
It’s the same thing in a presentation or a sales pitch. Improvise at your own peril.
Pour Your Soul Into It
When presenting, there are those who just go through the motions of getting the job done, and those who love their content so much that they want the audience to love it, too. For me, this is the intersection where passion lies.
Well, it’s the same thing in DJ-ing. I love music. I love to dance, and I have so many dear friends and inspiring colleagues within Toastmasters District 59, that I gave this gig every ounce of my soul.
By the fifth song, I was enjoying it so much that I occasionally went out and danced with everyone. I was inspired… and I couldn’t hold back.
But this illustrates the sacrifice that comes with it all. I could only dance a few times, and only for a few minutes at a time. But they were a glorious few minutes, I must admit.
In my own view, it couldn’t have gone any better, especially for my first DJ gig.
You may chuckle and say, “Come on, Jack. A little more self-awareness and humility!”
But I have three reasons for believing it went well:
- It felt good. Be as analytic as you want, but your own gut is something to be measured, too;
- The dance floor was filled from the third song right through to the end. (The first two songs were mood setters, by design.)
- The feedback was positive, and my fellow Toastmasters just couldn’t believe an ol’ veteran from Woodstock could rock the house.
That doesn’t sound very humble, I know, but back to Point 1. I had a tremendous buzz from beginning to end, and that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t feeling my audience
That’s one of the great things about Toastmasters, and I’ve probably said this a thousand-and-one times: the more you give, the more you get.
I got not only positive feedback and felt the tribal love, I got great memories and a first DJ job in my CV.
Look out, DJ Bobo. DJ Jacko’s is in da’ house!
Don’t Obsess Over a Mistake. They’ll Forgive You!
There were definitely lessons learned here, and not just from the positive.
I made a few errors. Early on, I wasn’t happy with my fading/transitions between songs. No one seemed to notice, and I got better by that fifth song.
But twice, while cueing up the next song in my headphones, I abruptly crashed away, from the heart of the live song in progress on the sound system, into the middle of the next song being cued-up.
What do you do in this situation?
What else can you do? Push on.
Yep, when you’re presenting and something doesn’t go perfectly, don’t belabor it. If it’s minor, just push on. If it’s major, acknowledge it with good humor and… yep, push on!
And so it was when I miscued.
I looked up and saw an entire dance floor of startled looks, and some even a bit disappointed because they had found their own, booty-shakin’ groove before this abrupt crash-away.
I just looked at everybody, laughed, shrugged my shoulders and yelled, “Oops!”
Within a few seconds, the next song had found its way into their souls and the journey continued at the speed of light and out of the solar system!
So, if your delivery is solid, your content is inspiring and your spontaneity good-spirited, your audience will forgive the small stuff and appreciate the big stuff.
It’s a Virtuous Cycle
And that’s just one more thing I love about Toastmasters. We’re all there to bring out the best in each other. It’s therefore inspiring to just keep giving.
So thank you, Basel organizers again. Thank you, District 59. And thank you, fellow Toastmasters.
I poured my soul into it, and I felt your tribal love, friendship and warm support every second of it.
And, I have to admit, it was a blast watching you shake their booties, too!
Photo taken spontaneously by friend and Fellow Toastmaster Douglas MacKevett. Damn, I wish I would have thought to take a photo to show my view of all that booty shakin’.