Be There - Not Just for Warm Bodies Anymore

When you show up for work, are you ready for it? Are you the kind of person that arrives just seconds before your shift starts, punches the clock, and then spends the next 15 minutes getting your coffee ready? Or do you come in ready to tackle what you have in store for you? Well, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t really like your job, then I can understand why you’d take your time getting started. But what if you forgot all about how much your job sucks and decided, just for one day, to become completely engrossed in it? You might be surprised how much you can actually get out of a job you can’t stand, and even how fulfilling that job can be.

Out of the 4 parts of the Permanent Impact approach, I can’t think of a simpler instruction than Be There. When you break it down, Be There means so much more than just showing up physically. I remember the scene in the movie Clerks where Dante and Randall are talking about whether their jobs are important, and Randall equates their tasks to pushing buttons as though a monkey could be trained to do the same thing. It’s sad to say that yes, monkeys probably could be trained to do some of our jobs better than many humans currently do them. But what sets us apart from our primate counterpoints is the mental capacity to see beyond the task itself and actually engage.

As a DJ, I can’t tell you how important this concept of Be There is to the success of your event. I have heard more horror stories than I should have from people that have hired DJ companies only to have their DJs simply not show up. I can’t understand why anyone would hire a DJ that wouldn’t have a backup plan. I’ve even been called at the last minute to handle a show that someone booked us for because the DJ they’d chosen (a friend of the family, imagine that) suffered a burned-out amplifier the night before and couldn’t do the party. So I got to work a laid-back pool party at someone’s home that included overtime, a tip, and a little extra travel pay simply because one guy couldn’t take the time to practice this concept. By the way, thanks, guy . . . whoever you are.

So here are a few items that fall under the Be There heading that you can take with you.

Obviously, the first part of the Be There concept is to show up. Physically be there. Prepare ahead of time to make sure you’ve got enough time for the commute and for whatever other surprises that might throw you off, including inclement weather, irregular traffic patterns, long lines at the drive-thru, et cetera. This is especially true if you’re volunteering your time or serving at your local church or synagogue. Make the arrangements necessary to be in the place you say you will be when you say you will be there; in other words, honor the commitment you’ve made . . . because someone else is counting on you.

Make the effort to get to your destination BEFORE you’re required to be there. I’ve never known anyone to show up 15 minutes early and have someone respond negatively. Come to think of it, actually, I have run into that, but the person in question is also one of the worst facility managers I’ve ever met. This woman all but yelled at the father of the bride because he showed up early to the reception hall. But I digress . . . when I arrive at a show early, I have the advantage of being able to make last-minutes changes if necessary, double-check my paperwork and music, and perhaps even make an unscheduled stop on the way if I've forgotten something important, like a special CD for background music (happened), or the tie for my tuxedo (happened). Or the tuxedo itself (happened to Bernard). Or the large CD wallet you unknowingly dropped in a shopping center parking lot (again, and unfortunately, me). You have some wiggle room when you plan to arrive early.

One of the things I take with me to every show I do – EVERY SHOW – is a 6-page party planner that I created on a spreadsheet document. This is a quick-reference cheat sheet that I put together several years ago and have been using ever since, continually updating it to allow for new songs that hit big and older songs that lose popularity. You see, I spend a lot of time on the pre-call with my client making sure I have all the important information down, and then I email my client to have them double-check my notes so that I don’t accidentally miss anything. Then I transfer all that information to my party planner. It contains lists of songs that do a great job of getting people on the dance floor more often than most other songs, divided by category: hip-hop/rap/dance, classic rock, modern rock, country, oldies, icebreakers. Slow songs get their own category, regardless of genre. Those categories take up 5 pages, and I enter my client’s music request in with the stock songs I keep in the planner. The 6th page is personal information about my clients, including names of people in the wedding party, parents of the bride and groom, who’s giving the toasts, who’s giving the blessing over the meal, what songs should be played for the formal dances, and any other special requests or family traditions I need to be aware of. When I’ve got all that in one place that I can access at a moment’s notice, it makes those unexpected moments (like the father of the bride in the bathroom when it’s time for the Father-Daughter dance, even though I told him not to go anywhere) seem a lot less threatening.

I know it’s easy to space off from time to time, but it’s important to remain in the moment whenever you’re working with other people. As a DJ, this means I need to be aware not only of what’s happening now, but what will be happening in the next 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I’ll do a wedding reception where the cake cutting, toasts, formal dances, and bouquet & garter tosses will all happen one right after the other, so I need to always keep an eye on what’s next. During open dancing, I’ll make a note of the song that’s playing and whether people are dancing to it, but I’ll also think about the songs I just played prior (were they of the same genre?) as well as the songs I’m about to play (are any of the client’s requests in there?) and how much time I have left in the evening (can I fit in “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Shout”, and “Yeah!” before the facility cuts the power?). If I’m not paying attention to the clock, or to my requests, then I can really lose where I am in the scope of the evening.

Sometimes I’ll be so organized that I won’t want to be flexible, but remaining engaged with the people at my party helps me to not only observe them, but to work with them, to play with them. If I see that a particular song that I’m unsure about floods the dance floor, I might alter the next few songs to follow it up with another of the same genre. I remember the first time I played John Denver’s live version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, I was amazed at the response I got from the crowd, so I decided to change my next couple songs to cater to the crowd’s apparent appreciation for classic country. Had I not been paying attention, I could have missed a great opportunity. It also helps me when I get out on the dance floor with people, call them out if they’re busting some great moves, encourage people to form lines for The Stroll, or really anything that they can respond to. If they know that I’m willing to put myself out there with them, then they’ll go right along with whatever I’m trying to do.

This goes beyond simply being engaged by letting people know they can come up to you. One thing I do at every event is go table to table during dinner and take requests for dancing. I let people know I’m specifically looking for dance songs, so if they ask if I can play “Paradise City” by Guns n’ Roses, I very tactfully tell them no unless they can get 9 other people to dance to it with them. If they balk, I’ll tell them again that I’m looking for songs people can dance to, and if they can’t think of anything then and there, they can come up to my table anytime during the evening and let me know. I also tell my clients when I’m on the pre-call with them that if anything isn’t going the way they’d like, I won’t be offended if they come up to me and tell me so. My job is to serve them and help the whole group have fun, but if something I’m doing is making them feel uncomfortable, I’d rather they let me know so I can change course. Once they know that I’m approachable, they usually feel very comfortable.

Sometimes that idea that comes into the back of your head, the one that you know the people you’re working with will love, can get eaten up by the monster that reminds you that you might embarrass yourself. Fight the monster. If you’ve been organized, focused, engaged, and available, then spontaneity can be your best friend. You’ve already established a foundation for your work, so now you can relax and have a little fun with it. When I'm fully there, I can dance with the grandmother or the six-year old niece of the groom. I'll invite one of the guests to come behind the table and be the Guest DJ for a song. I'll hand the mic to someone during a boisterous sing-along and watch what happens (hint: this works best if it sounds like the person can actually sing). Sometimes the best moments happen with no forethought or pre-planning . . . sometimes they just happen.

When it comes down to it, the Be There concept doesn’t work unless you’re there in every capacity – physically, mentally, emotionally. Invest yourself in your work, and you’ll see some amazing returns. And good news for 2010 . . . these kind of returns can’t be taxed.

There Is No Box.