Thursday, March 23, 2017

My fantastic day in Philly

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Philadelphia is one of the city’s finest restaurants. Its menu features one seafood item that costs $79.50.

And, gulp, it’s only an appetizer.

So I can’t afford to eat there.

Heck, I can’t afford to valet park there.

That’s why what happened at Del Frisco’s on Monday evening was so odd.

I owned the joint.

At least that’s how it felt.

I drove five hours to present my “Use All The Crayons!” keynote to 43 members of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. They’d heard about me through a friendly meeting planner who’d brought me in to speak to the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

And I love it when word-of-mouth leads me to a really great steak house.

It’d been a while since I’d done any professional speaking. Val wondered if I was nervous. 

“Not at all,” I said. In fact, I was feeling cocky, impatient to score more keynotes with much bigger groups.

I’m tinkering with the idea of joining an organization that will smooth out some of the rough edges. See, I am indeed nervous at the start of every hour-long talk.

An audience of strangers can be very judgmental. What if I bore them? What if my jokes fail? What if my fly’s down?

So much can go wrong.

So I stumble and start right off with an unsettling number of “ums” — maybe it’s more accurate to say I “umble.” I feel cold sweat on my forehead.

Working with a professional speech makers group would eliminate these obvious flaws.

That’s why I think it might be a big mistake.

My initial umbles really lower the bar. The audience becomes nervous for me.

My intro actually encourages this fear. I tell them we’re going to spend the next hour talking about the really big questions: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Where do we go when we die?

I pause for an excruciating 10 seconds to let that sink in.

Then I hit them with one of my biggest laugh lines: “Then there are the questions only important to me. Questions like: If fans of the Grateful Dead are called Deadheads, what does that make those of us who revere the book Moby Dick?”

They roar with laughter and relief. They won’t be existentially bored for the next hour. Hooray!

And I, too, am transformed by the laughter. My confidence surges and I become a preacher. 

I’ve learned in my talks that once you get people laughing you can talk to them about topics adults reflexively shun. Topics like suicide, depression, hopelessness, failure, death.

Truly, these are the themes of my talks — and everyone leaves saying they had a ball! 

It’s incredible to me that my experiences — my failures — have forged this resonant message for me.

That’s what happened Monday. It was a bases loaded home run. They loved it.

Afterwards, they lined up to thank me; 21 of them bought books.

I’ve read that if 10 percent of an audience buys books, it’s considered a success.

I was right at 50 percent.

Not enough, surely, to splurge on a Del Frisco’s filet, but I chowed on the hors d’oeuvers and guzzled plenty of free wine.

So it would have been a swell night if they’d have heckled me off the stage.

Later after I’d packed up and everyone from the reception was gone, I climbed the marble stairs to the elegant loft bar overlooking what used to be the old First Pennsylvania Bank. The bank clock is still there, but only now it was surrounded by dozens of iconic fire engine red wax-dipped bottles of Maker’s Mark bourbon.

When in Rome …

I ordered a double. 

It came in a rocks glass that looked like the oaken head of a hangin’ judge’s gavel. It had heft, gravitas. It could double as a murder weapon.

I fell in love with it.

The bartender was sweet, too!

I ordered another double.

She asked about my day.

“It was fantastic,” I confessed. “I’ve had so many failures and disappointments in my professional life, but in the last few years I’ve crafted a message that can be inspirational to anyone who’s struggling. I just got a huge ovation from a group of friendly strangers who said hearing my story will make a real positive difference in their lives.”

“Sounds like a real day to remember.”

It was.

I’m sure I’ll remember it long after the details of other similar triumphs fade from my mind.

See, I stole that glass.

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