Archive for September, 2008

Beware Those Sooooper Salesmen!

Monday, September 29th, 2008

The best wedding coordinators, booking agents, and sales executives are good listeners. They ask incisive questions that help them identify your needs, wants, and budget. Then they use their professional expertise to match you with the perfect venues, bands or deejays, decor and more.

Unfortunately, not everyone is the best. Some, in fact, look after their own financial interests rather than what is best for you. Here are a few ways to spot the bad actors.

1. The “Square-Peg” Venue. If you expect 200 guests at your reception, then the best room for you is one in which all 200 can – if they choose – see your first dance, cutting of the cake, and hear any or all toasts. Having a foyer available for those who wish to step outside to have a conversation is great. However – when any any venue salesperson whose ballroom is too small for all your guests tries to convince you that “some people prefer to be in a quieter room” – you need to ask that person (and yourself) these questions: “But what if they all do want to be in there at the same time? And how will those in other rooms even know when the key moments of the reception are taking place?”

2. Floral and Decor Overkill. Having a generous budget for flowers is a wonderful thing. Having so many flowers at each table that diners can’t even see the person they are sitting across from, is not a wonderful thing. Also, when your decorator suggests “transforming” any ballroom space into a “wonderland,” just remember that one of the reasons you chose a particular venue was its pleasing appearance. A gymnasium or warehouse may need “transforming,” but most ballrooms don’t.

3. Extraneous Musicians. My 9-piece band is fuller than my 6-member unit. It should be, for the extra thousand dollars it costs you. There are times (and brides) for whom the 9 pieces are worth every penny. Just as there are also times and places where a trio would have sufficed. If you aren’t planning to dance, if your event is in the daytime (when guests tend to dance less) or if your venue gets really noisy really fast, don’t let anyone con you into buying more band than you will use.

Your wedding is all about you. It is a reflection of your tastes and preferences. The moment you feel pushed or leaned on by any salesperson, that is a sure sign that said salesman is looking out for himself, and not for you. And the inevitable result is a wedding that is less your vision and more about someone else’s bottom line.

Are You Wired?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Two parties this past week have reminded me of everything I like – and dis-like – about wireless microphones. Depending on which mikes you use, and the circumstances in which you employ them, they can either really help – or really hurt what should have been a special presentation.

At a 50th birthday dinner, the honoree’s parents were seated 30 feet or so from the band area. They were an older couple, who didn’t move too quickly. But they were cute, funny, and full of stories about their son. Having the wireless mike enabled the emcee to give them “curb service,” delivering the mike right into their waiting hands.

A few nights later, at a ritzy gathering promoting resort real estate off the coast of Georgia, I got a vivid reminder of the pitfalls possible with a cordless microphone. The chief pitchman was constantly moving from one side of his audience to another. Normally, this is a very effective Speech technique called proxemics (as in “proximity.”) Unfortunately, he was either using a cheap mike or else one whose receiving antenna had been poorly placed. Every single time he moved to his far left, the mike produced only “white noise” (which sounds like the letter “f” being voiced for 10 straight seconds: “ffffffffffffft”). Worse yet, he never tumbled to the solution: if the mike doesn’t work when you stand there, don’t stand there!

At your next event, you may not need a microphone. But – if you do – you will want it to deliver your comments clearly and feedback-free. If a sound check (rehearsal) is not available for you to discover any potential gremlins, then let me suggest a prudent back-up plan: have a mike with an extra-long cable ready – just in case. It may be a little extra trouble to use, but it will ensure that your well-chosen words are heard by your audience.

Otherwise, the key moment at the event which has consumed months of your time and thousands of your dollars could sound like this: “Ladieff fnd gfftlemen, leff ffrink a toaff ffo our fffest of fffnor, Mfff Fffffffthffffson!”

Rejecting The Three Big Rejection Traps

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

“The boy will come to nothing.” (Jakob Freud, father of Sigmund)

“We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” (Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles in 1962)

“Balding. Can’t act. Can’t sing. Dances a little.” (Warner Bros. talent scout, on Fred Astaire)

Have you ever experienced Rejection from a loved one or colleague? If not, be patient – your time is coming.

I won’t go so far as to say that Rejection and I are old friends, but we are acquaintances of long standing. And if I’ve learned one thing from the experience, it is that you and I are making 3 big mistakes when we accept another person or group’s Rejection as a universal truth about ourselves.

Here’s what I mean: I have a beautiful wife and a wonderful son whom I love more than life itself. But I wouldn’t have known either of them these past two decades, if the first Mrs. Tanner hadn’t traded me in.

Nor would I have worked with the same group of musicians for the past 28 years, unless my previous band had kicked me out.

You see, just because I wasn’t right for somebody doesn’t mean that I’m wrong for everybody. So, our first big mistake is to give those who reject us the power to define how we view ourselves.

Our second mistake comes when – in order to forestall rejection – we attempt to become all things to all people. Or – as Bill Cosby so eloquently phrased it: “I don’t know what the key to Success is, but the key to Failure is trying to please everyone.”

When you decide against a particular pair of new shoes, they may simply be a bad fit. Likewise, we don’t fit in with every person or group. But that has as much to do with who the others are as it does with ourselves. All we can – or should – do is to be true to ourselves, while striving to always do right by others.

Does this mean we should not be open to constructive advice from the people in our lives? Not at all. But – as Donald Trump advises – “Consider the source. Should this person’s opinion matter to you? If so, take a few minutes to consider if you can learn anything helpful from the criticism.”

While you evaluate the gap between how you picture yourself and how certain others view you, try to avoid Mistake Number Three – selling yourself short. Remember the immortal words of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who said: “It is too early for a Polish pope.” (Two days later, he became John Paul II.)

My Role Model? Don Quixote!

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Most folks view Don Quixote, Cervantes’ skinny knight in rusty home-made armor, as an object of scorn and ridicule. Not me. I have known for years that he was actually the only one who was sane on the plain in Spain. Let others equate “tilting at windmills” with futility. I know better.

Why? Because Quixote – as performed by Richard Kiley in Man Of La Mancha – sang the words that changed my life:
To dream The Impossible Dream / To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow / To run where the brave dare not go…

And so on, all the way down to:
And the world will be better for this / That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable star!

That’s powerful writing – especially considering that it came from the guy who gave us the immortal, “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”

The Impossible Dream came into my life at a time when I was first beginning to consider a career as a performer. Full-time professional entertainers/role models were few and far between in my home town of Gainesville, TX (population 13,000.) Encouragement was in even shorter supply. Even my own mother – still scarred by growing up in the Great Depression – despaired
at my embarking on the pothole-filled road of a musician’s life. It would have been easy to grow discouraged and abandon my own dream as “impossible.” But Quixote/Kiley and that danged song wouldn’t let me quit. Forty years later, I’m still tilting at windmills (and I’m determined to get the best of them yet)!

I recently came across a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I wish I’d known, all those years ago. She said, “The future belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Were you a Beautiful Dreamer once, until somebody talked “sense” into you? Or are you still one today – with as-yet unrealized hopes of learning a foreign language, or of playing the piano, or seeing the world? If so, then listen up: I followed my dream, and you can do the same! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what some real achievers have to say to you:

Elijah Wood of the Lord Of The Rings movies says it this way: “Dream the impossible, because dreams do come true.”

From New York Life President Darwin Kingsley: “You have powers you never dreamed of. So do not think you cannot. Think you can!”

To which the ever-quotable Winston Churchill would add: “Never, never, never, never give up!” (“Never” 4 times in a row? – I think Winnie was trying to tell us something!)

But the Most Eloquent Spokesman Award must go to Christopher Reeve, who said: “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then improbable, but then – when we summon the will – they soon become inevitable.”

And that’s the recipe for inevitable success: Take 1 Impossible Dream, mix well with a generous helping of Will and a dash of Positive Attitude, then bake it with Persistence.

You won’t even need to add icing. It’s already the sweetest dish you will ever taste.

“No One Is Listening – Until You Make A Mistake!”

Monday, September 15th, 2008

As a professional speaker, I am only too well-aware of the bitter taste of my own toes. “Open mouth/insert foot” is a hazard of the trade for any of us who jabber for a living.

Case in point: Democrat Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden recently asked a dignitary in the audience to “stand up,” momentarily forgetting that the luminary in question is confined to a wheelchair. Some laughed at Senator Biden’s mistake. I merely offered a silent prayer of thanks that was not me who uttered that gaffe.

My verbal boo-boos over the years include citing the wrong book of the Bible for a quotation – to a group of ministers – as well as introducing featured vocalist Guy Mitchell (whose hits included Singing The Blues) as “Guy Williams” (who played Zorro for Disney when I was a kid.)

I have a lot of company. Senator Edward Kennedy stumbled over the name of a young colleague from Illinois, asking the crowd to welcome “Osama Obama.” And Depression-Era Texas Governor Miriam A. (“Ma”) Ferguson once thoroughly confused a group of journalists who wanted to know her position on bi-lingual education, by responding that her opposition was Scriptural: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”

My reaction to such moments is to want to crawl under my bed and never come out again. I always feel that my credibility is irrevocably destroyed. But George Bernard Shaw took a more benign view, saying “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”

Albert Einstein added, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Shaw and Einstein were considered to be pretty smart guys. So maybe you and I should give ourselves “permission” to be human (as in “to err is…”).

Cutting ourselves some slack can even prevent future flubs. TV’s The Apprentice”-winner Bill Rancic advises us that “Sulking about your mistakes only leads to future ones.”

Nina Coleman, editor of the Friar’s Club Bible Of Roasts And Toasts suggests that we go a step further, and act like the goofs were intentional. She says, “If there is a piece of spinach between your teeth or a scrap of toilet paper trailing from your shoe, pretend you know it’s there and you did it for effect. Works every time.”

Finally, take heart in knowing that the vast majority of our oral foul-ups fall far short of Harry Von Zell’s most famous blooper. On coast to coast radio in the 1930s, the young announcer had the honor of introducing no less than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The normally unflappable Von Zell said into the nationally-connected microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hoo-bert Hee-ver.”

“Change” Is Good – When It Is Change For The BETTER!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

During this political season in which every candidate is promising “Change” of one sort or other, I’d like to put in my two cents for one place where change is not always an improvement: Parties.

I can understand perfectly why your second daughter would not want her wedding to be a carbon copy of her big sister’s nuptials. And party planning committees are on solid ground when they vary venues, bands, menus, and themes from year to year.

But there is a difference between a “groove” and a rut. And tampering with success for no other reason than to have “change” is an idea fraught with danger for your event.

No party is a success unless its guests have a great time. Like the rest of us, guests are creatures of habit, who arrive at your event with certain built-in expectations. Make too many alterations in the flow of your party, and the result is a disorientation of your guests.

This is why I strongly recommend against taking the well-established pattern of an evening, and changing it for no compelling reason. Our parties’ patterns become well-established, for the simple reason that they work.

If your guests are older, and are in the habit of leaving early – then it makes perfect sense to push forward the starting and ending hours of your event. If your chosen theme suggests a particular cuisine or music, departing from the norm is only logical.

But don’t fall for the politician’s hype that “change” – of and by itself – is necessarily an improvement. I recall the old tale of the politician who told Mark Twain that he wanted to be different, because that was good. To which Twain replied, “Just be good – that’s different enough.”

Those Wonderful 3-Day Weekend Weddings!

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Problem: Many – if not most of your guests are coming from out of town (or out of state, or even out of the country). In order to attend your wedding, they need extra travel time.
Solution: Plan your event – well ahead of time – during one of the calendar’s 3-Day weekends!

Not all Americans get a business holiday on Memorial Day or Labor Day, but most do. So – if your guest list requires significant numbers of your guests to travel long distances, consider a Sunday wedding.

This saves your guests from killing themselves racing to the airport on Friday night or before dawn on Saturday. It allows them a full extra day for getting to their destination. They are less stressed and cranky, which – in turn – leaves you a little less stressed (and cranky).

Sunday – prior to the wedding festivities – can then be a day for visiting with friends and family (instead of racing straight home, as they would have to do following a Saturday night event on a “regular” weekend.)

On Monday, they can say their goodbyes and head back for home. When Tuesday dawns, they may still be a bit jet-lagged, but they will be nowhere near as exhausted as they might otherwise have been. A shorter recovery period for them makes memories of their weekend with you all the more joyous.

It is more humane for your out-of-town guests and for you!

The downside? There are really only two perfect 3-Day weekends each year. (Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, and Columbus Day seem to only give bankers and mailmen a day off.) Savvy brides snap up venues and bands a year or more in advance of the following Memorial and Labor Day Sundays. So, to make this work for you, you will need to plan way ahead.

In fact, I’ve actually had some brides who booked these dates before they were officially engaged. And you know what? They’ve always managed to get their grooms to show up in the right place at the right time.

(Amazing people, these brides.)

“And The Current Time And Temperature Is…”

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Two of the most-overlooked keys to any party’s success – or failure – are (as you may have already figured, from today’s title) time and temperature.

As the host of an event, your own personal sense of time is less important than that of your guests. Your best results will always come from pacing the evening according to the majority of them.

This hit home last week when I played for a party held at a local culinary arts academy (that’s a cooking school, to you and me.) The dinner was served in the “French” style – which is to say, it took about two-and-a-half hours to for the guests to work their way through from soup to dessert.

From my vantage point, that appeared to be a bit on the leisurely side for most of the guests. I’m guessing they hadn’t all been informed that there would be lots of time for visiting (or even short naps) between courses.

Temperature and – to a lesser extent, humidity – are the best friends and/or worst enemies that most parties can have. Guests who are comfortable stay longer and enjoy the event more – because they are comfortable. Let the thermostat drift either north or south a few degrees from 74 (Fahrenheit), and you will start losing customers.

A political rally for which my band played recently ran well past its scheduled finish time (several “5-minute” speeches clocked in closer to 20). I saw the banquet captain quietly turn up the ballroom’s thermostat, and knew exactly what he was doing. The combination of less air conditiong in the room and hot air pouring off the stage sent all but the most rabid partisans heading for the exits. (Works every time. But when it’s your party, you probably won’t want it to.)

As host and planner of your event, you will have a million details to consider. Okay – that’s an exaggeration – you will have two million.) All of them contribute or detract from the success of your party. Just remember 2 things: that some of those two million are more important than others, and that 2 of the most important make up the title of this entry.

Is There A Piano In Your Party’s Future? (If So, Please Read This)

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Back in the 1960′s, in the historical age known as “B.C.” (Before Casio), acoustic (ie. non-electric) pianos were pretty much standard equipment at all hotels, clubs, and other venues. Many still have them today. In fact, they still have those same ones they had 40 years ago – which is fine. After all, pianos never go out of style.

They do – however – go out of tune. And their keys do break (as do the legs of their piano benches.) So – before you assume that the mere presence of a piano saves you the trouble of renting one – here are a few things you should probably check out.

1. Is the piano where you want it? A spinet piano up against the wall in one corner of the room may be fine for background music, but completely wrong for your needs. Will the venue move it for you? Is there a fee for doing so, and – if there is – how much?

2. Is it in tune and in good working order? Once upon a kinder, gentler time, most venues considered it their responsibility to maintain their pianos. Regular visits by the piano tuner were customary. Somewhere along the way – that changed. The current trend seems to be for venues to offer to have it tuned for your event – but at your expense.

Honestly, a piano that has been tuned in the past year may not need a tune-up. But this can vary widely based on how often the piano is pushed from room to room, and how much the temperature and/or humidity varies at its current location. Unfortunately, the only way to know whether it is acceptable for your purposes is to check it out in advance.

3. Finally, how does it look? Just like automobiles, pianos can still be mechanically sound, even with a variety of dents and scratches to their exteriors. The question that only you can answer is: are those dings a deal-breaker?

Today’s electric keyboards feature digitally-sampled sounds that are eerily authentic. The Yamaha that I carry in under one arm sounds like a Steinway concert grand. It’s always in tune, and it can be set almost anywhere (which would not be true for a real concert grand.

In fact, it is so convincing and so reliable that there are only two drawbacks which could ever limit its use: First, it’s not nearly as impressive to look at as a concert grand. And secondly, it only works where there is electricity nearby.

But these limitations don’t deter most hosts. Which is why so many great (and not so great) old acoustic pianos sit forlornly in their corners, year after year, unused and unappreciated.

Until the power suddenly goes out. At which time, someone inevitably lifts off the dusty sheet covering them and exclaims – “Hey! We can still make music – they’ve got a real piano!”