There Is No Such Thing as a Small Stage

There Is No Such Thing as a Small Stage
Image credit: Warren Free | Flickr
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The teacher often becomes the student. On Saturday, I learned a valuable lesson from Trevor Laliberte, one of my former students who is a musician.

He was invited to perform at a major outdoor music festival in downtown Portland, Maine. There were multiple stages set up all over the Old Port section of the city and it was supposed to be a perfect summer day for an outdoor concert. However, in typical New England fashion, the concert was virtually rained out.

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All musicians using electric guitars and amps were told they wouldn’t be able to perform due to the weather. However, anyone who played an acoustic instrument could still perform. To say the weather kept the crowd away would be an understatement. Trevor performed under a small tent in the park and his audience consisted of a handful of passersby and homeless people scattered about the lawn.

I couldn’t have been more impressed with the young man’s professionalism. Many teenagers in his shoes would have either not shown up or simply not given it their all. Not Trevor though. He brought the same energy as if he were performing in a sold out stadium.

When I asked him about the experience, Trevor told me, “We need to take every opportunity to put ourselves out there, because chances are you're going to leave an impression on at least one person, and one person can make all the difference.”

That’s not just true for musicians, it’s wisdom we should all follow in business. His advice and example were also the timely reminder I needed.

Two days later I was scheduled to speak in New York City to an association of executives. The meeting planner told me there would be a large audience, but on the night of the event, the final headcount turned out to be just 35 people. After speaking at three national conventions in jam-packed convention centers three weeks prior, a small room of 35 was a letdown, to say the least. That is, until I remembered Trevor’s words of wisdom.

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When looking at the paths taken to stardom, a common theme emerges: No stage is too small and there’s no linear route to success.

  • Country musician and 2013 Celebrity Apprentice winner Trace Adkins was performing one night at a tiny country bar in Mount Juliet outside of Nashville when the president of Capitol Records saw him and offered him a recording contract.
  • Martina McBride was discovered while selling merchandise for Garth Brooks on his tour in the early 1990s. Brooks was so impressed with her voice he asked her to become his opening act and she went on to stardom as a headliner herself.
  • In 1971, Oprah Winfrey won Nashville’s Ms. Fire Prevention contest and went to the radio station to claim her prize. While she was there, the station manager invited her on air for a segment. The manager fell in love with her voice and offered her a position to read the news. The Oprah dynasty began with an audience of one in what wasn’t even intended to be an audition.

Some may say chance encounters and timing are just luck. I prefer to think that luck simply favors the prepared. To truly be prepared we need to consistently show up and bring our best, whether we are in front of an audience of 35, 350 or 3,500.

There is no linear route to entrepreneurial success, so the best thing we can all do is suspend judgment and commit ourselves in full measure to what we are doing. We never know who is watching or who we affect. It only takes one.

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