A number of years ago I was hired to perform at a very high-end dinner party in Naples, Florida. The host of the party was a very successful businessman who lived in a beautiful waterfront estate. A cocktail hour was held on the spacious grounds behind the house—and then the 200 guests were then moved to a large tent, erected in another area of the back yard, for dinner. I was asked to perform for approximately 30 minutes following dinner.
However, I had an unusual opening act that night. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were two of the guests at the party. The host was good friends with the Carters—he had been a big supporter of Carter’s presidential campaigns many years prior and they had remained close friends over the decades.
I actually had to arrive several hours earlier than I normally would for a corporate booking, as the Secret Service had to secure the area where the dinner would take place. I did my set-up and sound check first—and then the Secret Service swept the area for any explosives. Mind you, I’d had my fair share of times in my career when I had “bombed”—and I would have been grateful if a dog could have sniffed it out before I ever walked on stage. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this night—there were no bombs in the audience and there were no bombs on stage.
After dinner, the host went on stage and did an official “welcome” and thank-you to all of his guests. He then introduced President Carter in the audience and asked him to come up to the stage and say a few words before the evening’s entertainment. Oh, great! Now I have to follow Jimmy Carter. The former President spoke for about five or ten minutes, mostly just summing up the current state of the global politics from his point of view. He finished to a standing ovation and then it was my turn.
The host introduced me and I came bounding up the stage and began my program. I spoke for about two minutes, get some good laughs, and then I stopped. And I said,
“Ladies & gentlemen. Forgive me for one moment. But for most speakers and entertainers, it’s very rare that they ever get the opportunity to perform in front of a President of the United States. So, if you would indulge me for just one moment. I have a camera here, and if I could just stop for a few seconds and get a picture.”
And at this point, I stepped off the stage and into the audience. The Carters were sitting at a table front and center. I walked up to Carter and said, “Mr. President, would you mind taking a picture?” And he was very gracious and stood up, and as he did, I handed him the camera, and I grabbed some random guy at the next table, and I said, “OK, Mr. President, if you could snap a picture of me with this guy, that would be great.” And so Jimmy Carter took the picture, he laughed—and everyone else laughed as I grabbed the camera, and went back on stage and just continued my program.
The rest of the show went well and I was relieved. Following the show, the host had arranged for a massive fireworks show to take place behind his home, over the water. The guests were spread out across the long shoreline and enjoyed the amazing pyrotechnics display. After it was over, I walked up to the Carters and nervously said, “Uh, Mr. President, would you be willing to take a picture?” And he looked at me very seriously and said, “I already took a picture for you.” And then he broke in to the huge grin he was famous for and laughed and said, “I’m kidding. Of course I’d be happy to take a photo.” And now it was my turn to hand the camera to another random person and that party guest proceeded to take a great photo of me with President & Mrs. Carter.
In addition to the photo, there was another memento I was hoping to get. I’m a collector of autographed books, and had brought a copy of one of Carter’s books with me in the hopes of getting it signed. Again, he couldn’t have been more gracious and also signed the book for me. Quite a few people looked on while he signed the book—and many came up to me afterwards and said, “Wow. I wish I had brought a book with me to sign.”
The fact is that they could have—they just needed to be proactive. To think ahead. Everyone attending the party knew that President Carter was going to be there. Everyone attending the party knew that they’d have total and complete access to him in this social setting. So why was I the only one who thought to do something proactive and actually bring one of his books with me?
Sometimes with a little planning ahead and a little foresight, you can turn a good experience into an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve attended many events where I did just a little research beforehand and discovered some great opportunity—either at the event or someplace right nearby—if we arrived, let’s say, two hours early. All because I proactively sought out info about what else was available, rather than just doing what everyone else was doing and following the crowd. (Literally.)
So don’t just live an active life. Live a proactive life. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll find additional opportunities hidden in plain sight.