HOW I MET OBAMA: PLAN FIRST, THEN BE FLEXIBLE AS HELL
I was in Helsinki a month ago to host the Nordic Business Forum. It was an exciting challenge: a two day business event with 7,500 people physically present, another 20,000 watching a live stream, some fantastic, inspiring speakers, and the big finale: a dialogue with President Obama. (Yes, this was the day before he was in Amsterdam; he’s an efficient traveler!)
I was excited and planned what I would say if I met him. You see, my theory is if you meet a person who meets people all day, you have to say something unique based on your knowledge of that person. When I got to meet Beastie Boys’ King AdRock, I said, “I was a fan back when you were getting booed off stage opening for Madonna.” When I didn’t get to meet President Clinton in Amsterdam – but stood next to him exactly long enough for a photo op – I was prepared to say, “I’ll bet your knowing German is coming in handy in understanding Dutch.” So I had a think about what I would say if I met the last American President to speak in complete sentences.
As we got closer to the event, my chance of chatting with Obama did not seem huge. Would I interview him? “No, we have a Scandinavian entrepreneur to do that.” Oh of course. Would I meet him backstage in the green room? “No, he won’t be in the green room.” Would I chat with him before I introduce him and the entrepreneur? “No, the owners of the event want to do that.”
So I had to change the plan. I knew that when the event ended, I would leap on stage to close the event. So I thought about that and realized I’d better have a talk with the Secret Service Agent in charge of who would do the leaping. The Secret Service, as it turns out: not so flexible with sudden changes to the plan. So I explained it to the Agent, who cleared it with his colleague through a microphone on his lapel – just like in the movies! I offered to make it easy for him by taking on a cool Secret Service nickname, and expected a stone cold glare in return. But he said, “You mean like, ‘Matrix’?” Yes. Just like Matrix. Matrix was WAY cooler than what I was thinking.
So the talk ended. Obama finished. I leapt on stage and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen – President Barack Obama!”
Obama’s gaze focused on me – someone on stage he hadn’t met and been friendly to? That wouldn’t do! He strode purposefully over to me, and said, “How are you doing?” I said – as planned – “I’m doing great, better now, as I’m such a supporter of yours. I mean, if it wasn’t for Jordan Peele’s Get Out, I’d be telling you that I would’ve voted for you a third time.” A pause. He had to think about the reference, which was the plan. Then he smiled a huge Obama smile and laughed. President Obama Laughed at My Joke. He walked away with a friendly hand on my shoulder. I have not washed that shoulder since.
So while a lot of people assume improvisers and comedians don’t have a plan, that’s not true at all. We have plans. But we practice being able to change the plans and make new ones whenever necessary. And yes, sometimes the plan is, “Be prepared to make something up at that point.” So if you don’t have a plan – say for that end-of-the-year event you’re putting together – you could make us part of it. And together we could work on being flexible enough to change plans midstream.
Pep “Matrix” Rosenfeld
As Director of Creative Content, Pep does it all: He’s a high level event host & facilitator, writer, stand-up comedian, public speaker, coach, and developer of innovative corporate programs. A co-founder of Boom Chicago, Pep’s passion is using comedy to make hard-to-communicate messages land and stick, as featured In his 2012 TED talk, ‘Fight, Flight or Make Your Opponent Laugh.’ Pep hosts events like TEDx Amsterdam, The Next Web Conference, The Nordic Business Forum, and the Spin Awards to rave reviews, and he was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on America’s long-running television show, Saturday Night Live.