By: Papa CJ
I was recently asked by somebody what my ‘rate’ was. Don’t let that trigger a response. For the large part, I have been known for working in a profession where I go to licensed premises, charge by the hour, and perform in front of strangers. Add to that my last show was called Naked and I take multiple layers of clothing off during the performance. You’d be right in thinking that these aren’t the dreams my parents had for me when I was a child or when they were saving up to invest in my education. Yet the question wasn’t a rude one given the context.
An artist management agency wanted to get a quote for a professional fee from me so they could send an email blast to a large database. They obviously wanted a preferential rate, lower than what a client would have got had they called me directly. My answer was,
I can’t give you a rate because I don’t know what it is!
When I speak to a client, even if it is a client that has called just to enquire about ‘a comedy show’, I enquire about what the entire event is, what their objectives are, what they are doing, what their pain points are and what the problem is that they are trying to solve. Once I understand their key challenges, I let them know the multiple ways in which I can add value. And only once they decide how they would like to use me can I possibly get a feel for the work required and then quote a professional fee.
Earlier this month an organization contacted me for a stand-up comedy performance. As always I had my exploratory conversation and learned that it was a four-day conference, four hours a day, spread over two weekends. I suggested that I could best be used as a sutradhar for the event. This is a role I love to play at both corporate and private events and is one that can add immense value in ways that very few people understand. While the English translation of the word is host or compere, that does no justice to the role. Sutra meaning thread signifies connectivity. Dhaar is the one who holds it. Dharayati is to hold, keep in control, support, or my favorite – to nourish. The Sanskrit phrase dharayati iti means that which upholds, sustains, and even uplifts.
In my book a sutradhar is the person who guides you through the entire journey, nourishes the event and who’s primary task is the management of energy. They are also the friend you turn to whenever anything goes wrong. The one who stays calm and steers the ship no matter what.
At this particular event, I did get signed on to host the entire conference and here is what their CEO had to say at the end of the four-day event (30-second video):https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=8424567194658873705
I expected this gig to be a 16-hour job. However, I ended up spending more than 35 hours working on the event. Over 7 hours were spent talking to people in the organization in advance to learn about the organization, its practices, challenges, aspirations, and people. An additional chunk of time was spent learning about every single session and key messages. In addition to hosting the event and doing stand-up comedy, I had customized introductions for each speaker, fun anecdotes about specific people in the organization, entertaining content about their business practices, aspirations, and challenges as well as stories related to the different sessions over the course of four days. I also read an excerpt from my book. Did I feel that the scales had been tipped against me because I ended up working for more than twice as long as I expected to when I closed the show? Not at all. For starters, I got to interact with a wonderful group of people and I learned a lot.
Also, I strongly believe in karma both within and outside the workplace. No matter what a client pays you, they should feel they are getting more than what they paid for. That you are batting on their team. When I work with a client, I never want them to think of me as a vendor. I want them to think of me as a business partner, a member of their team, and I will do whatever I can in whatever capacity I can to make the event a success. Even if it isn’t a part of my official job description. At the end of the day, one of these conferences the organisations social media team asked me to help get visibility on their hashtag. I got the event team to put the hashtag on the digital stage, pushed that agenda repeatedly and we ended up getting over a million social media impressions by the end of the second day itself.
Now while others find it convenient to put us in tiny boxes with borders, descriptions, and price tags, we are often guilty of doing the same thing ourselves. I have taught myself to not do that over time. Today my clients just come to me and tell me the problem that they are looking to solve and trust that I will suggest innovative ways of how best I can help them with it. And if I can’t help them personally, I’ll try and help them find someone who can.
I’m currently talking to a range of different clients about a kaleidoscope of interesting projects:
I’m sharing all of this with you so you can take a few key lessons away from my experience.
You don’t want to be the person people come to because you are the lowest cost.
You want to be the person people come to because you are the highest value.
Author Bio: Papa CJ is an award-winning, world-renowned international stand-up comedian. He has performed over 2000 shows in over 25 countries. Forbes Magazine called him ‘the global face of Indian stand-up’ and Harvard Business Review called him ‘one of the most influential comedians around the world’. He has won awards for Asia’s and India’s best stand-up comedians.He holds an MBA degree from the University of Oxford and is an experienced motivational speaker. He has been invited to speak at Harvard University and the University of Oxford. As a corporate coach, he has trained over 50 blue-chip companies globally. He consults brands on concepts and content strategy. Under his initiative called The Happiness Project, he performs in support of charitable causes across the world. His maiden book, an autobiography titled ‘Naked’, was launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2020.
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2014 The Global Indian New Network (TGINN)