Last week, I spent two days up north -- WAY up north, to be specific -- in Whitehorse, the capital city of Canada's Yukon. This was only my second time ever this "high up" the world (I had been in Alaska on a snowboard trip eight weeks earlier) and while I was no expert, I was really looking forward to revisiting what I considered one of the planet's most charming and scenic areas.
Unlike my previous visit to this part of the world, this one was no vacation. I was 2,637 miles away from home for a speaking engagement, talking to the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon about what marketing, promotion and social media steps they could take in order to attract more tourists their way.
In putting together said speech over the past few months, I used my spare time to research the Yukon, more specifically the manner in which it shows and touts itself to the rest of the world.
Given the scheduled early afternoon time of the keynote on Friday, I arrived late day Thursday to minimize stress and risk of flight delays, etc. I used my extra few hours in town productively, walking the city's streets (see my fave photo above), eating in its restaurants, browsing its shops and mingling (okay, drinking!) with its offbeat and colorful locals...including a long-bearded bear of a man named "Frank The Tank" who expressed his appreciation for my "personal style" with a powerful hug.
When it finally came time to deliver the speech, it was liberally sprinkled with local references, be they those that I had gathered methodically since January, or the more personal ones I had just picked up in town.
The end result of all this work was -- and I say this as modestly as I can -- kinda triumphant, because not only did the audience appreciate the hard learning of the session, they appreciated the effort on my part to learn about them.
After the speech, more than one delegate stopped to tell me that while they enjoyed previous years' keynoters and their messages, they also found them to be somewhat "canned," i.e. the speakers could've delivered the exact same words and PowerPoint slides anywhere. The "extra mile" I took paid off warmly and immediately with invitations to parties, guided visits to local landmarks and promises of an eventual return visit (go ahead, twist my arm!).
Such is the value of doing one's homework...and my major lesson of the week.
Despite the fact that as a lesson, it's a golden oldie and basic common sense, the ultimate benefit of fastidiously doing one's homework is oft-forgotten in these days of hyper-speed everything.
So here's a personal anecdote to illustrate what I mean.
Given my history at Just For Laughs and in the tech business, I am often asked by students to be interviewed for their class projects. And on more than one occasion, I've shocked students -- and pissed off their parents, many whom are friends -- with a verbal back-and-forth that goes something like:
Q: What year did Just For Laughs start?
Q: How much did you sell Airborne Mobile for and to whom?
Q: How many people did Just For Laughs draw last year?
The point here is that these aren't questions; they are admissions of laziness on the part of the interviewer, and my one-word answer points them where they should've looked in the first place. There's no excuse. These facts are readily available online, and it's not my responsibility to be someone's search engine.
And...not all questions are created equal!
By doing one's homework, questions are transformed from a grating admission of apathy and ignorance (reminding me of those stand-up comics who would always ask -- on-stage, yet! -- "Do you have this here?" whenever playing a gig in a different country) into tools that uncover insight and explore context. And thus, into pools of appreciation by the interviewee.
So cut to this week. I have a couple of potentially game-changing meetings with some high-powered people I've never before met.
So guess what I'm going to do as soon as I put the finishing touch on this blog post?
I'm going to obsessively research every one of these people, make copious notes, and ensure that when I meet them, I will know as much about them as they do.
Because the last thing I want after my delightful experience up north is for these meetings to, uh...go south.