By Tim Hayes [www.timhayesconsulting.com]
Lorne Michaels, legendary producer of “Saturday Night Live” was once asked at what point does he know a show is ready for broadcast.
His response went something like, “It’s not that we’ve polished every sketch and rehearsed it to perfection. It’s when the clock says 11:30 p.m. in New York and the network gives us the feed.”
In other words, you can’t always wait until everything is just so. Sometimes you just have to go with what you’ve got and do your best. Deadlines can be funny things. They force us to focus, which is good, but they also can ramp up the pressure, which can be good or bad, depending on the situation.
One of the best things about being a speechwriter is knowing that, come hell or high water, at a fixed point in time, the client will have to step to a microphone somewhere and deliver a speech.
There have been moments along the way, however, where that fixed point in time has turned into the final reel of a James Bond movie, where a hidden bomb is counting down to looming annihilation. Too many of these moments have occurred on a corporate jet flying to Teterboro, NJ, sitting next to a CEO who has finally taken a serious look at a speech, just prior to the limo ride into Manhattan where he is scheduled to speak to a group of industry analysts.
Let me tell you, this is not the optimum time to be learning that the boss has some misgivings about your script.
But ready or not, the show must go on. I never realized I could type so fast while in a vehicle swerving between New York City traffic as a chief executive is swearing at me. Quite the character building experience, and I still have the welts to prove it. Of course, if one expects to be flying on corporate jets and riding limos into midtown Manhattan, one should be ready for such scenarios.
I will always be grateful that my career began in the newsroom of a daily newspaper. The expectation of gathering information, listening carefully, organizing a story by finding the “lead,” and writing it quickly and accurately – and doing it again the next day, and the next day, and the day after that – has helped me work my way out of tight spots like the scene on the corporate jet innumerable times.
The day I grew up as a professional writer happened in that small town newsroom nearly 30 years ago. Each morning the reporters would gather around a central desk as the managing editor would run down the stories pegged for that day’s editions. One fateful day, he asked if I was ready to turn in a major feature story on the local water authority. A cold shock of fear sizzled down my spine as I said, “Yes, but I’d like to polish a little before I give it to you.” After I was given about 90 minutes to get the story to the editor, I tore back to my desk and started doing phone interviews. I had completely forgotten that the article was due that day.
Yet, 90 minutes later, the editor had a 2,000-word feature in front of him to review, and it ran in that day’s paper. That’s the day I knew beyond any doubt that I was meant to be a writer.
So whether waiting for the red light to go on at 11:30 inside a studio in Rockefeller Center every Saturday night, or on a plane next to an irate executive, or working in a blind panic to compile and compose a newspaper article, or in any other situation that may arise – if you’ve done the proper professional preparation ahead of time, you can feel confident in just going with the best you’ve got. Because sometimes, that’s all you can do.
Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting