People think Taylor Swift had a crisis of professional presence at the Grammys- I beg to differ!
I'll admit it- I'm not a big Taylor Swift fan. I simply don't know much about her music. I know she has legions of fans, and I'm sure she's a gifted lady, but I only know her as a famous face. However, after some of the uproar following a 6-second-moment on this year's Grammy Awards, I found myself saying "Poor Taylor!".
I wasn't able to watch the ceremony on Sunday, so later in the evening I cruised some of the post-show roundups, and I found the phrase "Taylor thinks she won" popping up again and again. Of course, curiosity killed the proverbial cat, and I clicked on a few links. The way this moment was being discussed, I figured that it went on forever, that she had an extended celebration, and that she made her way to the stage to accept an award that was not hers. I was wrong. Here's what I found. Keep an eye out for Taylor on the bottom right of your screen:
Basically, what happened is this: Taylor's album, "Red" was up for Album of the Year. When Alicia Keys announced the winning album, Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories", Taylor hears that little "r" sound and, for a split second, thinks she's the winner. She then realizes it is not her, takes a breath, composes herself, and stands to applaud the winners.
Yep. That's it.
Into everyone's professional life, a little surprise must fall. And when you're in a high pressure situation- heart pounding, stomach churning- a wee surprise can quickly throw you off your game. If you've ever been nominated or honored at an awards ceremony, you can attest to the stress of the moment. (I know some of our Team Members have been in that boat, and while it is an honor to be nominated, the experience can be more nerve wracking than magical.)
Obviously, surprises don't just happen at award shows. They can occur due to a presentation malfunction, as a result of an unexpected difficult question, or in the middle of an interview or sales pitch. The bottom line- and what seems to have been forgotten in the case of poor Ms. Swift- is that we're only human. We work to hone our professional presence and emotional intelligence to deal with just such situations! In an intense setting- with our mind cruising along, thinking between 1,000 and 3,000 words per minute- we might be expecting to hear, see, or do something different in any given moment. That's when we're taken by surprise. I mean, if we knew what was coming, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it? And that's ok.
I'm OK, You're OK
Let's take a moment and go back to the video tape. (If you didn't watch the link above, you can catch a brief vine and a gif in this post from Buzzfeed- one that I stumbled upon.) We say all the time that it's how you handle professional foibles that makes all the difference, and that's EXACTLY the reason that I was surprised by all of the hullabaloo. What that video shows us is someone in the public eye, in front of millions of people, who is taken by surprise, and then within a split second RECOVERS not only completely, but graciously. After the look of shock passes over her face when she thinks she's won, you can see her get momentarily dazed, and then stand in support of the winners when she realizes she hasn't won. (Also, to be fair, please note that she was not the only one in her section that had that same reaction...)
Like the scream followed by laughter when someone jumps out at you in a haunted house, sometimes those uncontrollable emotions sneak through. I know it's happened to me, and I'm sure it's happened to you. What's the best thing you can do if you find yourself in the surprise boat? Acknowledge your humanity, and rely on that well-crafted professional presence: "Wow! Sorry, I was expecting something else." "That threw me for a minute! Bear with me while I get things under control" or simply laughing off your crazy reaction and continuing on your way can help you regain your composure.
The unexpected side effect? It may bring you closer to your audience. Audience members in the theatre often discuss how they love when things go awry during a live performance- watching actors deal with the unexpected makes everything feel more immediate, urgent, and REAL! Remember, your audience is only human, too. Thanks to her classy recovery, I know one audience member who's giving Taylor kudos on a great performance.