It was New Year’s Eve, 2021, and superstar performer, Miley Cyrus, took the stage in her live TV special, singing and dancing while rockin’ a fabulous teeny tiny silver skirt and matching teeny tiny halter top. All was well. Until it suddenly wasn’t: The teeny tiny top suddenly loosened, and Miley’s hands leaped up to hold it up, as she shimmied and sang. For a few moments, she tried to keep up with her complicated choreography. And then, no doubt realizing it would be impossible to keep dancing with her arms and hands immobilized, she backed off the stage, still singing (and, remarkably, smiling). Several spellbinding seconds passed, as she continued to sing backstage without missing a beat, or a word of the song, her voice booming through the loudspeakers. Then, she reappeared, singing and dancing, wearing a red blazer that belonged to another song-and-dance number. She finished the song without further ado, and took a triumphant bow to exuberant applause. Wow! I thought, what a pro! She gives a whole new meaning to the expression ‘dance with what you’re given.’
Like all of us, Miley had a choice to make when faced with an unexpected onstage occurrence (like a wardrobe malfunction, a technical issue, or a disruptive audience member): To deal with what was happening in the moment, or pretend it wasn’t occurring.
The problem with ignoring something obvious that is occurring in front of an audience, is that the audience can see the issue for themselves and, in fact, become fixated on it. The more you ignore the issue at hand, the less credible you become to your audience and the more of a gulf you create between them and you. This lack of being present with, or dealing in a pertinent or relevant way, with what is going on in the moment, is called a lack of immediacy. It’s the equivalent of resisting the movements of your dance partner, in full few of an audience.
Learning how to dance with what you’ve given is part of your lifetime development as a master-level speaker. And you’ll no doubt have ample, real-time opportunities to hone your skills in this area.
As I wrote in my book, Claim the Stage: A Woman’s Guide to Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Taking Leadership, when it comes to public speaking and spotlight moments of any kind “… unexpected challenges abound. It’s like taking a ballroom dancing class, where you’re expected to dance with an ever-changing assortment of partners. Some of them are nimble and graceful, and a joy to twirl with. Others are foot-stomping klutzes, struggling to lead or be led. Either way, you have a choice: Play small and retreat, or go with the flow and dance with the partner you’re given.
To go with the flow, you need to be able to bring yourself to a place of center, breathing, and relaxation. Because you can’t think, risk, or speak effectively in a body that’s locked down by fear (or “sphinctered up,” as I like to say). That’s why it’s so important to have self-soothing, centering practices in place to help you regain control and recover your wits when something goes awry in a critical spotlight moment.”
In the face of her epic wardrobe malfunction, Miley Cyrus certainly exhibited ‘immediacy’. She didn’t try to hide it from her audience; instead, she chose to stay breathing, relaxed, and centered enough to keep singing and thinking, while she figured out how to literally, and metaphorically, dance with what she was given. The grace and humor with which she ultimately handled the moment propelled me to hop out of bed and give her a standing ovation in my jammies.
Your ability to dance with what you’re given—to go with flow of whatever happens onstage, good or bad—depends on your willingness to stay present, breathing, and wide open to the immediate possibilities. Peak performers willingly and joyfully dance with what they’re given, knowing that what they’re given is simply what is and what needs to be dealt with, so that the next moment can unfold.
You always have the choice to be immediate with what you’re given in every spotlight moment. So the next time you step into a spotlight moment—whether it’s a board meeting, a conference presentation, or a media interview—and something unexpected occurs, channel your inner Miley Cyrus. Take a breath, open yourself up to the moment, and dance with what you’re given. Trust that, if you stay breathing and present, you’ll find the steps, the grace, and the humor you need to successfully manage the moment.