Archive for the ‘Courtesy’ Category

Service of Tourism

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

We traveled to Portland, Maine on business and stayed an extra day to enjoy this charming city. We knew immediately that smart, service-minded people directed principal tourist attractions, like the Portland Museum of Art. The museum is open on Mondays during tourist season-Memorial Day through October: So smart.

The guard welcomed us when we visited on a Tuesday, suggesting we take off our winter coats “so that the outer layer will keep you warm when you go outside again,” he said as he ushered us to the coatroom. I’ve been in museums in small cities around the world and have never been so warmly welcomed.

The cashier at a landmark Maine retailer asked me if I liked tart, citrus-y lemon drops and I said, “Oh, yes!” He recommended that I not buy the attractive tin of candy I’d chosen, warning that they were tasteless. “I thought they were so awful that I returned mine,” he admitted. Now that’s service! [I don’t want to get him in trouble so I’m not identifying the wonderful store.]

Food in Portland was superlative. With auctioneers Annette and Rob Elowitch, owners of Baridoff Galleries Fine Art Auctions, we enjoyed a memorable dinner at Fore Street Restaurant in the old part of the city. Portland natives, the Elowitch’s, whom we came to see, didn’t know us, and yet they insisted we share a meal in their city. They selected Fore Street Restaurant for its ambiance and cooking. The bread, beet salad, oysters and fish were toothsome. Their enthusiasm for their city made them platinum spokespeople.

dimillosAt DiMillo’s we took advantage of an off-season special-two steamed lobsters, perfectly cooked, for $24. Breakfast at Bintliff’s American Café, which PR colleague David Reich recommended, included a blueberry pancake, lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar, of a consistency-perhaps with a Scandinavian influence–unlike any I’ve ever tasted. I was so full of lobster from the night before, and yet I ate the entire pancake it was that light and delicious.

Portland is well worth a detour and a stay. Please share the names of similar destinations that happily surprised you.

Bintliff's American Cafe

Bintliff’s American Cafe

Service of Stress

Monday, November 7th, 2011

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As a Manhattanite born and bred I couldn’t help hearing the myth about how nasty, brusque and rude we all are and how pleasant, cordial, and kind country people are. So I’ve always bent over backwards to disprove the former, and I’m ready with an “Aha!” when I find instances that invalidate the latter.

Last weekend’s storm gave me fodder for some “Ahas!” [I took most of the photos in today’s post at our house last Sunday morning, after the storm. The poor old tree at the top belongs to a neighbor.]

Huge limbs and entire trees littered roads after an early, heavy, deep Saturday snow did its damage, lending credence to the emergency status declared for Dutchess County. [In Connecticut, there are still 50 thousand homes in the dark over a week later.]

Only one lane of a two-lane main road was open as crews hadn’t yet had time to clear the debris, so there were lines of cars on either side waiting a turn to pass.

I stopped to let the other lane of traffic go by as the lane I was on had gone through for quite some time. A car behind me swept by and dashed through the tight corridor, acting nothing like a country gentleperson, more like a hopped up brat.

Once the opposite lane emptied out, I started to negotiate the tight open spot when from over the hill came an aggressive jerk who accelerated as he saw the situation, missing me by a hair. I just had time to back up and out of his way.

stormhalloween2011-004smallMonday morning we already knew that we would be in busses for the first lap of the trip to the city. Temperature was 23 degrees and there was ice all over the parking lot. Two busses with drivers were there but they let us stand in the cold. When they finally opened their doors, we asked to put our suitcases in the busses’ belly. “Can’t unlock it,” was the sour response, forcing us to struggle up narrow stairs and the aisle lugging our things in a vehicle designed to hold people and briefcases.

As three giant busses arrived at the station where we normally change trains, a train pulled out of the station. Once the passengers from four stations had hung out on more ice on the open platform for 15 minutes, I meandered over to a stationmaster I’d just noticed.

stormhalloween2011-006smallHe was brave to be out there with us and I soon learned we were finally in good hands. I asked him when our train was coming, figuring it had been delayed. He mentioned a time that was an hour away. I then asked if the train that pulled out just as the “connecting” busses arrived at the station was the train to NYC. Answer: “I apologize.” He did help out best he could by getting a train to the station 20 minutes early so we could be warm and dry while we waited for departure.

There were other similar smart thinking people in the aftermath. On Sunday morning we had a welcome breakfast at the diner in town. The diner had no electricity so there was neither heat nor light but a generator worked a stove. Eggs on paper plates and coffee in paper cups tasted delicious. Adjacent towns had no such luxuries. In one, early Monday, national chains were locked tight: Not a drop of joe to be had.

City people have enormous stresses year ’round simply to get to work on overcrowded subways and busses in rush hour. Country people felt stresses last weekend. Many of us had barely gotten over the costly stretches of no electricity during Hurricane Irene. Does nastiness and recklessness happen as a result of stress,  poor upbringing or what?

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Service of Duh

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

I was surprised by the glitch in the planning of the President’s speech before the joint session of Congress tonight. When planning an event for a client, I check industry calendars and place a call to a trade editor or two to see if he/she knows of potential conflicts for a date in question. I can’t believe that the White House staff didn’t do such elementary research. Duh number one.

OK, so they didn’t. I am equally surprised and disappointed that there is so little respect for the office of President that the Republican debate organizers didn’t defer and select another date. This isn’t a duh moment as much as a worrisome attitude for a country with huge problems to solve.  And everyone’s watching: Duh!

The cat’s out of the bag given our slip in a World Economic Forum listing. In 2008 we were first, Mathew Saltmarsh reported in “U.S. Slips to Fifth Place On Competitiveness List.” He wrote in The New York Times: “The weaker performance was attributed to economic vulnerabilities as well as ‘some aspects of the United States’ institutional environment,’ notably low public trust in politicians and concerns about government inefficiency.” Would you invest in a corporation with warring factions? Another duh: Why should people want to invest in this country if our leaders can’t even be cordial and cooperative about a date?

On another subject, some of the electric companies in the NY Metro area after Hurricane/tropical storm Irene–in Long Island and Connecticut especially–got a zero grade in both customer service and PR. Caroline Gatto commented about her friend and relatives’ frustrating experiences in these states in the “Service of Silver Linings” post. Some customers, sitting in houses without electricity for five and six days, couldn’t get through to their supplier on the phone. Others were unable to speak with a person. Routinely people in suburbs and exurbs lose electricity whether from weather or blackout. An effective crisis plan for an electric company to communicate with customers in such instances is elementary. Not having one is a duh.

In fact, all these examples illustrate disrespect: White House staff for anyone else, John Boehnor & Co. for the office of President and the electric companies for their customers.

Do you see a relationship between duh-like work and behavior and disrespect? Any duh situations you’ve noticed lately or that are memorable?

Service of MYOB

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

A recent comment by Lucrezia, a loyal participant of this blog, inspired today’s topic, “Service of Mind Your Own Business.”

In a response I noted that I should do a post on the many ways of saying this, using gentler words, especially when speaking to a client, fragile friend, in-law or other person you can’t be blunt with and Lucrezia suggested: “A family friend advised a simple ‘I don’t know’ when put on the spot.”

Lucrezia continued, “I feel that can get one into trouble. I don’t have clients, and fragile friends know better than to ask me nosy questions. However, if feeling compassionate, I find an ‘I don’t feel up to discussing that right now,’ or (if I can get away with it) ‘I don’t remember,’ is a great help.” [Rupert Murdock said those words on the stand last week!]

She concluded, “Healthy business relationships usually don’t involve intimate remarks.”

A rerun of “As Time Goes By,” last weekend reminded me of a BBC character, Alistair Deacon’s, solution. He’d wave his hands in a characteristic way and say “Hey, hey, hey!” which could mean “don’t go there, you’ve hit dangerous territory” or “Wow, cool!” depending on his tone of voice and facial expression.

My Mom would say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” If the person repeated the question she’d respond, “That’s what I thought you said.” I have never been brave enough to use that one.

Before the days of real estate search programs like Zillow, when it was a pain to look up such information, a friend asked me what I got for an apartment I’d just sold. I answered with a smile: “My asking price.” [I’m usually not that quick.]

When I was going through a dicey patch and didn’t want to attend any social functions for fear of touchy questions, a friend suggested I memorize a succinct answer. To this day, her policy is to make the comeback as flaky as possible, such as on your birthday or anniversary, to “Where’s Joe?” [husband or companion] you’d reply, “Joe’s climbing mountains in Brazil.”

Some people feel we should know everything about politicians-any public figure. Under the gun lately are Rahm Emanuel and Chris Christie. They are getting grief for sending their children to private schools when they run a city and a state, respectively, where public education is under scrutiny. I wonder if “this is a personal decision” is sufficient given the relentlessness of the media–social and traditional–opponents and talk radio hosts.

Innocent young children’s questions are a different subject and some of them are a riot. I’d love to do a post with a list of them as it would be charming, so if you have some to share, please send me the best in an email: jeanne@jmbyington.com.

How do you parry unwelcome questions? Are you comfortable asking intrusive ones? Do you think that what one person would consider a personal, inappropriate question another would regard as routine, even thoughtful?

Service of Pet Peeves II

Monday, July 18th, 2011

 

I posted 11 pet peeves a year ago May and thought I’d exhausted my list but obviously, I left out a few. It feels so good to write about what annoys! So here are a dozen more.

 **I don’t like to be flimflammed and that’s how I feel when the stock market goes up on a day with dire financial and political news: Moody’s threatened to reduce this country’s credit rating which would cost us all a tremendous amount of money; there were terrorist killings in Mumbai; gridlock caused by childish political posturing continued unabated on Capitol Hill with debt ceiling deadlines looming; Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy were patching up the tatters of their economic quilts with little result.

I am not satisfied with the reason given for this up tick: That nine of 11 corporations reported fabulous second quarter earnings that day [more about this below]. To ignore what’s going on outside is like envisioning a woman dressed for a ball, perfect hair and gown but the house has just been pushed to a precipice by a tornado. When she opens the door, instead of stepping out to the walk, she falls into an abyss. 

 **Repetition of misinformation to strike out at an adversary works because people would rather not be bothered by facts. President Obama did not sign the bill eliminating inefficient incandescent light bulbs in favor of  the energy efficient kind-President Bush did–and yet conservatives repeatedly use this as the glaring example of how government increasingly encroaches on our private lives. Maybe it does, but if you are going to blame President Obama, pick another example please.

Isn’t the more important story here–and another peeve–that this bill was the perfect excuse for corporations like General Electric to close US plants that made incandescent light bulbs therefore putting hundreds out of work last year when the timing couldn’t be worse? By moving manufacturing to China, they lowered the cost of making the bulbs. And they can charge more for the energy efficient kind. Along with loopholes that allow GE to dodge taxes, it explains why some of the corporations in the peeve above are doing so well, but at what cost to the economy and to us, to everyone but their stockholders and management? 

 **I am fussy about who I link to or befriend so it’s annoying when someone asks me to join their network on LinkedIn or Facebook and they don’t remind me how I know them. They lazily click the option that shoots out an email message like “Maisey Dokes has indicated you are a Friend: I’d like to add you to my professional network.” It would take a second to add something like “We’re both on the sponsorship committee,” or “I met you at the event at Hearst.” If I see someone on the street who has no reason to remember me, I say, “Hello, Frieda, Jeanne Byington. How are you?”  Or I might introduce myself to someone and say, “You work with my friend Nancie Steinberg. She tells me we have a lot in common.” Trying to link or befriend me is no different.

 **It drives me nuts when people don’t use their car’s right or left turn signal. There are certain congested places where it’s essential and it’s very selfish when a driver doesn’t or waits to the very last minute. I can’t enter traffic if I don’t know if their car is going straight ahead. If it’s turning into the store’s parking area that I’m exiting, I could drive out. Being self-centered not only holds me up but all the cars now lined up behind me.

**On the subject of cars, there are idiotic road signs that make me wonder if the person who installed them has a brain. We pass a little town on Route 82 in Dutchess County where we’re asked to drive at 45mph. The “resume speed” sign comes right before a hairpin turn where if you went 55mph, goodness knows where you’d land.

 **I resent it when someone infringes on my time by creating a false deadline so it affects how I triage my time to meet it. How do I know? They ask for information, a report, photos or copy by a certain date but when I submit what’s due, I get a bounce back email telling me that they are out of the office at a conference or on vacation and will get back with me next week.

**Waste drives me nuts. I get the feeling that there are stacks of boondoggles we will never hear about. If we could eliminate them, we could leave critical programs intact.  According to ABC News: “A $1.2 million federal highway program that sent employees on a 17-day globe-trotting journey to photograph different billboards was suspended Tuesday — an announcement that came after ABC News alerted the U.S. Department of Transportation that it planned to air a report on the program.” In addition: “The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks.” Each trip cost $300,000.

 **If you work in a medical facility, please always be pleasant. It makes a difference. And pay attention to what you say especially if your job is repetitive. I picked up some x-rays from a radiology place where the desk staff is used to saying, “Sign this and sit down and wait for your name to be called.”

So when the administrator asked me to sign for the x-rays she said, “Sign this and sit down.” I replied, “But I planned to leave now,”  confirming that there wasn’t something else for me to do while there. Not realizing that she’d told me to sit down she got testy and nasty in her dismissal.

 **I agree with a friend who says that it should be a felony to use the word awesome.

 **Average looking or shapeless people shouldn’t wear super trendy clothes. I cringe looking at them as I do when hearing a terrible comedian or a speaker try an unfunny joke. Some women on magazine and newspaper style pages are over-gussied with legs akimbo on skyscraper shoes that make them take awkward poses so as not to crash–so unnecessary. And those low-scooped, too-tight t-shirts over rings of fat are puzzles. T-shirts and tops come in a range of sizes or don’t some people realize it?

**Tired of reading about the annoying Valley girl sing song? The deliberate high speed chatter/swallowed words affectation that some young people use, especially when copied by older people so as to appear to be young, registers high on my list of peeves.

 **I will boycott media that pays Casey Anthony one cent for an interview. I don’t think the press should pay for news to begin with.

Do let loose on your pet peeves! You’ll feel better getting them off your chest–promise!

Service of Thinking of Others

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I’ve covered manners from all sides in at least a dozen posts. Awareness of others, in some cultures, is all you need to get along. What’s great about it is that it’s not complicated or hard to do and takes little time to learn.

Here are a few recent examples of a few who need remediation to grasp the concept of thinking of others:

Need of a Change…But Where?

In his Social Q’s column in The New York Times, Philip Galanes selected a letter from a California reader who complained about parents who changed their baby’s diapers on dining surfaces: A communal table and an airline food tray. The solution was convenient for the parents but did they for one second think of the yech-factor for their neighbors some of whom were trapped in seats on the plane?

Water, Water Everywhere But…

We were riveted by Adam Hochschild on Book TV over the 4th of July weekend. The “Mother Jones” founder was discussing his book, “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”

Unusual for Book TV, he accompanied his talk with photos and concluded with a compelling slide show of gravesites in France. At one point, his voice got rough and began to skip and I asked my husband, “Why doesn’t someone bring him some water?”  My husband noted, “Why isn’t water already up there?”

Hochschild soldiered on and when his voice gave out a third time, he asked for some water and eventually it came. Preparing for a speaker is more than sending out the invitations, ordering coffee and cookies and microphones. It involves common sense. Empathy and observation would help. Hochschild shouldn’t have had to ask.

You’re Here? So What?

We had lunch at an upstate restaurant we’ve been to quite frequently. We have spoken with the owner numerous times over the years. He wasn’t around when we arrived but soon stood at the hostess’s lectern pounding away at a computer and then he paced the floor a few times.

He never said a word to any of the guests, didn’t smile at us, say “hello” or look at our tables to check liquid levels in water or wine glasses. My husband said “Everyone has their bad day, maybe the chef or evening wait crew cancelled.”

Maybe, but I don’t think the owner of a restaurant can let his mood or stress affect his tableside manner. He isn’t thinking of its affect on guests who like to be made to feel welcome and who have so many other choices. Was he worried about the relatively new, successful Barbeque place across the street? His attitude is sending customers over there for sure.

His manner has already rubbed off on the hostess. She didn’t walk us to our table, waved us in the direction of a few of the options, was blasé in her greeting and enthusiastic only about getting to her mobile phone for a chat.

Do you have examples of people who haven’t–or have–thought of others? Do you agree that such a mindset is the key to success of much of what we do? Is it too much of a chore for most and not worth the trouble?

Service of Reaching Out to Opponents

Monday, May 9th, 2011

I’ve written before about going to an all-girls school for 12 years at which along with academics, athletics was a big deal. The school had two teams: Each child was made either a “red” or a “white.” We spent hours honing our basketball, volleyball, badminton, running and hockey skills, and before each game, we’d also practice a cheer which lauded the other team. So if you were a white, you’d end a clever ditty with a hearty “Go reds!”

Granted this was an extreme and the opposite of today’s fashion in politics and business to mash, crush, pulverize, obliterate, bankrupt, belittle or embarrass your opponent and for goodness sakes, never be caught on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, email, TV, radio or in public writing or saying something positive about your adversary or competitor.

This is why I was thrilled and proud to hear that one of the first people President Obama told about bin Laden’s death was President George W. Bush and that he invited President Bush to join him at Ground Zero. I was equally delighted and proud when I heard conservative talk show hosts lauding President Obama for his bravery in signing the go-ahead. They acknowledged that he’d have suffered tremendous setbacks had the Navy SEALs failed in their mission.

Instead of bashing each other we should recognize and rejoice in this model by extending a hand, including those in congress and on corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.

In this mature atmosphere, extremists appear jarring and discordant, like a wedding guest passing out discount divorce coupons at the reception. Countless callers to radio programs ranted about President Obama’s fake birth certificate even after he’d provided long form proof. The same ones are now railing about where bin Laden was buried, how the attack was flawed, all the while missing the point that the murderer is out of the way. Enough already.

Do you think cooperation and mutual respect at high levels can happen again and continue? Is a moderate, supportive America in the cards?

Service of Nonchalance

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Cool and calm under pressure is great. But indifference is off-putting. In addition to being unhelpful, the attitude is disrespectful verging on insulting. Nobody expects a sycophant with unctuous manner and nauseating phony smile to direct them, but indifference and lack of concern is equally inappropriate in business as it is in a hospital, library, restaurant, post office, retail establishment, school, airport–anywhere.

A client, I’ll call him Jake, a reasonable, patient, no-nonsense person, described a recent incident that perfectly illustrates nonchalance. I’m thrilled to say that he was not in New York City when this happened.

On signing in to a major show where he was an exhibitor, Jake asked the clerk where the press room was so he could drop off his press kits. The fellow looked totally blank and Jake asked if he’d please find out. He placed a call on his walky-talky. Nobody responded.

Jake got the impression that the sign-in clerk was hoping he’d shrug, say, “No problem, I really don’t need the information,” and go away. Instead, Jake said, “So where can I go to find someone who will know where the press room is?”

Jake followed the complicated instructions to find a show office in this huge conference center–down vast tracts of show floor to a staircase, which he mounted–and eventually he saw signs for the office. He entered. There was a man sitting at a desk, behind a computer, with a walky-talky on a desk. Their eyes met for a second and the clerk’s eyes returned to the computer. Still no greeting or sign of recognition: Total silence. So my client said: “May I ask you a question?” and did.

The fellow still didn’t say a word. He looked at his computer and fiddled with the walky-talky and eventually told Jake that the press room was “down one level to the right.” But these fuzzy instructions in this huge edifice were useless. Jake asked for clarification. In a condescending voice, the clerk repeated what he’d first said adding a tad more directive.

When he entered what seemed to be the right place Jake called out, “Is this where I leave off my press kits for the show?” and immediately, someone came out from behind a curtain and replied, “Oh, I’ll take them! I help with the press.”

Jake observed, “Clearly, this was a PR type,” [Yay!] “She knew how to speak to people.”

I blame the show manager for not telling the sign-in staff where the press room is. How is the press going to find it? It’s tough on staff when they aren’t given the information they need to succeed. I bet that the incommunicative creature in the upstairs show office was the one who didn’t answer the sign-in clerk’s query. Think of the time and energy he’d have saved. I wonder who his model is and how he keeps his job.

Where and when have you encountered such service-killing nonchalance?

Service of Extremes in Customer Care

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I’ve experienced and been told of great and horrible service over just a few weeks. I had to share so I wouldn’t burst.

 

Counter Blindness

There’s a deli half a block from my office. I hit the sandwich counter late for lunch, close to 3. After standing there totally ignored by two countermen, I left and bought my toasted bagel elsewhere. This happened a day after I noticed that the deli had increased what they charge for a cup of coffee. Mentioned my grumble to someone in the office who reminded me about another deli where I now go. However, only a few days after my experience, he walked out of the second deli for being ignored by three countermen.

 

Meanwhile, in our midtown neighborhood, every month a trendy, charming, well lit place crops up within steps of these establishments. Wonder if the counter staff notices—and computes?

 

And one more counter contretemps, surprising in this or any economy, happened at one of the pricey food stalls in Grand Central Station—the butcher. I stood as two women dolled out, weighed, wrapped and priced prepared foods. Neither of them looked at me. I called out, “Can someone please help me?” One yelled down the counter where two men stood. The overhead and operating costs must be astronomical between the prime meats, rent and [over]staffing. Nevertheless the place survives.

 

A Snap that Takes Forever

I had the worst time ordering photos on line from a source I’d used countless times before. I tore out my hair, called a toll-free number, finally got the order to the number I needed, not the 120 copies the computer insisted I wanted, when I was asked for my ExtraCare number, which I punched in.

 

I was told it wasn’t in the system, which is strange, as I get countless emails from the place weekly. I raced to the nearby store, was told to get a new number—but that it wouldn’t work for four or five days. Nice, but 1) I needed my photos now and 2) the drastically reduced promotion was over that day. I was told to call them [again]. I was about to toss out my computer and scream like a two year old when I backtracked and told the system that I didn’t have an ExtraCare number. Bingo: The order went through. But was it worth the time and frustration?

 

Bank on It

I took out money from Chase Bank at night and was shorted $20. I reported it to the customer service desk at the branch at which this happened and I’ve been credited for that amount.

 

Toying with Me

Before walking over in nasty weather, I called to confirm that a Manhattan toy store that carries one manufacturer’s offerings had the items a child had requested. I was told that they didn’t, but I could go to their Queens branch. Not possible, I said. I asked if they’d please get the item from Queens. “No, we can’t do that, but you can buy it on line.” I looked on line and discovered that the shipping would add $10+ to the cost, which annoyed me, plus I would be late with the gift. Word to the wise: I went to the store anyway and discovered that if they are out of one of their exclusive toys, they will order it on line and there is no shipping charge. But gosh.

 

Let it Snow-Again

I just wrote about the good and bad affects of this winter’s record-breaking snow.

 

As 19 inches fell last week, the doorman in our building—which has a large outdoor garden entrance—was shoveling two sets of stairs and the brick path at midnight. He’d shoveled the first time at 8 pm. He’s no spring chicken, was well into an unexpected second shift without a clue about an impending third one. And postmen get all the credit.

 

The morning after, Joan Marbit, who lives in Manhattan and works in New Jersey wrote me: “I thought of you early this morning.  My clock woke me up 5:30 am. I learned that schools are closed and buses are not running.  So, I made the decision not to drive to NJ as the Manhattan streets are far worse than the roads in NJ. At 5:35 am I got out of bed and opened my front door to find my beloved New York Times waiting for me.  My thought:  ‘The Service of What Service.’”

 

Meanwhile in midtown, we did not get our Wall Street Journal at the office and we were at work. [It came the next day: News/schmooze.]

 

Service Wasn’t Included, Then It Was

After an earlier snowstorm a few weeks ago, Delta sent David Reich, a colleague, from Newark to JFK Airport so he could get flights to working airports [away from iced-in Atlanta] to his business meeting in Hawaii. The attendant gave him a voucher for the $90 taxi/tolls but he discovered that the tip wasn’t included. He followed up with customer service on his return and they agreed to send him the $20 he gave the driver.

 

What’s been your recent pulse on the service meter for routine transactions lately?

Service of Interruption

Monday, December 13th, 2010

At the first PR firm I worked at–a big one–we’d merged with a smaller one and I attended a meeting unlike any before or since. The head of the small agency had asked his account exec to tell us about her client. As she began to speak, he kept interrupting, demanding,  in irritating short barks, the names of media, dates, events and details. She didn’t complete a sentence without another bullet-like barrage of questions. The boss made us nervous and uncomfortable. You can imagine how the AE felt.

Similarly, Steve Martin must have cringed when the powers at the 92nd Street Y in NYC gave the public the upper hand the night he was interviewed by New York Times writer Deborah Solomon. They didn’t let him do what he’s done splendidly throughout his professional life: Engage audiences.

In “The Art of Interruption,” an opinion piece in the newspaper sometime after the horrible evening, Martin explained: “When I arrived for Monday’s talk, I was informed that it would be telecast on closed-circuit TV across the country. What I wasn’t told was that the viewers were going to be encouraged to send in e-mails during the discussion: what I didn’t expect was that the Y would take the temperature of those e-mailed reactions, and then respond to them by sending a staff member onstage, mid-conversation, with a note that said, ‘Discuss Steve’s career.’ ”

His new book, “An Object of Beauty,” the topic of his discussion with Solomon, an art scholar, is set in the art world. You sign up to hear about a man’s book, movie, play, symphony or TV script, why should you expect to hear [yet again] about his career?

What’s worse, the Y offered to refund the ticket price to disgruntled audience members who sound like rude people with the attention span of a gnat, incapable of reading the title of a program, folks with the intellectual curiosity of moose and the patience of an infant.

I wouldn’t have returned a penny. My reasons: If I don’t like liver, do I order it and then complain to the restaurant that my dinner didn’t taste good and I want a refund?  If the subject of art bores you, then don’t sign up to hear about a novel that takes place in the art world, by an art collector interviewed by an art scholar. In addition, to give refunds would insult and be disrespectful of my guests, the two people I’d invited to speak.

Martin continued in his opinion piece, “I have been performing a long time, and I can tell when the audience’s attention is straying. I do not need a note. My mind was already churning like a weather front; at that moment, if I could have sung my novel to a Broadway beat I would have.”

How much should the public be allowed to intrude on a program mid-flight? Was this an attempt by the Y to appear hip and in sync with the social networking world? What would you have done? Can you share instances in which interruption has played a role? Can interruptions serve a valuable purpose?

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