What Lily Tomlin Taught Me About Pilot Projects
Your (very young) Business Blogger
and Lily Tomlin Big Shows always start small. Lily Tomlin would test her acts, not on an off-Broadway hide-a-way in New York City — not even another country, like say, New Jersey.
No, Lily would test her lines and the script in another world: Branson, Missouri.
A few decades ago, Your Business Blogger — that’s me, the dork on the left — caught up with Tomlin backstage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. During the run of her solo — one woman performance in The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe.
It was no secret that Tomlin is the consumate professional whose presentations seemed effortless. Yes, she and her team practiced with military precision.
But she knew to do a bit more. One of her secrets was to practice in front of a live crowd. To test her timing. For the laughs and special effects. Practice and pace. To hit the marks and watch the sparks.
Her testing would require stops and starts and direct interaction with her Branson audience — which was a test market for her new show; her new product her new production. She would be a wizard alchemist reformulating as she observed and assessed her focus group’s response. And the laughs.
Comedy is hard work.
The challenge of conducting the practice, the dry runs, was that the critical, cynical New Yorker would not sit still through trial run. Tomlin as magician perfected her act behind the curtain, away from the show-bizzie chattering classes. So Lily would go to ‘fly-over country’ where normal people live, to hone her act.
To Branson, Missouri, the Show Me state where over 100 shows play in over 40 theaters. Branson is called “The Live Music Show Capital of the World.”
Lily Tomlin and her crew would then take her perfected, polished performance back to the Big Apple and the rest of civilization.
Her business lesson from show business was to quietly introduce a pilot show, a pilot project. Gauge reaction and launch a high percentage deal. And practice to a small sample size.
Because you will screw it up. And it is best to screw up on the farm team than before the big league crowd.
Do you have a pitch to practice? Find a small group who loves you.
Practice your sales pitch to a live audience. And ask for feedback.
Looking to flog your product on national television, the cables and network? Start with small radio wattage. Then take your show on the road.
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