Hustle Like Jay-Z
This post was originally published on March 14, 2012 on Forbes.com.
Monday night at SXSW, American Express pulled out all the stops for a couple thousand lucky cardholders and brought in Jay-Z for a private show at ACL Live. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for a show that will meet my entertainment quota for the next couple decades.
As I headed back to New York at an ungodly hour the next morning, my ears still ringing with questions about all 99 Problems and which shoulder to brush off first, the nuances of the masterful performance materialized into some takeaways for anyone looking to hustle as hard as Jay-Z performs.
1) Don't hold back the good stuff, lead with it - We live in a world of sound bites and 140 character representations of ideas, companies, and opinions. The first impression that you make is now made in an even smaller period of time. Know what works for you every time and open your set with it.
2) If you screw up, acknowledge it, and come back harder - I've been to shows and performances where something goes wrong before. The actors or the musicians push through because "the show must go on." But Jay-Z did more than push through. When he made a rare mistake and missed a line, he waved his DJs off and explained to the audience that he doesn't mess around when it comes to his lyrics. He redid that verse to make sure we all got the best out of it.
3) When you have a point to make, don't be shy about it - In Empire State of Mind, there is a line acknowledging that Jay-Z's better half Beyoncé is from Texas. He got the New Yorkers in the audience all riled up about singing what is considered the modern day anthem of NYC, but then stopped the song just ahead of the line about Texas to make sure the local audience felt included. What might have looked like a pause in the performance turned into an exclamation mark.
4) Know what your audience knows and let them help you - Jay-Z held the microphone out to the audience for the chorus of 99 Problems and engaged the audience to belt out the lyrics we all knew by heart. In the same way, some of the strongest points made in a closing pitch are unspoken. Knowing what your audience knows, talking around those points, and allowing them to come to a conclusion on their own is at the higher end of the art of hustle.
5) Drop the mic and walk off the stage when everyone is still having fun - There is nothing worse than an overzealous potential business partner that doesn't know when to shut up and keeps talking long after they should have just asked for the business. The best time to end something is when everyone is still 100% engaged and excited about it. Even to the chants for an encore, Jay-Z let the performance end on a high note while everyone was still locked in to every beat.