Sunday, August 8, 2010

Teaching My 9 Year-Old Son How to Sell (Or Interview. Or Recruit. Or Date.) Resiliently

Our family had a wonderful time last Sunday afternoon volunteering for Spotlight Players Community Theater during the last performance of their Broadway-quality production of the musical murder mystery "Curtains." After experiencing their award-winning production of "Parade" earlier in the year, which we attended for free thanks to a grant obtained by the Spotlight Players, our friend Mike, who is a member of their Board, invited us to volunteer as ushers at one of the "Curtains" performances in exchange for free admission.

These experiences with the Spotlight Players have re-awakened our family's long-standing interest in theater, closely related to our passion for movies. And I suspect that our 9 year-old son Noah, who likes to sing in Junior Choir; who is completely comfortable speaking in front of large groups thanks to the inclusive culture at The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady (FUSS); and who is the recipient of some sales DNA, might at some point be interested in performing in a theatrical production.

Enough gifts for a family's Sunday afternoon, yes? There were more gifts to come in the form of the volunteer assignment that Noah and I shared.

When we arrived before the show, Joanne, the volunteer coordinator, had enough ushers. "Are any of you interested in selling tickets to the performance or running the 50-50 raffle?" Joel, my husband, Noah's father and the ying to Noah's and my yang, volunteered to sell tickets for last Sunday's matinee to last-minute arrivals at the lobby table.

Noah wanted to do the 50-50 raffle by himself. "You do need an adult to help you with the money, it can get quite busy," Joanne gently informed Noah. I chimed in. "It will be fun, we'll do it together -- it's just like the 50-50 raffles we do at FUSS luncheons after Sunday services -- half of the money goes to the winner, and the other half goes to FUSS." Noah agreed.

Armed with a plastic bucket full of change and a roll of raffle tickets, Joanne gave us our instructions. "$1 for one ticket; $2 for 3 tickets; and $5 for an arm's length of tickets. You'll sell the raffle tickets until the show begins, and then during intermission. The winning ticket will be drawn at the end of intermission, before the second act begins." She smiled down at Noah. "However, it would be two arms' length for Noah." Noah outstretched his arms in a "T" formation, and smiled back. "Okay, we're all set," I said. "Now, as the customers come in, approach each one of them after they're done with Daddy, ask them if they'd like to buy a 50-50 raffle ticket, and tell them how the raffle works."

The first couple left the lobby table and on cue, Noah approached them. And then he choked a bit. He looked back at me sheepishly. "I forgot what to say." I smiled back at him. "Not to worry -- why don't you listen to Mama a couple of times and then you can try again?" Noah nodded. I then smiled at the couple and explained the raffle, emphasizing the $5 option included the length of both of Noah's arms. They took the $5 option, enjoying the additional performance of Noah grinning and outstretching his arms as I measured the strip of tickets against them. "Okay, I'm ready to do it," Noah asserted.

The next couple approached, and Noah ran his pitch like a pro. Amused, they also chose the $5 option and Noah's brief lobby performance. "This is fun!" Noah exclaimed to me as they walked into the auditorium.

He approached the next couple, who appeared a bit harried. "No thank you, we're not interested," the woman said, unsmiling, to Noah. He turned to me, a bit crestfallen. "They said no."

What a great coaching moment. "Not everyone is going to say 'yes,' and you can't take it personally," I said. Noah nodded, listening. "They seemed to be in a hurry. We can try them again during intermission. And I'd like you to remember what Grandpa Howard taught me a long time ago: if you talk to 30 people and you get one 'yes,' you're having a great day."

Noah brightened. He got it. "We're already doing better than that," Noah calculated. "So we're already doing a great job!" Noah then proceeded to approach every person who entered the lobby both before the show and during intermission. And when he received the occasional "no, thank-you," he looked back and me and reasserted: "We have a lot of 'yeses,' so we're doing great!" I completely agreed, reveling in bearing witness to the lesson he was learning so positively and so early in his life.

Just before intermission ended, Joanne and the director counted our take for the 50-50 raffle. "Noah, you raised the most money of any performance for this show," the director informed us. We were both proud. The director invited Noah up on stage to pull and announce the winning ticket.

In front of an audience of strangers, Noah pulled the ticket and confidently announced the winning number.

However, in this coach's (mother's) opinion, there was more than one winner that day.

A wonderful and prosperous week to you and yours!

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