Managing Feelings and Emotional Transitions At Special Events


Transition. There's several definitions to this word. By basic definition, it’s the change from one state to another, and I see how I make many throughout a day: When I exit one bus to board another to work, that’s a transition. When I get home and change from my work clothes into my lounge clothes, that’s one too. As a 13-year veteran DJ with the award-winning team at Fig Media in Chicago, I apply this word musically and agenda-wise as I build rapport with my crowd by blending one song after another and leading an event from one moment to the next. Recently, I saw how this word created two additional definitions for me—in the spiritual sense, and in the emotional sense.

Last Saturday, I was deejaying a fundraiser for a elementary school at a music venue in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. Around 300 or so guests looked their sharpest and mingled whilst drinking, eating, and bidding on silent auction items. I curated a vibe of liveliness through great artists like Jamiroquai, David Bowie and Calvin Harris. (You can listen to the whole playlist here.) I was on a massive stage—the same stage the Prince stood on about 10 years ago, and taking in that “not-everyone-gets-to-do-this-but-I-get-to” honor. The event was going smoothly from my perspective.

Then, a transition happened.

Around 8:00pm, one of my clients comes up and asks me to be ready to fade the music in a little bit. He then mentions to me that they are going to take a pause in the night to recognize a parent that passed away the day before the fundraiser. And, after the mini-presentation, I was asked to play a song afterwards that would be appropriate for the moment.

From life, to death. Transition.

Although I didn't personally know the parent who passed, I felt some sadness, and some fear right then as I had less than a minute to pick a song. I started to go through my head of the “right” song—I didn’t want a fast-paced party jam as I that would not have been fitting, and I didn’t want a super-slow or overly sad song to put the party at a lull. I wanted a song with heart, truth and hope. Messages of togetherness and unity. And, pianos, because...pianos.

I settled on Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and played it right after the moment of silence for the parent. My client turned around and said to effect, “That was perfect.” I thought so, too. I wanted to transition from the moment of silence and maintain the emotion of sadness in the room in respect to the deceased, and a. As I’ve learned at events and in life, it’s very easy to numb out feelings and move to the next thing—and there was enough alcohol, food and distractions in the room for that. I’m a fan of this song (and more so now because of this situation) as it says so much about how we need each other at points in our lives, especially ones of pain and sorrow as the death of a fellow parent. Bill’s lyrics state it beautifully and succinctly:

Sometimes in our lives

We all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there's always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you're not strong

And I'll be your friend

I'll help you carry on

For it won't be long

'Til I'm gonna need

Somebody to lean on

From death, to life. Transition.

One of the important skills I’ve developed (and am developing) in my career is having my “pulse” on the party. In other words, I “read” the room, understand the dynamics of the guests inside the space that I am in, and play music to the vibe and emotion that I want people to be in. I’ve learned that taking care of me—i.e. checking in with myself and being aware of how I’m feeling in the moment—is the key to this success. Social and emotional intelligence is more than a buzzword; it’s a critical part of life and work, and I see how connecting with myself helps me to connect with others and situations, and have more positive influence and impact in relationships and outcomes. I’m thankful for this upbringing through my colleagues at Fig, my work at the Wright Institute, and my experience in the field that has helped me get this far. This is a part of what makes me and my team special, and different, in this industry.

For all of you reading this who are DJs, event professionals, or any kind of leaders, take a moment at your next event to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling when the heat is on, or when it’s a quiet moment or break in the schedule. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and how to make each next transition throughout the night a successful one. God forbid there is any news of death or anything serious at your next event, but if it does happen, know that you have the tools to own the situation and handle it with grace. Lean on yourself—for as the song in subject says, “we all need somebody to lean on.”

(As I love talking about music, events, and the like, drop me a line here today to set up a time and we’ll do coffee and chat about your next event. And, to hear “Lean on Me” and the whole playlist of this event, click here to listen and enjoy.)

(Music credits: Songwriters: Bill Withers; “Lean On Me” lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, 1972)