043 – Show amazing grace to your audience

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 20, 2019
Filed in Business storytelling, Podcast

There’s a time to be independent and creative, and there’s a time to serve your audience. Dummer and DJ, Questlove, felt he was at the top of his game when he was asked to perform at Barack Obama’s farewell party. He started his set feeling confident but finished it feeling disappointed, prompting Barack to share a story of his own.

Obama singing Amazing Grace

Podcasts are a great source of stories. That’s why we started Anecdotally Speaking. Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Record is no exception. Shawn found this week’s story listening to episodes 1 and 2 of the podcast. Questlove, drummer, DJ, and member of American hip hop band The Roots, features as a guest in each of the episodes and shares a few personal stories. 

The story Shawn has chosen to retell is from Barack Obama’s final Whitehouse party. The story contains another story which Obama shared with Questlove on the night of the event. It also contains a number of valuable business points, including: be mindful of your audience.

If you’d like to listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Record podcast, you can find it here. You can also find episodes 1 and 2 here.  

If you’d like to watch Obama’s Charleston eulogy, you can find it here. 

For your storybank

Tags: audience, engagement, failure, success 

In early 2017, Barack and Michelle Obama hosted a farewell party at the Whitehouse to celebrate the end of Barack’s presidency.

Leading up to the night, Questlove received a phone call from the Whitehouse, inviting him to perform a DJ set at the event.

Questlove quickly accepted the invitation, feeling confident.

“I’ve got this nailed. I’m at the top of my game,” he thought. His recent sets had been very well received.

On the night of the event, Questlove set up his gear and started playing his usual funky, artistic set. He soon realised Barack and Michelle’s guests weren’t engaging with the music.

Before long, Barack approached him and said, “I’m sorry, Questlove, I have to ask. My daughters are sitting over there. They’re not excited. They’re not dancing. Could you change the music? Could you play some Rihanna or Beyonce?”

Questlove cringed but obliged. He stopped his set and started playing pop music. The party soon swung into full gear, complete with singing and dancing.

When Questlove finished his set and started packing up, Barack approached him again.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” Barack asked.


“What’s going on? You don’t look happy.”

“I’m okay.”

“No, no. Tell me.”

“Well, that wasn’t my best gig,” Questlove explained.

Barack said, “Let me tell you something that happened to me. It might make you feel a bit better.

“When that terrible shooting happened in Charleston, I knew I would be doing that eulogy. I felt confident. I’ve been delivering speeches for eight years now and I have a great team behind me. When I arrived at that church and started speaking, I could tell I wasn’t engaging the crowd. I then realised I couldn’t use the speech I had prepared. So, I went off script. I found myself repeating the word grace. I said, ‘These people had grace in how they lived, grace in how they saw the world. They had amazing grace.’ I sang Amazing Grace, and the entire congregation stood up and sang with me. The mood in that church completely changed.

“You have to serve your audience. Whatever it takes. That’s what you did for us, and we appreciate it.

“Does that make you feel better?”

“Not really.”

Podcast transcript coming soon!

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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