For a living, I’m kind of a talent agent. I book speakers and celebrities to talk at events for big companies. I rarely go to events, because if I actually spent my time traveling to and from all these events, I’d never actually book anything. However, I will occasionally make exceptions. Being from Indiana, when I booked Peyton Manning to speak for an event a few years go, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to the event in person- ostensibly to meet up with a top client, but really, I wanted to get a picture with Peyton to give to my grandma. (She’s addicted to Indiana sports. I know not to call when any major Indiana team is playing. I remember calling one time and she didn’t want to talk because she was too flustered that Purdue’s Robbie Hummel had just gotten hurt. “I just don’t know what Purdue is going to do without him!” she said.)
Plus, you know, it’s Peyton Manning. So I went.
Event planners have a million things they have to do on event day, so my job that morning was to help out in greeting him when he got to the convention center, showing him where to go, and just generally helping out so that all he had to focus on when the time came was delivering a great speech, and the event planner could just focus on the event. By the way, I should mention that I don’t know Peyton, and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me. The joke among talent agents is that we don’t know any famous people, we just know famous people’s assistants. And I just say “Peyton” here because that’s what everyone called him, not because we’re close and we go shoot hoops on the weekend or anything.
What Went Wrong
At an event, anything can go wrong, and the first one that happened was outside the event planner’s control. The Indianapolis Convention Center is a massive building, and this company’s event was taking place in Hall A. For some reason, the driver had thought he was supposed to drop Peyton off at the exact opposite end of the building, Hall Z or whatever. The driver then took off without making sure Peyton was in the right place. We got the news, so the event planner and I headed over to the far end of the Indianapolis Convention Center, which is located in Ohio. We’d been told he’d need security by his office, and then convention center, hearing that Peyton Manning was coming, decided to get additional security for good measure (and, probably, to show Peyton they cared). The most direct route was to walk through the main hallway past all the different halls and ball rooms. There were a lot of other events and meetings going on in, so you just imagine the worried looks we got from people as our large group of people, many in security uniforms, were walking at high speed past them.
The Entourage Guy
When we finally got to the exact opposite side of the convention center and said hello to Peyton, we could tell he wasn’t happy. But it wasn’t because he’d been dropped off at the wrong spot, or that no one was there to greet him. It’s actually for a reason that his fans would like. He took the event planner and me aside and said, “I do appreciate you guys going to the trouble and you’re just trying to do something nice, but I really don’t need any security. Can we send them away? I’m just really not the entourage guy.”
The Prima Donna Incident
During the long walk back we managed to get rid of all but one of the security guys (I think he was just too big of a fan to let the opportunity go). We got Peyton backstage where he could meet a few executives, go over the introductions with the emcee (who happened to be Miss America, Katie Stam), and get ready to go on stage. When you’ve got a big room with a couple thousand people and a big stage, everyone who goes out on stage has to have make-up. While Peyton was stuck in the make-up chair, he turned to me and asked, “If it’s not too much trouble, could you see if there’s anything to eat?” I went over the food table, piled up a plastic plate with bagels, fruit, and danish, and brought it back to him. A few minutes later, he turned to me and said, “Um, I’m really sorry, and I don’t want to be a Prima donna, but could you get a napkin for me?” As we all know, some celebrities express their self importance by trashing hotel rooms, demanding green M&Ms or boxes of caviar, but we all know that the height of arrogance is to politely ask for a napkin. Still, I got one for him anyway.
The Bagel Question
By this point, other speakers were presenting on stage, Peyton was done with make-up and breakfast, and he was up talking with some of the executives and the emcee (fyi, Katie Stam was actually very cool, down to earth and not a Prima donna, either). My friend Rob is a huge University of Tennessee (and therefore Peyton Manning) fan, so I jokingly texted him: “Hey, Rob, do you want Peyton Manning’s half-eaten bagel?” He texted right back, “Only if he’ll autograph it.”
The Speech and Lunch
The tough part about working an event is that you rarely get a chance to enjoy it. The (sound) speakers are all focused forward toward the audience, not back toward the backstage area, so it’s frequently very difficult to actually hear the speaker speak. If you want to hear him, you have to head out some side door, go outside all the way around and then into the hall through the back. Then you need to head back before the speech is over so you can be ready to help if needed. I could tell the audience was loving it, and so I mainly followed along on twitter as people kept quoting what he was saying (this is actually a great way for speakers to know which part of their speech hit’s home). After the speech, I walked him back to where there would be a lunch and VIP photo op. This was during the height of the lockout, so when he was ‘off duty’ (as in not speaking or interacting with the client- he was really good about that), he was getting a seemingly endless barrage of messages. When that happened, I’d politely just walk to the other side of the hall to give him some privacy.
The Missed Clue
I don’t know if it’s because my mom is a nurse and I grew up with her pointing these things out, or from years of always trying to find an advantage in sports, but if someone has some sort of injury, I’ll usually pick up on it pretty quickly. I remember thinking that he must have slept the wrong way or something, because he never once turned his head to the right. The neck just seemed stiff. A few days later, the news broke that Peyton had just had neck surgery (maybe even the day after our event?). I think it speaks to his professionalism that even though he had to have been in some discomfort, he didn’t show it, and maybe even put off surgery a bit in order to keep this speaking commitment. As soon as I saw the headline on ESPN, I had that ‘a ha’ moment.
If there was any surprise, it was that he had a bit more of a cool guy vibe than what comes through in commercials. Not ‘cool’ as in ‘aloof’, but as in there’s some Matthew McConaughey in him. Instead of being 100% “aw, shucks, ma’am”, he’s probably 80% “aw, shucks, ma’am”, and probably 20% “aw, cool, dude.” He finished the lunch, and took a photo with everyone who wanted one. Then he was off, and I was back to Nashville. All in all, it was a fun experience.