When I walked up to the registration desk, the people there seemed, I don’t know… almost disappointed to see my check-in. Not long after, I was standing next to the 3×4’ sign with my face on it as the closing keynote speaker when I heard a conference attendee say, “I don’t know her; I’m going to go home early to miss the traffic”.
Normally, in an audience nowadays, there’s someone who knows of me or my body of work and is truly excited to see the idea that I’m cued up to present. There was no one there this time.
I imagined maybe just walking away.
But, I finished the sound check, confirmed the fonts were loaded and the slides were displaying correcting, and so on. Then, I found myself sitting in a corner of the large hotel ballroom, awaiting my allotted time, asking myself again…What did I hope to share … Why were these ideas important to share with this community? I pulled out my work journal and slowly wrote… searching for that clarity of purpose. Sometimes when I write these preparatory notes, it is to remember or remind myself the key idea I came to share. But, this time, it was clear I needed to remember why this idea matters at all.
Then, I got up to the stage, showed up to the idea, and gave it my all. To give it my all involved quieting my own anxiety to focus on being present with that community. It required me bringing all the passion and energy I have for this idea to that moment. It involved being resourceful enough to recall an example in their industry so that the right context was there for them to consider the idea. It was, in other words, focusing on being there FOR THEM, rather than worrying about my interior monkey of doubt. To give it one’s ALL? I’m unsure I really know what it is in its entirety, but I believe it’s something about putting in (a) full heart and (b) everything one’s learned to service in and for the world.
In the end, I had people standing 3-deep wanting some combination of a book signed, selfies, or hugs. This incredibly conservative group was deeply inspired by the idea.
I was reminded of this experience recently when I was asked, by a professor at the University of Rotman, “who is my favorite audience”. And I realized my favorite “audiences” have less to do with a particular profile and more to do with a great connection and exchange. When I didn’t feel energy coming from them, I used to shrink back a little. If I felt I didn’t belong in a space; I would conform, or hide, or cover or step back from being fully alive, thinking somehow they weren’t ready for it. But I’m learning, ever learning, to always show up as my full self. It could be the result will not be what I just described. It could be they reject the ideas I am offering. But, at least, I can say to myself, I’ve given them the opportunity to connect with the idea. I’ve shown up. I haven’t taken away their choice to say yes to that connection, by not offering up the idea in the first place.
When I work with teams, sometimes they’ll say “no one wants us to do X”. And I’ll ask, “have you given them a clear opportunity to say no?” or, “Have you done the work and shown up with a clear proposal that someone could greenlight or reject?” And they’ll say … not really. They didn’t think someone wanted the idea. So they held back, not wanting to deal with all that effort for very little likelihood of success. And I always say, they can’t say yes if you haven’t done your part. So whatever change-making you’re working on… I want to ask you… Have you done your part?