August 31, 2007

The show must go on

Jacki Hollywood Brown reminded me of a topic I wanted to cover here.

Back in the day, I used to speak to high school students about what used to be called "dating violence" - sort of the junior version of domestic violence.

One day, I was scheduled to give several presentations in a row at one of the local schools. I had the flu, or some other virus. I was weak, had a fever, my head was killing me, and I was seriously debilitated. I called the school to tell them I was sick and couldn't make it.

They put me on the phone with the substitute teacher - who had no lesson plan because she had been expecting me. Even worse, these business students - who normally sat at computers in their classroom - were displaced for the day and had to meet in the cafeteria. Teacher with no lesson plan, students with no computers. I had no backup and the teacher begged and pleaded with me to show up.

So I did. I topped off a water bottle with echinacea and headed over to the cafeteria. My energy level was nowhere near my normal capacity (typically through the roof), but I dug deep and gave them everything I had. I powered echinacea during the breaks and held it together until the classes were over. If you had been there, you might not even have known I was sick.

I don't recommend infecting people with sick germs. This was a special instance, a difficult decision, a case of "the show must go on."

You may be having a bad hair day. You may not feel your best. You may have stubbed your toe, hammered your thumb and squirted mustard down your shirt. Guess what: the audience doesn't care.

Your job is always to put the audience first. No matter what. If you show up like an Eeyore, you will not be successful in connecting with your audience. You will not be successful in getting your message across. You will not be successful, period. Furthermore, you won't be invited back, you won't be referred to other organizations, and you won't get that positive word of mouth that's so critical for a speaker.

So suck it up. Be passionate even if you don't feel passionate. Engage your audience even if you want to curl up in bed and watch sad movies. It's your responsibility to give everything to your audience. You'll feel so much better if you put yourself out there. Maybe not at that moment, but later for sure.

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