It’s my worst nightmare...speaking in front of an audience that slowly get smaller and smaller. Person after person standing up and walking out.
And it’s reality.
I’ve been to countless meetings at the local HR association and I’ve seen people do this to speaker after speaker after speaker. People check their watches and leave. 7:00. 7:15. 7:30. Presumably because they have somewhere else to be. A lot on their minds. Other commitments. Family waiting for them at a game, at a concert, at home.
And of course some of them are leaving because they don’t like the speaker.
I know this. I knew this. I let it get to me anyway.
My boss and I gave our all to a speech about different survey types and approaches on a recent Tuesday night. (It was more interesting than it sounds, I promise!) My heart sank as I watched each person leave. I tried to buoy myself with the knowledge that this has happened before. That it wasn't about me. That others were really engaged. But it is in my nature to view this as a rejection.
The lesson I learned that night is to prepare for the worst. If I had thought about it ahead of time, I would’ve acknowledged to myself: "Some people will inevitably leave during the speech. It's not a reflection of us. I will be OK." Then when it happened, it wouldn't have made as much of an impact. And if that was the worst thing that happened, I would have felt relieved instead of disappointed.
I could have focused on the proof that things were going well: people asked questions, they took notes, they laughed at our jokes. When it was all over, we earned a big round of applause and even more questions. So I know on the whole it was a success.
But as I sat down, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get those people out of my head. In fact, the total number of people who walked out is in dispute... I could have sworn it was up to 20 people; others in our group thought it was more like 5 or 10. They're probably right. Funny what the mind does, huh?
It sounds counterintuitive for a positivity speaker to focus on what could go wrong. But when you prepare for it, it doesn't feel like a nasty surprise. Instead, it's something you planned for and can accept.
Expect the best. Prepare for the worst.
Photo by Elijah Flores on Unsplash