I still remember it. The youth conference in Upstate New York. The event planner knew that I spoke to youth and had asked me to make a presentation to a small group of high school students. Truly, I didn’t want to accept the invitation to speak, but I learned that one of the presenters was a well-known writer, director, speaker and a star of stage and screen. (Their identity is irrelevant). My ‘yes’ would be my opportunity to meet them, so I agreed to deliver the presentation.
Besides, I was the perfect fit. They needed an experienced ‘youth speaker’. CHECK. Someone who identified with a minority audience. CHECK. A person of color. CHECK. A message on politics and black youth. CH…wait…WHAT? Of all the subjects they could have chosen, POLITICS was the one about which I knew the least. However, I decided that I could do a little research, give the young people some principles about the significance of political awareness…even though I was certainly NOT politically aware…and encourage them to make their own decisions on political affiliation and activism.
It did not go particularly well, and it was a day I would rather forget. I still remember it. I messed up. Accepting the assignment was clearly a mistake, but I got the chance to meet the celebrity…for about 30 seconds as they were walking out. I failed my client. I definitely failed my audience. And I failed myself by acting without integrity. It was my poor decision. My mistake. My failure. But did I learn anything?
As presenters, we may or may not want to hear what the client has to say after our presentation. When they say NOTHING, they are saying a lot. The client said NOTHING about my presentation. It was as if I had never been there. Worse, the client has NEVER contacted me since that day over 20 years ago. OUCH! That’s totally on ME. I messed up. I failed. The first painful but meaningful lesson was simply SERVE YOUR CLIENT.
I imagine that to some of the young people who were there that day, I may have done OK. However, if when your program is over, NONE of your audience members gives you a second look, offers to shake your hand or asks a single question, your audience is telling you something. They were telling me that they didn’t receive any benefit or value from the time they had invested with me. OUCH! That’s totally on ME. I messed up. I failed. The second painful but meaningful lesson was simply SERVE YOUR AUDIENCE.
As I reflect on that experience, I have to OWN the fact that I had made a horrible decision. Even worse, I had made it for the WRONG REASONS. That day I was focused on what I would GET, the person I would meet, and the potential to initiate a relationship that would serve ME, and I was wrong on all counts. In retrospect, my integrity had been screaming, “MARK, CHECK YOUR MOTIVES!” and I hadn’t listened. The third painful but meaningful lesson was SERVE WITH INTEGRITY.
Can I guarantee that I will never err again? Heavens, no! But I can tell my failure story in the hope that it might instruct or inspire someone else who might make a similar mistake…hopefully well before they make it. I encourage you to tell YOUR failure story. When you do, you could give guidance to someone who desperately needs it, and shorten someone else’s failure learning curve.
As presenters, we have the responsibility to
SERVE OUR CLIENTS
SERVE OUR AUDIENCES
SERVE WITH INTEGRITY
When we make mistakes…and we will…we must be willing to admit, “I MESSED UP!” and acknowledge that our failure story can be the springboard to someone else’s success story.