Ever tempted to just give up when something doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped? It happens, right? You know your stuff, you’re good at what you do, and still … sometimes you don’t meet your own standards.
How do you handle that?
When I fall short, it’s easy to conclude I’m not cut out for whatever I just tried. And truth be told, there are a lot of things I can’t do because I wasn’t stellar at them on my first effort.
Measuring my own performance, I gave myself a big red “F.” I made up a story like “I’m not good at this” or “I guess I don’t have what it takes” or “I’ll never be able to do this the way [some expert] does.” And I gave up.
Maybe that sounds familiar to you? (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.)
I had a chance to study my impulse to toss in the towel. And I learned a few things.
Missing the mark …
I’d agreed to speak to an organization with two chapters—one on Monday night, the other on Tuesday. I was excited. I always encounter some delightful people in their meetings, I have expertise they value, and their reaction is always enthusiastic and then some.
Then Monday night rolled around and there I was with Audience Number One. It wouldn’t be rightto say I crashed and burned. It would be fair to say it was not my best gig.
Yes, they got some useful information. Yes, some of them had fun in the process. And…
The turnout was lower than expected. The energy in the room was off. People didn’t clamor to participate. There were snarky questions (“We’re not all radio personalities, you know …”) The first person to come up and talk to me afterwards complained about what I didn’t cover. I didn’t make the connections I usually make with people who hear me speak.
The whole thing just felt flat. And there’s no blaming an audience for that; it’s not their job to make a talk go well. That responsibility belongs to the person at the front of the room, in this case, me.
My first reaction as I headed home? Maybe I’m not a good fit for this group. I should never speak to this organization again. In fact, maybe I should give up speaking altogether … blahblahblah.
Well, I couldn’t quit right then even if I wanted to; I’d committed to be with their other chapter the very next night.
So what did I do instead?
I asked for feedback. The founder of the group knows me, he’s heard me speak many times, he thinks I’m terrific. He’s listened to enough speakers to have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. And I could count on him to be candid but not mean.
We agreed that the content was useful but the energy was off. And that some people seemed surprised by the interaction—they may have preferred to just listen and not participate in any way.
I assessed my own performance. And I didn’t eviscerate myself. (That part’s important.) I took a good look at how things went and how I’d wanted them to go. I pondered how to bridge that gap.
I identified a change I needed to make. It was all in the set-up.
I’d ended with a story about my own experience confronting the same challenge the audience faced. I should have opened with that story. Ending on a light note is nice; it’s more important to build rapport at the beginning.
And I needed to set the stage for people to participate freely.
Then I got back on the horse.
Tuesday night was completely different. My talk started with the story and stage-setting. I let them know they’d have a chance to jump in. I acknowledged the vulnerability they might feel. And I got agreement from them that we’re supporting each other, not judging each other. We’re creating a safe space to speak up.
Funny how that changed everything.
There was big energy in the room and a sense of playfulness about what could be a very serious subject. People clamored to connect with me: asking for my newsletter, and later reaching out on social media, posting comments about how great it was.
Now that’s the way things are supposed to go. I was glad I’d ignore my impulse to declare myself a failure and give up.
Take-aways for you
There is no failure, there’s only feedback. Sometimes, when we don’t get the results we wanted, we feel that we’ve failed. We may even be inclined to give up.
Better to follow this NLP principle. Think of yourself failing at anything and you’re likely to get demoralized and quit. If you take it as feedback, you learn something, modify what you’ve been doing and keep trying. You’re likely to get a better outcome.
We’re almost always better off staying in the arena. Maybe you’re familiar with Theodore Roosevelt’s speech about the man in the arena.
Best-selling author Brené Brown says Daring Greatly was inspired by Roosevelt’s words and what they mean for all of us now. Then she wrote Rising Strong as a recipe for resilience, for getting back up when we’ve been knocked down.
Maybe somewhere along the line you tried something that didn’t work out. Your job evaporated. You lost the big game. Somebody else got the contract.
Did you get back on the horse? Or did you give up riding altogether?
I can’t wait to hear your story … post a comment below and tell us about it.
Well you’ve certainly got timing on your side. Evisceration or not, the title and release of this topic are near perfect for me! Timing is akin to mojo in my book, maybe a subject for another time. I attended the first session and thought you did a fine job. If we have any pride at all, we do tend to be harder on ourselves than others are on us. Your point is spot on, don’t internalize perceived defeat. Instead, you should use it – learn from it – get better. I ran into some of the other attendees later and they thought you did a good job too, they mentioned some good take-aways from your talk. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to Amazon ‘Brene Brown’ .. 😉
Thanks for your reassurance, Jeff. Yes, that first evening wasn’t a total disaster. I’m sure people walked out with something worthwhile. And, the difference between the (mostly) polite response from people who were there and the enthusiastic, excited, still-bubbling-up response from the second group tells the tale.
What I want all of us to take away from this article is that we’re best off to resist the impulse to quit and wallow in “I’m not good enough.” (And I say that as someone who’s done plenty of wallowing in her time.) The misfires can make us better at our craft, whatever it is, if we use them well.
And you could do a lot worse than to spend some time with Brene Brown!
This is perfection! Thank you for sharing so openly – so many of us have been there – or will be – and your wisdom is so helpful in processing our own perceptions of fear and failure.
It’s my pleasure, Meg. I’m glad you liked this one. I was a little hesitant about rehashing a less-than-stellar performance so publicly. But this is me, walking my talk. I regularly tell my clients being human will deepen their connection to their audience more surely than being perfect (or trying to be!). The response I’ve already received reassures me that I’m right.
Read, react, and adjust. I know it’s not always possible, but I like to mingle or at least observe the group I’m going to be in front of to get a vibe or establish some commonalities. When that’s not possible, I’ll ask questions along the way to confirm to myself that I’m connecting with my audience, or not. Nothing is foolproof, keep your sense of humor, ask if they can hear you in the front row and keep going.
Oh yes, Tom. Keep going. ALWAYS keep going. Here’s what I wrote when a famous Hollywood guy didn’t: https://catherinejohns.com/you-can-learn-from-his-mistakes/
I suppose there is a bias, being a voiceover talent that learned from his days as a radio personality. I receive feedback from clients on a continual basis. I still remember days where Program Directors would call us in for aircheck reviews. Many hated the critiques because they felt they were putting them down. I treat those moments as a positive step in improving myself and the station’s image (but don’t tell Bill Hennes that, or else he’ll brag that someone listened to him. I kid, he’ll just smile).
If more of us would also learn to critique rather than criticize, we could learn valuable life lessons more often. Imagine a world where we don’t, by learned response, tear ourselves down by observations, but rather build ourselves and others up.
And thankfully through your efforts, Catherine, we get a few people closer every day…
Oh, Bryan … those aircheck sessions could be miserable! You’re right, we can learn a lot when we listen to feedback — depending on who’s feeding back! I was in a coaching program for speakers where they told us the feedback that counts comes in the form of a check. Other people might have opinions about our work, and we might be best off to ignore those opinions. I tend to take them to heart, myself, which is how the idea for this article came up in the first place. As for delivering feedback, I learned a lot when I became a presentation skills trainer. I like to think I do a good job with my clients. I strive to be candid–but not cutting.
I attended the Monday session you are referencing. It was the third of your talks that I have attended. I was surprised by the low turnout, but more surprised by the lack of energy and unwillingness to participate and yes, some mild hostility. I think it was just one of those anomalies that occur. The message was fine, just a coincidence that there was an unusually large percentage of the audience that was disengaged. I came away with valuable tips and information. Kudos for taking ownership and the high road, however, and changing strategy for the next evening’s presentation.
The audience WAS different, Tom, compared to my earlier experiences with the same organization. And, I should have been quicker to note that and adjust. When I was a talk show host, I had a colleague who’d complain sometimes, “The callers just weren’t any good today.” Sometimes it was even true. And, the callers aren’t collecting a check to put on a good show. That was HIS job, whether the callers were great or lousy or somewhere in between.
It’s like that with speaking too. The ownership is mine, whether I like it or not. As it was, my strategy-switch paid off.
Good to hear that the evening was valuable for you.