I recall reading a book written by Colm O’Brien, “Feeding Johnny”, a few years ago. In it, he shared some of his life journey and some key business insights. One of Colm’s philosophies, which I’ll share later, has embedded itself into my brain ever since.
My reason for this introduction, precedes a confession – one that I hope might result in you getting value from reading this chapter.
Something happened to me recently that had never happened in my first eight years of speaking professionally. Something so challenging that it stopped me in my tracks.
Speaking and training is what I do for a living. Primarily, I work in the areas of professional and personal development in the corporate world.
I’m used to intimate corporate training rooms and big stages in big conference venues. Usually my presentations last anything from an hour to a day. I normally have a lot of content to deliver and so I always have a roadmap in front of me – notes acting as signposts. It is part of my job to ensure I don’t lose track of the points and activities I’m keen to speak on and engage my audience in.
This recent presentation was not normal in terms of an audience or a stage. A 10 O’Clock Friday night dinner talk, which I was doing as a favour for a friend, is not my area of expertise.
“Would you speak during dinner at a celebration of our organisation?” was the phone request to which – if I’m being honest – I agreed with a little reluctance. Michael Phelps could swim in the US synchronised team swimming event, but I doubt he’d be overly motivated to do so. Similarly, for me – I’m not an after-dinner speaker, but I didn’t like to say ‘no’.
For this talk, I decided not to have notes of any kind. This was a conscious decision I made in advance, to test and stretch myself. It’s a message I’m keen to recommend to others. If we stretch ourselves, we can amaze ourselves at what we are truly capable of achieving.
Now to share what happened.
Five minutes into my 15-minute delivery, I completely lost my train of thought. If it were just for a second or two that would have been fine – and nobody would possibly have even noticed.
But this was different.
My memory of what I wanted to say was gone completely and would only be recovered via a reconnection to my laptop which was hidden under my chair. Nothing to do but apologise to my audience to buy a minute or two. Thankfully, they were kind and were happy to chat amongst themselves.
I did get it done but it occupied me somewhat. Truthfully, I was embarrassed. After all, speaking is what I do. I pride myself on very high standards of content and on delivery too. What happened after my faux pas is what I’m keen to discuss.
Has anything like this ever happened to you?
Has failure in pursuit of a goal ever occupied you?
Have you come up short in an exam, lost a contract, stumbled in a presentation, forgotten to do something you should not have?
Have you held this failure to the forefront of your mind but not in a good way?
Did it knock your confidence?
When such a thing happens, many people beat themselves up and never get over it.
As the dinner continued, I was lost in my own world – my thoughts occupied with failure. I knew I had to dig for a solution, and I knew I had to react well. After all, mind-set is something I speak about a lot. It wasn’t easy, if I’m being honest, but I knew I had to.
As I drove home, I thought of Colm’s book and his philosophy on what some might see as failure. He covers it in chapter five.
The chapter is headlined…
“Sometimes I win and sometimes I…learn.”
Brilliant, isn’t it.
I resolved to package it thus. I began to enquire in my head as to what this experience might have taught me. What can I learn from it? How can I get value from it and perhaps profit from it? It’s an alternative way to look at failure – a failure that otherwise might have lingered.
My first lesson was to always have a Plan B. Even when they are not needed, Plan B’s should always be on standby. If they are not required, all the better. But have them ready just in case. I always had one in my daytime work. The one time I needed it to hand, it wasn’t there.
To help me further, I also took inspiration from the reflections of Michael Jordan, the US Basketball icon.
Jordan was once quoted as saying: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life… and that is why I succeed.”
I love that quote and I found myself bringing those words to life in my mind as I drove home. They filled me with positive energy where I credited myself with having the ambition and the courage to stretch. Life isn’t about being perfect. Work isn’t about always getting it right. Mistakes, shortcomings and failings can lead to discoveries and education. They can be the pavement to greater success.
A few days later, I called a friend who had witnessed my slip. This person gave me a simple but brilliant idea which has resulted in me now being grateful for my fall. Their idea centered on having something ready if you do ever lose your train of thought. “Always have a short activity ready that involves and distracts your audience” he suggested. “One that works in any environment or can make sense in any presentation that you do.”
Not long after – at another event – I needed a distraction. Just before I was due to finish, I realised that the Master of Ceremonies was nowhere to be seen. I was so glad I had something to distract the audience with that 2nd time.
So, you see, I profited from this experience. But it starts with an attitude when something doesn’t go according to plan.
Is it failure or what can I learn from this?
I know which one I’ll choose from now on.