Failure is never kind, but it is always honest. It won’t spare your feelings or soothe your ego. It’s blunt, brutal, and hurtful. But it’s also the best friend you could have if you are willing to put away your bruised ego and humbly sit at its feet.
I didn’t learn how to be a public speaker by being in front of friendly, easygoing audiences. I became a good speaker because I’ve spent a lot of time in the trenches. I’ve spoken at nursing homes where half the crowd was asleep and the other half was yelling incoherent phrases. I’ve spoken for junior high school kids who either didn’t get the jokes or were too self-conscious to laugh. I’ve spoken to homeless people who didn’t want to be in the crowd and didn’t care what I had to say. I’ve even spoken to a few stuffed shirts who were a little full of themselves.
I’ve bombed more times than I can count, but I walked away from each of those times wondering what I could do the next time to produce a different outcome. Through trial and error, I learned the best way to set up a room for crowd connection. I learned who to interact with in the audience and who to stay away from. I learned how to tell a joke in a huge, expansive room or a small, intimate setting. And I know that I wouldn’t have learned any of these things had I not weathered the many, many storms of public speaking.
Storms? It’s hard to describe the gauntlet I’ve had to run to get to this place in my career. I’ve been misquoted, misunderstood, and maligned. I’ve had people write me long letters (anonymous, of course), telling me why I am an evil person for telling jokes in churches or why they thought I was a horrible person for that one joke that I told in an hour-long presentation.
There have been many times that I have pouted and sulked when things didn’t go my way. I’ve wanted to give up and quit speaking and go find something sensible and safe to do with my life.
But I never did that for three reasons.
1] I hate failure, but I hate quitting even more.
2] I hate adversity, but I love what I’m doing more.
3] There is no such thing as safety.
I know now that not only have I earned my place at the grown-ups’ table, I truly belong there. Most of the time when I speak these days, I’m speaking to wonderful, open people who love to laugh and want to learn. But on those occasions when I run into a tough crowd, I’m not intimidated because I’m ready for them. Chances are I’ve been in harder situations before. And if I run into a situation I haven’t seen before that gives me trouble, well, I’ll sit down and listen to what that failure has to teach me.
Excerpted from The Seven Powers of Success; Unlock You Strengths, Unleash your dreams. © 2013 Charles Marshall. www.charlesmarshall.net