One Sure Sign You’re a Professional

Last weekend, I spoke at a conference, and everything went wrong.

Professional Photo
Photo credit: Victor1558 (Creative Commons)

I brought the wrong video adapter for my computer, had poor lighting (which prevented people from seeing me), and didn’t have a microphone for the first part of my talk. I felt embarrassed, discouraged, and frustrated.

I had something wonderful prepared, and the audience didn’t get to see it. I powered through the speech, and then hightailed it to the parking lot. Afterwards, my wife texted me, asking how it went. I told her, “It sucked.”

The rest of the day I wondered if I’d ever be a real speaker, someone who didn’t have to deal with petty issues like technical difficulties. That is, until I talked to a couple of professionals.

Join the crowd

I have a few friends who speak for a living. After my epic failure, I texted a couple of them. Hoping for some encouragement, I told them I just had “the worst speaking gig ever.” I wanted to hear this part goes away, that such embarrassment is reserved only for beginners.

But what happened next shocked me:

  • One friend who speaks for auditoriums full of thousands of people every night said, “Ugh. Me, too.”
  • Another who has been speaking for years told me, “I had one of those earlier this week. I wanted to quit!”

And all of a sudden, a thought came to mind: If the pros are having the same problems I’m having, what does that say about me?

Maybe I wasn’t as much of a failure as I thought. Maybe having a mishap once in a while — a technical snafu, an unresponsive audience, a critic in the crowd — is a sure sign you’re “in the game.”

The work of a professional

When it comes to your craft, you have to realize something: Every day can’t be amazing. Some shows will be more dazzling than others. Some audiences will love you, while others only seem to tolerate you. What comes next, though, is what’s important.

Despite the struggle, the work of a professional continues. You get knocked down and get back up. Dust yourself off and keep going. This is what distinguishes the pros from the amateurs. The serious artist knows this.

Every talk you give, every word you write, every product you make occurs in less than ideal circumstances. Still, you find a way to push through. To hover over the chaos and create. You hope for excellence, but sometimes finishing is enough.

“Real artists ship,” Mr. Jobs once told us. Some days, that’s all you can do.

Can you relate?

We live our lives subjected to forces that impede us. From reaching our goals to achieving peace, we are all frustrated in our attempts to find perfection. The smart person, however, sees an opportunity in the frustration.

Art is not perfect; it never was supposed to be. Art is what happens when you extract something true and good from the mess of life. When life comes from death, beauty from ashes.

So, if you’re feeling resisted — like the whole world is against you — maybe it means you haven’t failed. Maybe it means you’re actually in the game, as opposed to standing on the sidelines. Maybe it means you’re more of a professional than you realize.

When’s the last time something went tragically wrong for you? How did you respond? Share in the comments.

106 thoughts on “One Sure Sign You’re a Professional

  1. 80 percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen. 
    To be frank, I cant remember the last time something going wrong…. I chicken out whenever i am faced with an opportunity to do something. Which is BAD for me. 

      1.  I totally feel your pain, Jeff.  I work as a teaching assistant for a special needs teacher in a high school.  Normally I just sit in the back of the room and help the slower students.  One day  couple of months ago, however, the  teacher called in sick at the last moment, which meant I suddenly had to teach every class.  That wasn’t too bad, since I knew roughly what she would have taught.  However, our teacher used the video projector a lot, and this day of all days it broke down!

        Normally, this would have been no problem.  I would simply go across to the school library and get another one.  However, this morning the library was closed!  It seems that one of the librarians had also called in sick and the other couldn’t leave a library full of kids to come help me.  So now I have a classroom full of kids and no way to teach the lesson as planned.  Sweat was pouring down my face like I had just run a marathon.

        Everything eventually worked out.  The librarian was finally able to get away and help me hook up my new projector (yours truly being technologically clueless).  In the meantime, I learned a couple of valuable lessons:

        1.  Technology is wonderful, but it’s still all about people.  While I waited, I simply taught the lesson as best I could and the kids didn’t seem to mind at all.

        2.  It’s only a disaster if you let it be.  I told the kids what was going on, apologized, and we moved on.  They were remarkably patient with me, and everything went well.  They probably enjoyed the adventure of having something out of the ordinary happen.

        3.  You are stronger than you think you are.  Once I got the new projector and everything went back to normal, I realized that I had changed.  I felt stronger and more competent because I had met the challenge and simply plowed through it rather than giving up in defeat. I will carry that feeling with me the next time a disaster happens. 

  2. Great post, Jeff. This happened to me last week. (I think I was the guys who told I wanted to quit.) Just when I think I am gaining momentum and have it figured out, I fall flat on my face! Thanks for this much needed perspective.

    1.  Thanks, Mike. You were really encouraging to me. I’m learning and growing and being humbled through the process. It’s good to have friends like you.

  3. Nice recovery from a bad experience… thanks for turning it into a post that reminds me I’m not alone. 
    A few weeks ago, I had one of those speaking events… I was on time, but setup took a little longer than expected, so I had no time to relax between setup and speaking. My laptop was not as close to the podium as I would have liked and I had to stretch my arm out and up every time I wanted to change a slide. (might be time for a new remote)  Then the crowd was larger than I had anticipated and the order of the event was not what I expected. I felt uncoordinated and nervous as I spoke.

    After thinking it through, I realized most of the issues were because  I hadn’t communicated well enough with the event director beforehand, so now I make sure to have more info before I go to an event and I also arrive earlier, because I’ve found that having time to relax after setup and before I speak is key for me to speak well.

  4. “Art is not perfect; it never was supposed to be. Art is what happens when you extract something true and good from the mess of life. When life comes from death, beauty from ashes.”
    I really love this.  Speaks to me right where I am on this Monday morning.

  5. Sorry for your bad day, but it sounds like you learned a great deal from it. I know your experience has helped me- thank you for the encouraging words.  I needed them today.

  6. Very timely Jeff. I am in the middle of writing a book about getting into public speaking and the current chapter is about professionalism. Would you be interested in me including this post in the book with obvious attribution back to you and this website ? If so please drop me a line at patrick at 

  7. Thanks for this post, Jeff. I needed to read this. Makes me realize the need to be realistic with my expectations and how to excel regardless of limitations.

  8. When you walk out on the stage or put the pen to the page, you risk failure but you also take a chance on success. Thanks for the reminder this morning. 

  9. Game on! Beauty for ashes. Thank you for being courageous enough to share what happened. Hearing about other people’s experiences can encourage us to move beyond the limits we set around ourselves.

    “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle) 

    You did not fail, Jeff. You were just “stretching/warming up” for what is to come.

  10. Ugh! Sorry Jeff.
     You did the right thing though. Not running and talking to mentors gives us the perspective we can’t find in ourselves. And now, you’ve fallen forward. Good Job! Next time, it won’t throw you as far.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was to perform. The back up didn’t work. The sound system didn’t work. I wanted to run out of there. So, I sang anyway, with just my voice. Afterward, a elderly lady came up, with tears in her eyes. She had heard me.

  11. While leading worship at church one night, the band was starting a new song that we had practiced many times and had down. Unfortunately, they started with the wrong rhythm, wrong intro, wrong everything. I was not playing, only singing, and was powerless to try to turn them around. I gave them the look, which did not help anything. I tried to start singing the melody, hoping they’d get it from there, but that didn’t work either. I had to stop the song, apologize to the congregation, making a joke to try and soften the blow, and try to start again. It took us two different times before we ever got it right, and the last time I just had to start a cappella and they jumped in from there. When we finally finished the song I just wanted to curl up under the chairs on the front row. 

    But no one there was upset about it, they simply gave us a huge round of applause when we got through it. I’ve learned that people are not always so impressed with perfection, but at how well you handle the imperfections. 

  12. I had exactly the same thing happen to me, two years ago. I promptly took a refresher public speaking course to improve my skills (it helped A LOT) and I try not to think about the bad experience too much. (That said, it’s a good idea to think about what you can LEARN from any bad experience. For example, you should always be prepared to speak without any A/V assistance at all. If you have that expectation, then a microphone or PowerPoint failure won’t be so debilitating.) 

    I think the main thing with public speaking is to get continuous practice. That’s why I’m currently “auditioning” Toastmasters groups, so I can pick one that’s a good fit.Just as every article you write isn’t going to be perfect, every speech isn’t, either. But there are lots of things you can do to improve your odds of success. Good luck!

  13. I hold online workshops for photography and editing, and have experienced what you did several times, when everything seems to go wrong. Thankfully it’s only happened a few times, but when it did, it was torture to get through and all I thought during and after it was “I want to quit!”

    Thank you for the inspiring words, and letting me know that others go through the same thing.

  14. Being professional is just like living our faith in Christ. If we are doing it right, everything conspires against us. I really struggle with this huge fact of life, because I like to shine. Thanks for words that motivate me to appreciate the truth that the energy of a strong headwind can be harnessed to reach my objective. In a sailboat, I can use the power of a wind in the wrong direction if I know how to set my sails to use that wind on a course that eventually winds up at my planned destination. The path may look wobbly to non-sailors, but when I look at it, I see how it moves consistently toward the goal. When life’s headwinds threaten our forward progess, we need to trim the sails differently and keep moving toward the goal.

  15. I just read a book this weekend called “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. According to Steven’s thesis, you battled the “dragon” (a.k.a. resistance) and that “dragon” will be much easier to battle next time.

    Coincidently he also referred to Seth’s philosophy on shipping. Adding to Mr Jobs, he said shipping is what exposes us to the world and is the very thing that keeps many artists from doing it. (Silver lining: This is what filters much of our competition.)

    Plus, if you’re like me, your expectations of “good” (or “great”) are probably FAR more stringent than what your audience may have in mind. Maybe?

    1. That book is amazing isn’t it Mark? I actually read that after Jeff mentioned it to me. I think that book in combination with War of Art completely changed how I view creativity. I call them the “Godfather Part I and Part II” of books.  🙂

  16. Dan Miller talks about his granddaughter who is taking an art class with a group of adults.  The 40 year olds in the class draw a butterfly and then criticize it.  His 4 year old granddaughter draws a butterfly and immediately shows everyone and says, “Isn’t that wonderful?”

    We are our own worst critics.  Playing music in bars for years taught me to roll with the punches and realize sometimes things mess up.  None of it is fatal.  The PA breaks, nobody listens to the band, nobody dances, a fight breaks out, your voice gives out, the drummer doesn’t show up and your ex-girlfriend shows up with her new boyfriend.  ha!  It’s not personal.  

    Sometimes all you can do is play the hand your dealt.  I’m sure you did a better job than you give yourself credit for.  Plus, you shipped.  That’s what artists do. 

    1. Sutton!
        Good take on it (with experience,no less!)  No doubt you’ve had the ‘forget the first word to a verse and the rest evaporate’ problem. Made up a whole second verse to a song once and nobody noticed but the band. People pull for speakers and performers because, in our shared humanity we want others to succeed so we’ll believe we can too.  I’ve played with incredibly gifted musicians nobody knew and met famous musicians everybody knew. To a person, after it was over they said ‘I could have done better’. Reaching for the perfection we’ve glimpsed is what keeps us coming back, and, once in a while we grasp it, and it works! Then we’re committed to chasing the magic forever in spite of ourselves.  Checking out your book. The title had me right away. Been there. Done that.

      Jeff! Bravo! It was a PRO effort!

  17. How about mingling with a roomful of prominent politicians, thinking yourself  charming and well informed, only to get home and find a long strand of spinach lodged between your upper incisors? Shoulda stayed away from all those food stations!

  18. I spoke at a QuarterBack club a few months ago, and the man next to the podium (guy who did impressions earlier in the event) made comments during my entire talk using his Bobby Bowden voice.  No one else heard him, and I wasn’t sure if I was suppose to be acknowledging him or not.  In the end I just bumbled my way through the entire talk. 

  19. Great post Jeff! It reminded my of my first internship as a journalist, where my assigned mentor (a grizzled news hound for 30+ years) told me, “You’re not anybody in this business until you’ve been fired twice.” 

    1. Wow, what a morbid and probably accurate approach. Ha! The school of hard knocks right! (What’s your take on that now Tor since you are a veteran journalist?)

      1. I believe that might have been the case prior to the late 1990’s-2000’s but the economics of the news business have been so upside down firings occur without any rhyme or reason. The news industry continues to shrink as “citizen journalism” continues to rise…

    2. I’m encouraged by both the post and the comments.  

      It’s not easy. I was just “in the game” and writing professionally and now I’m not in the game.  When I got the news, I wanted to quit writing. Hopefully, I’ll continue to shake off the dust, ….believe that my writing was good enough and be thankful for the opportunity to learn about my weaknesses and strengths. 

      1. Deanna, know that you’re in good company! Ironically, I was fired twice before I left the media business of my own choice. I think the Internet continues to shift the “power delta” in the favor of quality writers (such as you and Mr. Goins) who care about their craft.

        Ultimately, good writers will win…. 

        1. OKAY, now that you’ve mentioned my name next to Mr. Goins my writing career can go on!!   

          Seriously though, I agree.. the internet is a great place to learn how to become a better writer. 

          Thanks for sharing!  

  20. Good stuff Jeff. I can relate. Another frustrating side is when you’re on fire, bringing the A-game like it’s nothing, but only a small number of people see it. You are bang on that sometimes finishing is a win. 

  21. Wow, sorry to hear it didn’t go like you hoped Jeff.  I honestly bet your message was still powerful though. 

    I recently spent many hours working on a guest post to have it rejected. I felt terrible as I thought it was kind of a shoo-in.  (There is no such thing as a sure winner. That’s an important lesson there!)

    Thankfully, after some pouting and moping, I realized that I was able to use this same post somewhere else and actually learn from the initial rejection. I also grew as a writer, because the more I think about it, I REALLY, REALLY stretched myself in the process by writing something that was completely out-of-the-box for me. 

  22. Hey Jeff,

    I think that speaking in front of people is a lot like “playing” in front of people.  After awhile, you start to figure out how to wriggle through all the inevitabilities of “technical failure”.

    As a musician, I can give you all sorts of examples-  crappy sound engineers, blown microphones, power outages, opening for acts that aren’t like us with hostile crowds.  You enter it thinking WTH and exit thinking, if I get into that situation again, I will know what to do.

    At first, it’s difficult because you aren’t expecting it and it kind of disrupts your flow.  But after awhile, something like a shoddy mike becomes just something else that you can use to relate to the audience.

    I don’t think you ever get used to it.  But I think that eventually working through it becomes easier.

    Musicians figure out how to draw people in.  Comedians figure out how to handle hecklers.  And speakers figure out how to maneuver a blown power point presentation.  Even on a professional level.

  23. I was in a professional “demo team” at one company and soon came to realize the problems you described are “the first law of demos”. They happen to everyone, especially the pros. Welcome to the club!

  24. Needed this Goins.  Been feeling a lot like this lately.  Thanks for being transparent and encouraging people to push through.  

  25. Huge thought here Jeff – “So, if you’re feeling resisted — like the whole world is against you — maybe it means you haven’t failed. Maybe it means you’re actually in the game, as opposed to standing on the sidelines. 
    Wow, color me encouraged.  It’s all about perspective, and left to my own devices, my perspective can suck.  

  26. Jeff, I couldn’t agree more on the notion of failing or struggling indicates we’re in the game. Keep in mind, the highlights we see of all stars are just that. Brief moments where they nailed it…highlights don’t show the 10,000 hours of lonely practice or the frequent blunders in the spotlight. It’s easy to not lose…just don’t show up. It’s hard to win because you expose yourself. But, when you play not to lose you don’t win either.

    Stay at it. I and your friends and fellow difference makers are doing the same 🙂


  27. Great thoughts Jeff

    We all have our good and bad days, and the bad days suck real hard

    But they make the good days even better, so whenever i’m in a slump i try and think of the next corner. It has to be better, right?

    Thanks for the thoughts

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  28. I was there. . I’m a thin slicer and I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on your fretting. You were my favorite speaker of the day. Who cares about power point presentations and microphones. No one can tech up passion and it just so happens that your presentation was described as falling in love with your craft which equates to passion. People didn’t choose you to see tech stuff work right. They chose your slot to get inspired. You did that. If you hadn’t I wouldn’t have signed up for your blog.  Demons of discouragement follow gifted people. Blow them off your shoulder. One more thing…a good speaker only needs ears (yours to hear your audience) not props. I look forward to reading what you have to say and being better for it.

  29. Jeff,

    I’ve been on the stage before and I had a moment when I stepped on the stage at Blogworld where my mind went BLANK  on a speech I had rehearsed 40 times. It felt like an eternity. When I  went back and watched the video it was about a 3 second pause. Crazy huh? 

    One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my days as a musician was from my band director. I played the tuba for 13 years and did  a few solo performances for some bigger audiences. My teacher told me “the only person who knows you screwed up is you. The key is not to get caught up in the screw up because it will lead the more of them.”  SO these days I take solace in the fact that nobody knows what it was supposed to go like. If you want to see a guy who truly recovered from a disaster with flying colors watch Pat Flynn’s speech from Blogoworld LA 

  30. I love this. I can relate perfectly! 
    Recently I have begun leading praise and worship at a friend’s church. I have committed to a 3 month gig until they find someone else. I have struggled with this because it has been years since I used my singing voice and I just want to do the best job possible. But, it is a small church. The perfect place to practice in. If I begin to do other things like speak at churches, minister at women’s meetings, etc., then there may be a need for me to sing in front of everyone. Right now is a time for me to hone my skills, and learn to lead by example as well as skill. Like speaking, when singing is bad, everyone notices!  
    Before service this past Sunday, I had a dream that as I walked to the stage to lead, half of the church started moaning, “not her again” and the other half “give her a chance”. I just gave it my all and for good or bad, I enjoyed my time of worship and that is all that matters to me. 
    Until next time. 

  31. Great post, Jeff. I have had similar experiences, especially with technology. What I would suggest is to find a local Toastmasters group and practice your presentation before a live audience. This will give you feedback about your presentation and also let you know if there are any glitches with your laptop/technology. 

    While you can’t always avoid technical difficulties on-site, having a backup plan can be really helpful. I remember one speaker at a conference that couldn’t get her laptop to sync with the projector. After the on-site technician gave up, she calmly reached in to her bag of tricks and pulled out large cards with her slide messages on them. The presentation went on like it was planned that way.

    Here is my horror story from a few months ago…

    I feel your pain!

  32. So grateful to you for letting me see the ‘dirty dishes’ here, and not just the perfectly tweaked and styled ‘beauty shot’. I need the reminder, often, that there is not actually a There out there, as in a state of Me, Successfully Perfect and Perfectly Successful. During a conference in NYC two weeks ago,  I squeezed into a room for a photo-illustrated talk by a rockstar author, one of my heroes, on how to find and bring home the story as a food-travel writer. She was up front, beaming and visiting, and when it was time to start, a tech person whispered in her ear. She told us that a crucial connecting cord for the tech-set up was not to be found and that she would have to just tell us without the much-anticipated photographs we expected. She then stood and presented the most moving, brilliant, heartfelt message on the importance of showing up at our destination open to what we might find, allowing time to stumble across opportunities and follow up on what we find, learning from the people we encounter and letting the story and dishes and recipes show up. Within the advice to food/travel writers were powerful lessons on being present, and she was doing it right there, for us, in a situation that would have terrified and devastated me. Your message means so much to me; hope to hear you speak one of these days. Your blog posts help me greatly.

  33. I read your question up there and my mind instantly went to experiences two years ago, and then I realized the type of failure you are talking about is something I face every day before I start writing. My fear of failure with my writing is always present as I write. I combat my writing demons by telling them its not about what I write, but about me writing. If things take off, great. Until then, I am going to keep doing what keeps my world full of color: writing.

    More specifically, lately, I canceled my website for a business that I started recently because it was NOT taking off. At first, I was really bummed. Then, I realized that consolidating and refocusing my plan wasn’t a bad thing, but a normal life occurrence when starting something new.  

  34. SO, this post came at exactly the right time for me. (If I had a nickel for every time your blog did that for me, I tell ya!) 

    I just took a break from a discouraging email from a coworker that less than tactfully brought attention to something our department did wrong – something that was my responsibility and I should have caught it. 

    It’s been one thing after another at work for the last few weeks, and in an attempt to own my mistakes, I took all of that criticism too personally for my own good. 

    Thank you for this humble and honest reminder that it’s okay that things aren’t perfect, and that it’s no reason to quit trying to do my best. 

  35. Great post and great reminder. I learned years ago to plan and prepare for the worst – then when things go wrong, it’s ok. You planned for that. When things run smoothly, it’s a bonus!

    I used to get frustrated when tentants would tear up our rental homes. Now it doesn’t derail my thoughts and emotions – because I plan for every tenant to tear the place up. Often they don’t – and I’m pleasantly surprised.

  36. Just last week I got stuck in terrible construction traffic, showing up late for a talk for which I   had carefully planned to be early.  The students were already seated and restless by the time I arrived.  Of course, my computer wouldn’t hook up with the projector.  So I gave up on there being a PP point, and went ahead and did what should be a 50 minute talk in 35 minutes, without slides or visuals to a room of 15 year olds with the attention span of a fly.  And surprisingly, it went great. 🙂 

  37. As a professional speaker turned writer, I can say that failure is a part of speaking. But the really crazy thing is that often the times when I think I did the worst (the PowerPoint didn’t run, I forgot a section, and my shirt was stained) are often the times when people are the most moved by what I have to say. 

    I wonder if the same is true of writing. Do people connect most with the words that seem feeble and awkward to me? 

  38. “Art is what happens when you extract something true and good from the mess of life.”  You are speaking my language there, Jeff.  Well said!

  39. It seems to happen whenever I get in front of our entire youth group. I stutter and use the ever wonderful Umms and Uhhs during my message. It’s especially bad when a student comes up afterwards and makes mention of the screwups… 

  40. I had to give a testimony to our church of over 1,000. I saw the cowrd and just stood there for a while, I eventually spoke but don’t know what I said. Praise the Lord for second chances! We’ll knock them dead tomorrow, right Jeff?

  41. This is great. I am reading The War of Art now, and I can see how it’s influenced you; it’s a fantastic book. It’s also a terrible book, in that it takes away my excuses.

    As for speaking failures, I read one of my works not long ago at an open mic night. My knees shook, but not as hard as my voice. I’m used to public speaking, but I messed up that night – big time. It took a few days before I felt worth anything again. 

    It’s just like anything else, though, in that it too shall pass. We have to keep moving forward; letting anything stop us is to fail ourselves and our art.

  42. It seems like all the musicians in the group get this, because it happens over and over again.  I once did  a really big gig…you know the type with big music honchos and celebs in the audience…all went well…curtain closes… I let slip with a not so choice word…the pa picks it up… (even though microphone was not  near me) howls and hoots from audience…they thought it was hilarious.  Warts and all?  You betcha.  I laughed along later…but how embarassing.  Lesson: Never swear till the pa is off.

    Turns out I became an agent anyway.  But imagine… I book a brilliant international jazz quartet from the USA, its a national tour in Oz, we go to Perth first,  an hour before the gig, I go to the venue to check things out… I say to the venue manager. Where’s the baby grand piano?  (thinking it would be wheeled out from the wings) mmm.  I forgot to book the piano he says sheepishly.        So he pays squillions for this well known group, and ditto for publicity… so what is the pianist going to play on methinks…spoons, the bongos, percussion?   One hour before the gig!  I work the phone, its a Sunday, I plead, beg, get my way, and he manager pays triple in the end, and for the piano tuner.  I tell the headliner later…he laughs till it hurts… best gig ever!!!I once turned up to a gig and said to the manager…(I sing) ummm where’s the band? Are they late? No band, he says.  I thought you could just sing along to some records.  How cheap is that?    So what did I do?  Thank God I at least had a microphone.  I cut the gig in half. Got down off that stage.  I made the audience clap rhythms and time.  I included some dude who could sing from the audience… they had ball.     I turned into Frank Zappa for an hour. It was fun.  Not the gig I planned for.  Improvised, creative and …I put it in the act later with modifications.  (It was hard work however)Jeff, it was probably better than you thought.    Disasters help to keep us on our toes, to adapt, to improvise.   Sometimes the unplanned is better anyway.   We learn more about ourselves in these times … ahhh the stuff of life!

  43. I’m sure you were frustrated.  Glad you realized it had nothing to do with you or your being new to speaking.  This brought me back to the best quote I’ve heard in quite a while and it definitely applies here…
    “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm!”  Winston Churchill
    Carry on Jeff!

  44. I smiled when I read this because I’ve seen you speak on days when you killed it.  The great thing about speaking is that your presence is often the most important part.

  45. Your timing is impeccable! I just posted about my struggle the last few days with process and perfectionism and didn’t feel like I had really nailed what I was trying to communicate but posting it anyway was good practice. It wasn’t “terribly wrong”, but I didn’t feel great about it, either. But it was the best I could do for now because that was sort of what the whole post was about.  Imperfectly putting one foot in front of the other…

  46. The first time I spoke infront of a teen camp of about 80 people I was stunned in the first few minutes because it was an unfamiliar audience (I usually speak to adults). I thought I’d be just fine. But I was so nervous that the facial reaction I got from the crowd was that of  shock, disbelief and blank looks…I felt like I had to leave or to step up a notch.
    I stepped up by focussing on the intention why I was there, I had to relax/chill, breath and shut out completely the negativity and focus on the positives. Soon after the audience lighten up because I lighten up (the audience’s reaction is always the best way to tell how you are going), and I manage to deliver the rest of the 1 hour speech and getting the audience actively involved, pumped up and energetic.
    Stepping up I think is the only positive way to move forward.

  47. Jeff, I’ve been reading your blog for one month. In that time I’ve been moved to act in ways I haven’t in years. Angela said it best: “They chose your slot to get inspired.”

  48. Dusting ourselves off. … Healing from the self-inflicted imaginary bruises from kicking ourselves for messing up.  … We’re usually hardest on ourselves. 

    You’re right. We can’t dazzle every day. The trick is learning to aim to dazzle, yet accepting the reality that presents itself with a gracious humility.   

    If there’s a lesson to learn from the less than dazzling results, let’s be great students. If it’s just life, we need to do as you said, picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off.

  49. Thank you Jeff. Today I was ready to pack it all in and wondering how to back peddle out of blogging with the least hurt to my pride. For better or worse (and with little impact on the universe I know) I’m going to do what a pro does and suck it up and move on.

  50. Inspiring, as always. I see this in my day job. Some days go awful, not to plan at all, but I just carry on and adapt, sometimes i make jokes from it and it becomes something better (I’m a foreign language teacher btw). So why can’t the same apply to my writing? Why do I demand perfection every time. Why do I shy away from sections I know need editing? I say a writer is what I am, so I think that it has to be perfect when I do it – especially to complete. It doesn’t, I just ned to keep going. Thanks.

  51. Woah, Jeff, I was there, and I was so into your presentation I forgot about the lighting issues. You started the day off with energy and inspiration that propelled me through a great PCN. I meant to take more notes during your session, but I didn’t want to take my attention away from what you were saying.

    That said, I know how it feels to not meet your own expectations. There are times when everyone else doesn’t see the same shortcomings you do. It can make you question your standards and your love for creating art. I’m relieved you see the bigger picture. Sometimes it takes time and different perspectives to get there.

    Thanks a ton for taking the time and having the courage to speak. It was a great pleasure meeting you!

  52. I can relate to this.
    When I used to play in a band, we’d sometimes play a terrible gig and I’d feel like quitting. But then we’d play another show, and things would go well, and I’d think, maybe we can do this.
    Of course, being a professional means working on becoming more consistent, but like you say, Jeff, even more important is sticking at it. That’s what pros do, and that’s how they get better.
    I’ve now shifted my focus from music to writing, because, although I love music, I’ve realised I want to write more. And I intend to stick at it.

  53. During hour 2 of my radio show about 3 years ago I froze. My mind went blank and I had no idea what to talk about. I had stumbled before, but blank, nothing to say, this can’t happen to a PROFESSIONAL. It does, it has, and it will happen again. I took a breath and started talking about spending a day with my dad. It turned into one of, if not the best show I ever had.

    Sometimes the moments that seem to be the biggest set backs can lead you to focus and remember to be yourself.

    Thanks for the story Jeff

  54. Augh! I can so relate! I had a speaking engagement in February filled with crying babies and an audience who ignored my instructions for the group activities, throwing the illustrations upon which my talk was based. I was really upset. I honestly thought about leaving! Good to know I’m not the only one. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  55. When I read through these stories, I’m starting to think that we ALL have days like you had! My very first workshop went that way – it was that line about if something could go wrong, it will.

    I was training a room full of people with a hands-on training program about how to use Facebook and Linkedin. I couldn’t get my laptop to connect to their wifi (no one in the room could get connected) so they had to get call the tech person to figure out how I could connect with their 10 year old computer. Once I got online, I couldn’t bring up Facebook as the building had blocked it so their employees couldn’t get on to Facebook during the day.

    Several people wanted to leave and asked for their money back. I was freaking out but I stepped into the ladies room for a few minutes to pull myself together. Everyone agreed to stay and I just found a way to make it work. I cracked jokes throughout the presentation about what we would be seeing if we were online.

    Afterwards, the client told me what a great job I did and they couldn’t even tell I was freaking out. Guess it happens to all of us at one time or another ….

  56. Hi Jeff,

    Failure is part of being an artist. If you don’t fail, that means you are playing it safe. If you want to be safe all the time, then you are always in your comfort zone. In your comfort zone, you will stagnate. You will stop growing. Go out and fail so you can succeed.

    Anthony D.

  57. Thanks for being real with all of us. From the comments it sounds like even though your talk didn’t go as well as you hoped that you still inspired people..which is awesome! Which, by the way, is the same feeling I have when I read your posts:-)

  58. Powerpoints are so overused.  I miss when people were prepared to just captivate with stories and hands on activities and interaction. 
    I worked really hard as a child protection worker.  I was kind to kids and felt like I did my best to be a voice for them.  I worked too hard and took care of myself too little.  I worked for an agency that completely lacked in the area of leadership and people constantly doubted everything you did.  I snapped at people.  Complaints came in.  I quit.  It’s the only job I’ve ever tried that hard at and not left feeling like I did a good job.

  59. Jeff – Just caught reference to your post from Michael Hyatt’s Podcast this week. I was inspired by your talk on Saturday! Loved every second – it was a great way to start my day. Thank you! Even in what we think is broken or busted, it can still bring hope and inspiration to others.

    I also had to laugh at remembering similar performance situations in my own life. My wife and I spoke earlier this year at a wonderful spot, that also happened to be a coffee shop. The definition of fun is keeping on point with the coffee grinder screaming in the background! 

    Best to you – and thanks again!

  60. That was really good! It can be applied to so many areas of life, not just writing or speaking. Very inspirational! Thanks 😉

  61. Jeff, I do not think there are many speakers professional or not that have not had this experience at one turn or another.  I lamented at the Seminar when my talk had microphone, and visual problems. Not my fault. But then later they said, it was what I said, that set the tone for the speakers that followed and tied things together. Which was what I was hoping to do.  My husband made an unusual comment, at least, I have been trying to figure out if it is possible.  His comment was,” why do you need visuals, you know what your talking about, just share it.”  Does that mean we rely to much on visuals? Interesting comment at least. 

  62. I just saw Glen Campbell in concert last Thursday night.  Battling Alzheimer’s, his perspective is, “Aw, heck, people forget things all the TIME……”  True, true Glen. 

    At one point during the show, he simply stopped playing after the intro, turned to his band, and said, “Why is this song so LOW??”  They had a discussion about what key it was in, his daughter on keyboards reminded him they were doing it in A, and after a few trial strums and notes they all started again.  It didn’t matter to Glen that we were watching him figure something out on the spot that had started out all wrong- the audience could just wait a minute, as far as he was concerned, until they had this settled.

    Settled it was, and he turned around and launched into a flawless rendition of “Country Boy”, where he awed us with his voice and guitar talent.   I loved seeing a veteran and pro stop his own show to make sure it was done right!

  63. Add me to the list of people who was there and honestly forgot about the lighting issues once you started talking. I heard great feedback about your talk from Blissdom and I was bummed I missed it while sitting in another session. I knew PCN would be my opportunity to be able to grab some nuggets from you, and I was glad you were there. Remember that the message is always more important than the visuals – even your face while communicating the message. You were able to effectively communicate your message in the dark when everything was going wrong – I consider that a huge win. 

  64. Thanks for sharing your experience.  It is funny thinking about – when you make it, you won’t have this or that to worry about.  Encouraging to hear that anybody can have that experience.

    It was drilled into me long ago that technology can be fickle – so preparation is your trump card.  Countless times I’ve been thankful for meticulous preparation.

  65. I think “one sure sign you’re a professional” is when you can move forward & act like everything is happening the way it’s supposed to. An audience has no idea what you planned for them, so as long as you’re a decent presenter, they won’t know about FUBARS unless you specifically tell them — which I don’t recommend unless you’re able to do so with a huge amount of humor. I remember I had to cover for a cheerleading coach once, who wasn’t expecting to have to address this huge crowd of parents, so she suddenly had to pee & didn’t come out till I’d already handled the situation. She asked me later, “How’d did you talk to them? You’re not even a coach so how did you even know what to say?” I told her I’d used her fear as a jumping board into the funniest speech I ever had to give, explained we’d all have to work together to ensure our new coach got eased into her position, & asked them to direct questions & concerns to me at the office rather than to her since I’d been around longer & might be able to help. She looked at me like I was some kind of angel & said something I’ll never forget: “You’re so good at dealing with people.” This struck me as hilarious because I’m an antisocial, anxiety-riddled mess — unless I know what I’m talking about. Sometimes even then. But nobody else knew it. *awesome*

    /// @theworld4realz

  66. this is powerful. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to “reinvent” myself during my blogging gig. You’ve seen some of the spills. Thanks for your honesty, vulnerability, and for being a great resource, Jeff!

  67. I agree with what you wrote here. (I love your articles by the way. They’re all really insightful and relevant.)

    I’ve been there too, having something like that happen to me. And I see it as how you do too. That if I weren’t achieving something in my career or life, I wouldn’t have had to face these challenging circumstances, which would allow me to grow and develop even further.

    I look forward to all your future writings!

  68. Really helpful post – thanks! Especially this “Every talk you give, every word you write, every product you make occurs in less than ideal circumstances. Still, you find a way to push through. To hover over the chaos and create. You hope for excellence, but sometimes finishing is enough.” SO true – always writing under pressure, late at night, early morning, on the train, in my dressing gown – and yes, sometimes just to finish is the achievement!

  69. “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.”
    -Michael Jordan

  70.   Being rather clueless re: starting a blog, but hearing that it was a snap, I jumped into the project.  (Pioneer Woman, I was told, just spent an hour or so & was up & running, then became a surprise success. Friends said, “How hard could it be?”) Then I got bogged down in technical decisions: vs.; both vs. Blogger, Weebly, & others. Other complications followed, & I abandoned it all after hitting “publish” too soon. BUT: I’ve found great tutorials about using WP (thanks, John Piteo!) and am powering through, determined to make a go of it!  It’s still a fledgling, skeletal website. I’m still learning as I watch tutorials and try to apply what I’m learning.  But I am determined! Not quitting!  No, sir! I’m even linking to my pathetic little website in these comments. Courageous. . .

  71. I’m writing a novel in earnest for the first time, as part of National Novel Writing Month. I’m a bit behind schedule but I’ve been working to catch back up. And then I made the foolish decision to update my computer’s operating system a few days ago–and now it may be “bricked,” with about half of my un-backed-up writing locked inside it.

    So what do I do? Throw my hands up and decide i’m a victim of a technological glitch? Or break out the yellow legal pad and pencil and keep writing until the issue can be fixed?

    Thanks for helping to inspire me to choose Option #2.

  72. I’ve had this kind of thing happen so many times as a Trainer and it really does make you feel like giving up. The only way I’ve found to deal with it is to keep going, keep learning and to know it’s all part of the game!

Comments are closed.