A few weeks ago I gave a speech at SHRM, which stands for the Society for Human Resource Management. After the event I sent all the attendees a nice thank-you email. As I always do, I asked for feedback. I wanted to know what they thought I did well, where I can improve, and how, based on their experience, I can become an even more effective speaker.
One of the women in the audience responded, saying that she thought I had provided a great message and given a wonderful speech. I was all smiles – until I saw she had followed that glowing review with some constructive feedback. Feedback that I now realize has helped me learn a tough, yet rather important, lesson.
One of the woman’s points was that when I shared how I met my wife many years ago, I’d said I thought she was a “hot chick.” This phrase didn’t sit well with this particular audience member, nor did the way I danced when doing one of my exercises. To her, my movements were too suggestive in nature.
There was another exercise where I brought a woman on stage and held her hand while making the point that there is a difference between “trying” and “doing.” In her feedback, the female audience member shared that she felt this type of physical contact was also inappropriate.
Initially, I was a bit taken aback. But the more I thought about those things through her perspective, the more I realized she was right. And if she felt that way, how many others had too, but never said anything?
Of course, my actions were purely innocent. I didn’t want to cause any harm, nor did I mean to act sexual in any way. However, despite my best intentions, this woman thought something about me that wasn’t true. In the end, that was even worse – not only had my message not been clearly communicated, it had been misinterpreted.
This woman’s feedback made me take a step back and remember that, when I’m a public speaker, I have a lot of power over others. I don’t mean that in an “I’m the boss” kind of way. It’s more that most people are not going to say no to me if I ask them to do something on stage…even if it makes them uncomfortable. This means that I have to work hard at not putting anyone in that type of position.
I need to be careful of all of the words I use and actions I take when I have the microphone in my hand. Ultimately, my goal is to make my audience comfortable, to help them learn the lessons I’ve learned in life so they don’t have to go through those experiences themselves. Experiences like this one.
In the end, I am happy the woman shared her feelings with me, because I will take her feedback forward and use it to become a more effective speaker. A speaker who isn’t afraid to learn more every day, even if those lessons feel a little rough on the way down.