My New Keynote was a Failure! Or was it???

My New Keynote was a Failure... Or was it???
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It was a room filled with eager and hungry entrepreneurs and business owners. They had carved availability into their schedules and were ready to absorb strategies and techniques for taking their businesses, income, and impact to the next level.

In the lineup of speakers, I was placed exactly where I like to be - as the “kickoff guy”. The event organizer had invited me to present last year on the big stage, and it was an exciting opportunity to be with him and his team again, with new content, and a rock-solid, “Never Give Up” message.

Matthew Pollard did a phenomenal job with the Small Business Festival in 2016, its inaugural year, and for this year, the conference had expanded to four large markets in the States (Austin, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Buffalo), and one international marketplace, (Sydney, Australia).

All systems were a go!

The room was set, lighting was good, seats were filled, and the microphone was on. And, on my side, just to be EXTRA safe, my wife and I sent the presentation slides ahead of time in not one, but three formats - PDF, Keynote, and Powerpoint. (Read the rest of this article on my site.)

From there, the dream opportunity, started to evolve (or devolve), into what many speaker’s would consider a nightmare. Not only could I not get the slides to work, the emcee, now side-stage, couldn’t immediately snap his fingers to fix the problem. Luckily for me, this wasn’t my first rodeo and I had been through tech glitches before. Really… It was no big deal. I knew this speech inside and out. The slides weren’t a memory trigger for me. They were simply a supplement.

Back in the game, tech issues resolved, I did what any good performer would do - I picked back up where I had left off. But something was different. The rhythm and flow I established early on, vanished. And the pace and timing developed through hours of rehearsal, lost.

As my eyes moved from the audience, to the emcee, and then back to the crowd, my mind went blank.

I quickly scanned my memory in hopes that I could mentally grab onto a relevant point or story so I could resume and salvage the opportunity. The good news is, I found actual words that filled the silence. The heartbreaking news is, they quickly led to nothing.

One last time, I glanced at the emcee, and in a hushed tone, I said, “It’s Gone. My presentation is gone.” While your fight or flight symptoms are probably kicking in at this point - rapid heart rate, flushed face, obvious sweating, broken speech, and a startled look. Instead, I was noticeably at peace, with the situation, with the room, and most importantly, with myself.

It was the peace that made a difference.

Turning to the audience once again, I fixed my gaze on them and in a clear and confident voice that carried to the back of the room said, “I can’t do this. Thank you for coming. Please forgive me.” And with that, I exited the floor, took my seat at the back of the room, gathered my things, and quietly made my way to the car.

Alone in the driver’s seat, you might think I was mortified with what happened in front of a room full of strangers, the event planner, and one of their sponsors; and horrified by what was to come. But I wasn’t. During the entire sequence of events - on stage, seated at the back of the room, and even sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, I stayed present in the moment, attentive to my thoughts, with a peace that far surpassed my understanding.

No question, I had a spectacular failure and fell flat on my face.

Yet, there I was, in control, accepting of what happened, knowing that this wasn’t the end (unless I let it be), and at peace. I didn’t curse myself, God, my speaking coaches, or the situation.

Although I had a whopper of an opportunity to come down hard on myself, and take many unsuspecting people down with me - my wife, my speaking coaches, the event organizer, the audience, and my supporters, I didn’t. I couldn’t. Throwing my hands up in anger or frustration would do nothing but turn an awkward situation, into a memorably awkward situation. And, while I knew that I had missed this window of opportunity, it was only one window.

In the parking lot, as I leaned against my car, wondering what to do next, the event organizer came out and asked me one of the most powerful questions I’ve ever heard - “How important is it for you to nail this speech?” Emphatically, I said “extremely important” This was THE message I was sent here to give - NEVER GIVE UP.

To that, he simply said - Then get back on stage, and nail it.

Your response determines what happens next.

Immediately, I had a choice to make; I could take one more swing, or I could cower and hide.

And, 9 o’clock, Monday night, in downtown Austin, Texas, I climbed back in the “ring”. I was no longer the opening act, I was now the main event.

The second introduction from the emcee was now short, sweet, and something I remember very well, “Joel has a powerful story. And he’s going to tell it to you. I hope you stay.” In a hushed room, only three people left.

Back on stage, and with everyone’s complete attention, something completely unexpected happened - before I said my first words, the applause started.

And I nailed the speech!

The timing was there. The energy from the audience was there. And I was fully there!

While I may have been the only one talking, for the first time ever, I delivered a keynote that wasn’t a presentation, it was a conversation. There was a depth of empathy, understanding, and compassion that I had never before experienced with an audience. It was amazing.

As I made my way through the room afterward, thanking folks for sticking around to cheer me on, the support I received was unexpected and almost knocked me over. One person after another thanked me for being willing to come back and try again.

Here’s how one attendee put it - “Joel you are success in motion. You talk about ‘never giving up’ and ‘letting go’. You walk your talk!”

Here’s an email from another:

Your resilience is very impressive and you touched on several phases of inner growth on this new path of biz owner/entrepreneurship that I have gone through. Overcoming dyslexia, high school dropout, single mom, MS, cancer.. the list of potential blocks are immense! However... I can relate to the WILL to succeed, faith driven and aiming for our highest potential. Thanks for being inspiring and keeping it authentic!

I guess actions do speak louder than words!

While it may seem like I’m the hero of this story, the only heroic actions I took was to stand for what I believe in, to NEVER GIVE UP, and to go one more round. And, as it turned out, one more round, was all that was needed, to turn public failure, into my finest hour.

What about you?

What are you willing to climb back into the “ring” for, to try one last time? Is it a pitch? A project? A passion? A personal statement? Or something even bigger?

While staying in the fight and swinging for what you believe in is never mandatory, it’s the only way to a more hopeful, prosperous, and impactful tomorrow.

You have what it takes.

The question is, will you use it?

Matthew, the event organizer, summed it up perfectly for the audience - Joel is doing exactly what we all need to do to be successful in business; get in front of people, not be intimidated, and share our stories and message.

So what happened? What made my second performance a crowd pleaser?

  • The stakes were gone;
  • I no longer had anything to prove;
  • I remained connected with the audience;
  • I controlled my emotions (no crying, no cussing, no condemning, and no excuses).

Why was I given grace by the organizer?

  • I had taken the time to get to know him on a personal level;
  • He knew I was capable and that I knew my content;
  • He saw the sincerity of my service;
  • I was gracious in my failure;
  • I was gracious in my success.

Why was I given grace by the audience?

  • I took the time to meet many of them before the event;
  • When failure was looming, I didn’t fake it, wing it, or hide from it, I accepted it;
  • I stayed present with what was happening in the moment;
  • While it would have been easy to lose my temper, storm off stage, and slam the door behind me, I kept my cool.

As Matthew pulled away, and I walked toward my car, in what was now a vacant parking lot, I understood (at least better) why I was there and what I was there to communicate - persistence, perseverance, pushing past limits, and reaching your full potential, even when you fail.

Setbacks and disappointments, they’re a part of life. No getting around them.

It’s what you choose to do next, that makes the difference.

If I can help you step in, step up, and step over your greatest challenge, roadblock or obstacle, let’s carve out a few minutes and figure out the best course of action. (Click here to schedule the most convenient time.)

You have a responsibility to yourself, your family, to the people you’re here to serve, and I believe to God, to stay the course and to NEVER GIVE UP.

The editors of Success Magazine wrote a phenomenal bullet-point summary of my latest book, Finding your Voice. Download your complimentary copy by visiting our site.

If you’d like me to tell this story to your podcast/blog audience, or at your live or virtual event, contact us here and someone from our team will get back with you shortly.

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