It is two hours before you are set to take the massive, awe-inspiring, nothing-else-like-it, official TED stage (not TEDx like pictured above but TED!) You are nervous enough and then you bomb the rehearsal. Just imagine for a minute what that is like….
Sasha Dichter, a Acumen Fund executive and long-time blog writer (at least I’ve been following his blog for a long time) writes this deeply vulnerable post about being sure he was going to very publicly mess up a once in a lifetime opportunity but friends and then even the audience rallied around him and he soared. As he took the stage and looked out at the audience, he says, “As I started to speak, many of their faces lit up – they smiled, they nodded, they affirmed. This group that had seen me fail just two hours ago had clearly decided that they wanted to help me succeed. And so they morphed into a band of new friends who, with every nod and smile, rooted me on and communicated that I could do it.”
I have not been in the hot seat like Sasha was (yet) but I can still relate. Until I started to rigorously practicing public speaking I had no idea what it meant to be a good audience member. During every single presentation I’ve ever given there’s always one person who is smiling and nodding. Sometimes there’s 20 but at least there’s always one. I’m always grateful to one person (and if you are reading this, thank you!) You help me be a better speaker. That connection, the affirmation, the support from that one engaged person helps me channel the stories of our members to the best of my ability. I can take risks and tell the story as it was meant to be told.
I do know that the other 40 or 50 or 200 people in the room are not necessarily unengaged. They may be very engaged. They just have on their resting face. As a speaker, I can’t read their resting face. So my eyes go back again and again to those friendly participants in the room.
Being a good audience is a two way street. The more active, engaged, and positive I am about attending a session the more I learn and the better the outcome. So it is important for associations to have a member culture where this behavior is encouraged.
What triggered the TED audience to rally behind Sasha with smiles and nods? Was there something the TED organizers did to model this behavior? Did they suggest it? Where there experiences early on that set the stage for them to do this? I don’t know the answers but I’m willing to bet that the organizers had a lot to do with the audience’s actions as they positively reinforced him. I think that we, the association’s staff, have opportunities to form our member culture into something helpful, positive, encouraging rather than just letting it evolve on it’s own. When we don’t attend to the culture something emerges and it won’t help anyone if it’s ambivalence, competitiveness or criticalness. Beyond products and services member culture may be the next most important thing we can focus on.
I love Sasha’s closing comments in his post and my plan is practice this more myself, “The opportunities to lead, to support, to encourage, to reinforce, and, yes, to cheer on – even with something as simple as a smile and a nod – those opportunities are everywhere, and they are (and we are) much more capable than we realize to help others shine.”
What can we do to help our members shine? What can we do to help our members help other members shine?