I’ve spoken in public many, many times. Countless, actually. I was a competitive speaker in high school and dabbled in it a bit in college. I’ve done theater. I’ve done several presentations at conferences and training events all over the country. I’m no stranger to microphones or baring my soul to large groups of people.
But, here’s the thing: when you’re naturally an awkward person, no amount of experience can completely remove the potential to be awkward in front of an audience.
When you’re naturally awkward, the likelihood of awkwardness in front of people you know is significantly higher than strangers. It’s Murphy’s Law of Akwardness: people you see every day — who you want to impress — are much more likely to witness an awkward outburst.
Last week, I received an invitation to speak at the December Employee of the Month presentation for our company. These EOM meetings are awkward anyway — 300 people attempt to cram into a lobby and only half of whom (at best) have any visibility of said activities. I was tasked with discussing the toy drive driven by my company’s philanthropy committee, which I am a member.
Cool. I’ve got this. I know the deetz of this charity event inside and out. I printed a study guide, highlighted the important talking points and headed to the assembly.
Except, I forgot to put my scarf back on. The scarf completed my outfit! Why did I have to take it off because I was hot? A co-worker assured me that I looked fine and no one would care whether or not I had a scarf.
I stood near the front of the lobby, waiting for my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss to introduce me. Then, he held the microphone out toward me. Totally routine EOM-type exchange.
“Hi everyone! My name is Kelly and I have the honor of working on the Team Phil committee here at PlattForm!”
Solid start. Yesssss.
“We’re having a holiday gift drive for _______, an organization that offers resources to families working through behavioral and health issues with their children — their goal is to keep families together and equipped to handle their difficulties together.”
This is going exactly according to plan!
Then I glanced down at my notes. The ones I’d put together based on multiple emails, much of which was retyped. There was a typo. My typo. I tend to have a lot of typos in things, however, there were people looking at me.
I had a microphone and had milliseconds to process what I MEANT to type and stick to the talking points.
Those milliseconds of delay were enough for Murphy’s Law of Awkwardness to catch up with me.
“We had a really great turnout for November’s food drive, so let’s keep the enthusiasm up! Team Phil isn’t afraid to rattle cages, and we have a ton of enthusiasm, so don’t think we won’t come find you.”
Wait, what? Did…did I just threaten the entire company?
Did I just tell them if they didn’t bring in donations that the philanthropy committee would hunt them down?
Did that really just happen?
Another delay that felt like an eternity but was really a fraction of a second, and then I somehow wrapped that awkward, mostly-harmless threat up in a bow.
“You guys are great, and we’re only able to do all this good because of your commitment to our efforts! If you have any questions, reach out to me or anyone else on the committee!”
Then I rattled off the names of everyone else on the committee.
And then I handed the microphone back to a man who has the power to fire me if he sees fit. He smiled and I walked back into the crowd and melted away into anonymity.
And that’s the story of the last time I held a microphone.