It was the first class of the semester teaching the part-time MBA Business Communications class. I had a room full of business professionals and I decided to climb up on top of a table to make a point. I had everyone’s attention, I was setting the tone for the class – it was a moment. And then it was an entirely different kind of moment.
Getting up onto the table was no problem, but coming down was a different story. I had been nursing a knee injury and was careful about just how much weight I was putting on that leg. So, as I’m trying my hardest to step down as gingerly as possible, BOOM – the table flips up behind me sending all my papers flying into the air while I struggled to stay vertical. I didn’t fall on my face, but as the students so eloquently put it, “I surfed off the table.”
This is kind of an embarrassing moment, don’t you think? The kind of moment that shows up in work-related nightmares or even keeps some people from speaking in front of groups all together. So, what does a professor of public speaking do? I steadied the table upright while a gallant male student leaped to help. I picked up a few of the papers and turned to the class with a big grin on my face and said, “Wasn’t that awesome?” We all shared a quick laugh, but they were still tentative.
I continued, “This is one of the best moments in a classroom for me.” Now they were entirely confused. I went on to explain that there’s no better way to teach a lesson on how to handle things when they don’t go as planned than by example. Now they were starting to get it. I then polled the class and asked if they were embarrassed for me. The resounding answer was, “No, we weren’t.”
“That‘s exactly the point,” I said. “If I am not embarrassed for me, then you are not going to be embarrassed for me either.” As the speaker, you set the tone and participants follow your lead. It’s inevitable that at numerous points in all of our lives, we will fall upon some rather embarrassing moments. Whether we forget what we are talking about mid-sentence, trip in front someone we want to make a good impression on or bump into a wall, these situations are unavoidable.
It’s not about being perfect all the time. After all, there really is no such thing as perfect. It’s really about how we recover when we do something that’s not perfect. The fact that I was comfortable with what happened made everyone else comfortable, too. And, ultimately, this kept all of us focused on the class. Think about it, when was the last time you did something embarrassing and then let that one moment dominate an entire situation? How could you have handled that situation differently? What could you have done to stay in control of your ‘recovery?’