Are you Afraid of Being Seen?

hand emerging from behind red theatre curtain

“All the world is a stage.” Are you hiding behind the curtain?

The first time I posted one of my 52 Week Turnaround articles on Facebook my hand trembled the whole time. Because my personal Facebook page was connected to people I had known for years. I had visions of people stumbling across posts, complete with scathing comments. (Not to mention the endless funky spam comments — What is it with sex companies trying to hide posts with headers about hockey jerseys? ) Most especially I imagined my ex-husband, ex-boyfriends, high school friends, and college acquaintances, all doubling over in laughter as they read. And not in a good way.

A few of whom are probably shaking their heads as they read this going “Seriously? Jeanne’s afraid of nothing, except slugs, so what the hell is she talking about?” Because many of them know me as being pretty fearless. I was an AIDS activist in the early 90’s (yes, the kind that gets arrested and gets spit on by bigots at demonstrations), worked in a famously dangerous public housing authority (where shootings were common and my car was rocked the first time I drove into one of the projects), and had my life and the lives of my team threatened by a mentally unstable client on the same job. I fought the foster care system.  I’ve held people while they were dying horrible deaths from AIDS and moved drugs from the dead to the living. I’ve faced large, furious public audiences who hated the company or agency I was representing, negotiated with picketers and delivered a lot of bad news to people who weren’t too happy to hear it. I’ve been on TV and radio dozens of times, sometimes on pleasant topics but also representing companies on unpleasant subjects and in difficult situations. A running joke at a company I worked at many years ago was that “There’s only one person with any balls around here and it’s Jeanne.”

Why was this different? All of that bravery was done for someone else’s plan or cause. I delivered an employer’s message (under some pretty rocky circumstances, but still, not Jeanne’s message). I fought for friends and a child who had AIDS (Shirley MacClaine’s “Give my daughter the shot!!!” pales compared to me in a medical standoff) but I wasn’t ill. I executed someone else’s organizational change plan.

But what happens when you put YOU out there, your baby, your business, your dream? There are times when it is easier for me to fight for someone else’s cause than to fight for my own. So I worry. Here’s a sampling of this past month’s worries:

  • If I comment on the divide between men and women in technology and business will I not be able to get hired anywhere ever again, be branded an “agitator”?
  • Is my thinking too superficial? Will the smart people I went to school with be like, “Dear God, how the hell did they ever let Jeanne into college? Clearly it was a clerical error.”
  • How many frigging typos, run on sentences, and/or passive voice sentences did I leave in that article I posted at five this morning before running off to a meeting? (A lot, I guarantee it).
  • What if my book that is coming out gets really sucky reviews? Should I publish under a pseudonym?
  • Are there slugs in Belgium and what are the odds of one of them sliming its way across the podium while I’m presenting? (They didn’t, but I did consider the possibility).

Sometimes, as loud as we may appear, we are still trying to remain invisible. Suzanne Evans, a business coach who specializes in being loud, proud and outspoken talks about “Stepping into Discomfort”, taking risks and being “visible” in her book, The Way you Do Anything is the Way you Do Everything. And when Suzanne talks about being visible, she means warts and all, not a safe “First to volunteer to lead the United Way committee” or post “bland inoffensive business articles on LinkedIn” sort of way.

I particularly loved her quote, “Learn fast that taking up less space and surrounding yourself with people who want to go unnoticed, and stay under the radar won’t get you more business, better clients, or cutting edge marketing ideas. Success takes up space.”

We all know someone at work who’s primary career skill is keeping their head down, making sure to dodge into a safe hole when the lawnmower comes overhead.  And it may even work for them. But at some point, it’s a pretty hollow victory. I’ve taken my chances on being memorable. And so far, it has worked, creating new opportunities, new connections and new experiences.

So here I am.  Visible. Taking up space. Saying what I think, sharing what I know, both good and bad. And YOU need to put yourself out there as well. You didn’t get this far without learning a few things. If nothing else, I know to never follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady. And that’s something everyone needs to know.

And yes, I’m posting this on Facebook.

Of course if you would prefer to remain invisible, please feel free to post a comment on exactly how many grammatical errors I have committed in this post. You can do it anonymously, I promise.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Humiliation, Rat Poison and a Freight Train

Getting your point across and a few things to do and NOT DO if you’re following the Fulton County Rat Poison lady and a freight train rolls through…

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Nearly fifteen years ago I was in charge of the launch of an ambitious, somewhat controversial, government funded housing program.  The program was designed to revitalize several Atlanta neighborhoods that had struggled long after forced “urban revitalization” had been inflicted upon them (via a major superhighway or two driven right through their homes).   We were doing multiple presentations each evening, and this was the fourth of the night. The dog and pony roadshows would continue for nearly two months, five shows a night at audiences around the city, held in community centers, schools and libraries. Most of the audiences were not delighted to see my team, suspecting that we, too, might be about to ram a superhighway through their homes.  My team and I held our breath before each meeting, never knowing what we’d encounter.

When I got to the meeting, I was informed I had only 3 minutes to deliver the entire message.  Checking the agenda, I realized that I was following a representative from the Fulton County Health department.  Her topic, which was eagerly followed by all present, was on how to get rid of rats that had been invading the neighborhood after a recent sewer problem.  As an added incentive, she had brought free samples of rat poison with her and would be distributing them at the end of the meeting.

As an animal lover, I wasn’t too keen on the whole “poison the rats” bit but hey, my opinion didn’t matter. My job was to be as non-confrontational as possible in all of my interactions with the public.  So I didn’t mention that I had kept mice as pets all through junior high and stood up to begin my speech.

As I took the stage I was once again reminded that I only had three minutes. I opened my mouth to begin the semi-reassuring spiel we had perfected when faced with hostile audiences. No sooner had I introduced myself than an incredibly loud freight train came roaring through.  Endlessly.  Complete with multiple horn blasts as it crossed two nearby intersections.

I glanced over at the time moderator. She pointed to her watch. Panicking, I promptly stuck foot in mouth. I mentioned I had grown up in NY (a BIG “no-no” in the Deep South), raised my voice and plowed through with my presentation, over the noise of the train. It was a close contest on decibel level but ultimately, I won. (We grow ‘em loud in NY!)

To say it went over like a lead balloon is an understatement. Out of the corner of my eye, as I was nearly trampled by the crowd eagerly pushing past me to get their rat poison samples, I saw a member of our board who had been in the audience gently shaking her head.  I knew I had failed.  Best of all, I had to climb back into my Geo Tracker and drive onto one more presentation. One more shot at disaster.

By 7 a.m. my boss had a voice mail from the board member who had been in the audience. Fortunately my message explaining what had gone wrong was lobbed in at 11:57 the night before.  And after a short, red-faced discussion with my boss, (who fortunately had been to many similar meetings before and probably had an epic failure or two under his belt) I was able to carry on. The project launch was very successful, and the board member and I are now close friends, and can now laugh about it. Since that evening I have given presentations in front of crowds greater than 1000, containing furious stakeholders and investigative reporters all without a hitch. None has ever been as scary as driving back from my encounter with the Rat Poison Queen.

But what should I have done?

  1. I should have stood my ground quietly, and silently, while the freight train passed.
  2. Once it was through, should have looked sweetly at the time keeper and in my best adopted Southern drawl assure her that I would now keep to three minutes.
  3. Retaken control of the audience by standing silently and then beginning fresh.
  4. Delivered my presentation for the three minutes allotted.
  5. Stood back and let the crowd at the Rat Poison.  Don’t ever stand between a crowd and the main event.
  6. Later, in the privacy of the trusty  Geo Tracker, sung “New York, New York” in my best Ed Koch imitation as I drove to the next presentation. (Okay, maybe should skip that part but it did occur to me as I shook and trembled the whole way to the final presentation of the evening, knowing I needed to put in a very unpleasant call to my boss. Bravado is a New Yorker’s middle name.)

Have you ever blown a presentation?  What do YOU do when your planned presentation has a mishap? Or when your 20 minute presentation is being condensed to 5 minutes on 30 seconds notice? Have any strong feelings on the pros or cons of rat poison? Feel free to share in the comments section.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015