When I was a boy, I heard a story about a hot dog stand owner, who would put on a clown costume, then stand on the sidewalk everyday and wave motorists into his business. He was so successful, he was able to send his son to college. Upon graduating from college, the son, now worldly and sophisticated, was embarrassed by his father’s antics. He convinced his dad that was not the way to get customers. The father, taking the advice from his college-educated son, retired his clown costume, and stopped waving drivers into his restaurant. Overtime business dropped off, and they went out of business.
Whether or not that story is true, I recall the ubiquitous TV commercials of a low-cost furniture store owner in Atlanta during the 1980s and 90s. He sported a flowing mane of hair and a thick beard, and called himself the Wolfman. It was an apt name, as he really looked the part. The ads were excruciatingly corny, but exceedingly memorable. Those advertisements were widely mocked, but he was able to put aside his pride and vanity, and continue making them. He made more than 500 of them, each of which were on-the-air thousands of times. They pulled flocks of people into his stores, and in turn he enjoyed a great deal of success.
Too often we allow our self-consciousness - our fear that people may judge us negatively - to keep us from taking risks or trying new things.
I love the scene, in the movie Breaking Away, when Dave Stoller stands outside the girls’ dormitory and serenades, in a cracking voice, an Italian love song to Katherine, a girl he wants to date. At first her friends laugh, and she acts embarrassed, but he continues on, and eventually she becomes flattered by his bold gesture and goes to him.
Occasionally I’m asked to coach people in public-speaking, most of whom want to get over their stage-fright. I begin by explaining to them, that their fear comes from being too focused on themselves and not on their words.
“You are thinking about yourself and not your message which is all the audience wants. You are worried about what you look like, how you sound, and whether or not you’re going to make a mistake. This is all about you, when your speech should be all about your audience. Think of your speech as a gift you are giving them, and that your content
is all that matters. If you focus your thoughts on making sure your audience receives the vital information they need and want, then you won’t have time to think about yourself.”
I learned this valuable lesson at a networking event years ago. I was talking with a woman I had just met. We had already exchanged businesses cards and described our companies to each other, when our hostess came over to greet us. She asked the woman if she had heard me speak. She replied, “No, Rob was just telling me he is a speaker, but I have never seen him.”
The hostess then added, referring to an exercise I have the audience carry out in my innovation seminars, “Well, if you do, he will have you standing on your chair.” Suddenly the woman gasped, and said, “Wait, I have seen you speak!” She then proceeded to tell where and when she had heard me, as well as, recounting one of my stories which illustrated one of the creative-thinking techniques I teach, and how she had used it in her business.
I stood there deeply humbled; she remembered a story I told, but she did not remember my face, my name or my company name. The purpose I had set out to achieve had been accomplished, she found my information useful and implemented it.
The lesson I learned was to keep telling good stories, but give the audience something with my name on it to take home, so they could remember and recommend me to others.
If you have a goal you wish to achieve, or an idea you want to try, don’t let your fear of embarrassment keep you from it. Focus on the reward and take a bold step toward it. Then you won't have any regrets about not trying.
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is also the author of the humorous children’s book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com