Find Your Light
Recently I heard a leading expert speak on the topics of teenage girls. She spoke about the culture of meanness and how girls use micro-aggression so that they can be hostile while appearing to be nice. She talked about how girls don’t stand up for themselves and don’t take themselves seriously, how they apologize and defer to others. The speech was compelling, but what was most interesting to me was how the speaker contradicted what she was saying by how she was presenting it. We sat as an audience in risers above a black box stage, where the speaker had positioned herself literally off-stage, next to the piano shoved in the corner, right next to the exit sign. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day analyzing this. The speaker tried to take up as little space as possible, as though she might be in the way of the real speaker who was going to come on as soon as she was done bothering us, when in fact she was the only speaker. I also noticed that she had no idea where her light was. Much of the stage was well-lit, but of course the wings were not.
As a performer with lots of experience on stage, one of the first things I ever learned was to 1) claim my stage (in other words, allow myself to take up space on the stage) and 2) to find my light and place myself in it so that I could be seen. This renowned speaker did neither of these things. And the strangest thing was that the mostly female audience didn’t even seem to notice.
The speaker not only couldn’t be seen, but her powerpoint has so many light colored fonts, that much of what she presented couldn’t be read either. Not only was she not seen, but she didn’t seem to see us either, in the sense of doing her homework and understanding her audience before she spoke. Many of her jokes were directed to Jewish people, references the fact that our town is probably 30% Jewish. But the only 70% of us in the audience were left… well, in the dark. And she apologized for her presentation, that she didn’t have a great ending, that she couldn’t come up with an example for something, that she ran over time. I was surprised that she didn’t apologize for taking up space in the wings.
The point of this is not to bash this speaker, who made some great points and was well-received. But, if a well-regarded national speaker shows up like this, chance are that many of us show up similarly in our lives. How many of us apologize, or metaphorically speak from the wings, as though we’re not really meant to be on stage? How many of take the time to understand our audience, whether it’s a room full of colleagues or our own child? The fact is what we say matters, but how we say it matters even more. You can make the best tasting cereal in the world, but if the package looks like garbage (real or metaphorical), people aren’t going to buy it. If you have a great message, but we can’t see you and don’t feel that you see us, how powerful is it going to be?
To claim your world stage, remember: 1) find your light 2) make sure you’re onstage and not backstage and 3) don’t apologize and 4) know your audience. Remember the world is waiting for you. It’s up to you to claim your place.