I remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing on a stage and delivering a message during the plenary at a SWO convention in Upstate New York. I had just led two well-attended workshops before walking onto the stage. I wrote out a script. And now, I was in front of everyone.
And I lost my place.
Suddenly, I lost track of my words and slides.
Then mid-presentation, I hated my slides. So, without giving the audience any heads up—I started to flip through them rapidly.
Even though I knew the content like the back of my hand, I was flustered. And then my mind reeled—my thoughts began to zero in on my lackluster performance. The faces of the audience looked worried. The women in the audience (especially the ones who responded positively to my workshop earlier) looked worried. Dear Lord, I was causing people to have anxiety for me!
And then finally it was over. I walked, crept more like it, and exited the large meeting room into a quiet area with a vending machine. There, I ran into the leader who had invited me to speak. She said, “What was that?” And then she paused and said, “Now, tell me what you want me to know about the importance of Women of the ELCA.”
And there, standing across from me, I told her one of the most moving stories I had heard from my former colleague about a donation that was received from an unlikely participant. My delivery was on point. She teared up. I teared up. And that was it. (Marilyn Dywer, thank you for letting me do a do-over, even just for you—)
I had failed at giving a speech to the group but learned a vital lesson that changed my professional presentation skills. I fear failure—and when I was younger, it would make me sick to think I wasn’t doing a perfect job.
As I gained more professional experience, I took what I learned at that convention and used it to find my presentation style. I think of that convention when colleagues and audience members tell me they appreciated my presentations. And I think back to how much I learned.
The thing about failing at something is that it can be a blessing—if you are willing to let yourself get it wrong but keep going.
As young adult professionals join seasoned professionals and college students start new semesters back at school this month, I hope they remember that as children of God, we don’t have to be perfect, and truly there are no failures. Because of grace and a belief that we can do better, we can embrace failure and let us use it to heal and grow.
Ps. If you were on a recent Zoom meeting and I abruptly transported you to another room, Star Trek style—thank you for being part of my education. I learned a lot.
Elizabeth McBride is on staff of Women of the ELCA. She does things in the digital space personally and professionally and is thankful to have opportunities to learn.
We are all about Back-to-School! Join us for our next digital event to learn ways Women of the ELCA can support you this year! Learn about resources, events and places to find answers to your questions. Join us, Saturday, September 10 at 3 pm (CDT) via Zoom. Learn more and register to attend.