The Reward for Risking Public Embarrassment

What if you gave a party and no one came?

It’s almost worse than getting stood up for a date.  At least on a no-show date, there’s only one person rejecting you.  A no-show party means an entire guest list ditched you.

A friend of mine once said, “Giving a party is really putting yourself out there.  It’s public risk of the highest degree.”

For many people, hosting an event is risky.  They worry people won’t show, they worry their place isn’t good enough, or the event will be uncomfortable and boring.

I never fully understood this fear, until I started doing book signings.

The backstory:  My parents gave lots of parties.  Despite our cheap furniture and minimal budget, our pet hair covered, usually unkempt house was the scene for adult and kid parties alike.  My husbands’ parents were grand entertainers.  A few notches up on the social rung, they had the gang over for cards and cocktails every Friday night.  Not surprisingly, my husband and I have been hosting parties together since before we were married.

But it was a no-show book signing that helped me understand the risk of “putting yourself” out there.  My very first book signing was a fabulous wine and cheese hosted by my husband.  Over a hundred people showed up, I spoke, we drank, we laughed, and we sold over three hundred books.

The following week was a different story.  I stood at the Barnes & Noble on Peachtree Street in Atlanta staring down 25 rows of empty seats, with one lone person in the third row, waiting for the author talk.  I later discovered she was a bookstore employee persuaded by the manager to stay, to avoid total embarrassment for the author (me).

I wanted to fall into the floor.  The store manager felt so sorry for me, he offered me a free latte.  Other no-show signings followed, as did some successful ones.  I toughened up, but the fear of public embarrassment never truly went away.

Flash forward fifteen years.  Our team decides to host an Executive Breakfast for business leaders.  I imagine myself standing in front of an empty room again.  Only this time, there wouldn’t be a sympathetic store manager giving me a free latte or buying a book for his wife.  This one was all on me.  My next fear was worse, what if we get a room full of executives and they hate our content, public humiliation, followed shortly by business disaster.

I put it off for an entire year.  Finally, I got sick of my fear.  I put a stake in the ground, chose a date and went for it.  I’m delighted to say fear drove us to action.  We said we’d be happy with ten execs; we were so proactive, we wound up with fifty.  The room was engaged and many of the execs wanted to explore further work with our firm.

Full confession after it was over, three of us sat there looking at each other in disbelief.  I exhaled for the first time in a month.

Emboldened by our success, we put another stake in the ground.  The Noble Purpose Institute, a three-day program, Nov 16-18 in Atlanta.  More fear, more work, but now we have 22 people signed up, and we couldn’t be more excited.

It’s highly probably there will be public embarrassment, no-show events, and failure in our future.  It’s that way for everyone.  I’ve come to realize, if you don’t risk failing in public, you’ll never succeed in public.