FAILING FORWARD: How I Faceplanted My Way to Success

By audacity

Crickets. All I could hear were crickets.

There are 400 people in the audience and I just delivered my hilarious opening story… and the loudest thing in the room where the damn crickets.

My heart sank, my pulse raced, and my mind questioned what was going on:

What happened? What did I miss? This story hits every single time. Let it go. Don’t linger. Move on.

Next story. I’m all in. This one is always a hit with this type of crowd.

Story stated. Audience engaged. Punchline delivered… and… you guessed it…crickets.

Now I am going nuts. 10 minutes in, 50 to go. I could feel the inevitable failure burning in my soul like hot tar peeling against baby smooth skin. It was going to be long, hard, and epic faceplant… and everyone was watching.

Then it hit me:

OMG! That slideshow that came on right before I started has the answer. The people that were hanging out, drinking, and having fun until about 3am are in my audience. In fact, that guy is still wearing the outfit from last night.

This “walk of shame” audience doesn’t want to hear is my voice… well any voice. They have visions of sugarplums and pillows dancing in their head.

So, I can be the annoying pain-in-the-ass that is standing between them and their pillow or I can become a dose of 5 Hour Energy.

I decided on the latter. Within seconds I was off the stage and in the audience delivering an impromptu activity that my amazing event planner was ready for.

This audience would not sleep thought my talk. I am freakin’ amazing and they were NOT going to miss this. I stomped towards the stairs and the AV Team scurried to the mics. After fifteen minutes of hot-seats, high-fives, and hilarity my audience was engaged and awake.

Since hindsight is 20/20, the chick in the mirror wasn’t delivering kind kudos after I left the stage. She kept nagging at me with all of her “shoulda, coulda, and woulda lessons learned”, things to do better, and how much of an idiot she thought I was.

As hard as the chick in the mirror worked to convince me that the speech was a total disaster (and I was starting to believe her), the AV guy derailed her efforts.

Bill tracked me down with a cell phone in hand and said, “OMG! That was the most entertaining, educational, and engaging superstar platform work I have ever seen… and I do this 15 times per week. I have three clients that I contacted to hire you and one is on the phone right now. You are going to make me look like a superstar.”

He hugged me so tightly and kissed my cheek so passionately that I had to take a pregnancy test… immediately.

The client echoed Bill’s sentiments. They said that they loved it and have already reached out to me to come back to do some leadership breakouts and training.

While faceplanting towards success, this is what I learned:

First: Excellence is not a script or a plan. Go with your instincts. My gut told me start off a little differently. I ignored it and tried to go with what was rehearsed. My gut is ALWAYS right. Next time I will follow it.

Second: The client cares that you reach the goal and not how you reach it. Always do what you know to do as a professional. The client didn’t care if I followed an outline; they cared that the audience was motivated to action on the message delivered.

Third: Regardless of where you set your bar, make sure that your failure still feels like a success to the client. Regardless of the “hindsight movie” that played in my head, the client saw “perfection” and “professionalism”.

How have you found success even when you felt like you were failing?


Let’s cut to the chase. Dawnna is a breakthrough business author and rockstar keynote speaker. She works with organizations that want to harness the power of people in business. If you’d like her to deliver content like what’s in this article or you just want to see her do thisthen give her a shout.