Back when I was first starting to get speaking gigs as a consultant, I was invited to give a talk as part of a two-person tag team of experts.
I was both thrilled and a little terrified because the co-speaker was a nationally renowned authority in her field.
When we met with the organizer to plot out the event, it was clear that “Gretchen” was unhappy sharing the podium. She barely acknowledged me, while busily lobbying to take over a bigger chunk of the program.
It took some finesse, but we finally agreed on the optimal division of content for their audience of about 500 people—and we’d each speak for 30 minutes.
As planned, Gretchen was introduced as the first speaker at the event. And she did great for 30 minutes. But she didn’t stop there.
35 minutes, 40 minutes, 45 minutes—she kept talking and the organizer just sat there. Finally at 50 minutes, she started winding down and the organizer FINALLY stepped in, suddenly remembering we had 30 minutes of material left to cram into less than 10.
Naturally, I’d been watching the clock while this was happening. I didn’t feel it was my place to interrupt the legend at the podium and the organizer wasn’t interpreting my glances to her as the plea to intervene I’d intended.
I was still pretty green at speaking, but I knew that I had to shrug my frustration off. That I had to find a way to cover the gist of my stuff in a tiny fraction of the time so the audience could get back to their work. It was the right thing to do vs. trying to take more than the collective allotted time or just talk faster.
So I did my best to stay gracious and do a decent job on my shortened end of the program.
When it was over, the three of us on stage were alone briefly and we all shook hands. No apology, just a handshake (I swear I saw a little gleam of triumph, but maybe I was projecting?) and off she went—out the nearest exit.
As I got off the stage, a conga line of attendees was waiting to chat (this was a hot issue at the time). The “authority” was nowhere to be found and so I engaged with them solo and yes, some of them were my ideal clients.
Interestingly, although I never said a negative word about Gretchen or my time being usurped, some of the hosting organization’s Board members took me aside and sincerely apologized.
They invited me back to speak on a topic of my choice—and one of them called me afterwards and we wound up working together on a hefty project.
A few of the senior members of that group figured out what had happened and reached out to me (some of them are still in my circle all these years later).
That day was pivotal in the birth of my tribe.
But Gretchen never graced their stage again.
Which taught me a huge lesson about authority: generous authority is the way to go.
Keeping our ideal audience in mind at all times (which sometimes means tamping down the ego) and doing our best to lift them up ought to be the price of admission.
Because especially now, we have tons of choices about who gets our attention. And generosity surely gets mine.