Never Give Up – If At First You Suck, Don't Give Up!

Allison Graham

Never give up. Imagine you’re driving along listening to talk radio and all you hear is silence. Not because of a technical glitch, but because the guest host for the next two hours sucks. (Please don’t be offended by my choice of words, nothing else quite encapsulates the essence of how bad it was.)

The show began with, “Um, hi I’m Allison Graham in for, um, Jim Chapman who is on holidays…(long awkward pause)...and um…he went away on holidays and so, um, asked me to fill in for him…and um…so I’m filling in for Jim while he’s on holidays…and so if you want to call...um, you can…silence…um…silence…um random unrelated comment about a headline…um…silence…um..” and on and on the awkwardness went.

Anyone listening that morning in 2004 would have cringed. I know, I cringe when I think of that horribly embarrassing public display of “sucking” on air. No listener would have thought, “Wow, there’s a voice destined for a successful media and speaking career!” But now, I have the good fortune of sharing with all sorts of media, speaking in front of live audiences and every week share the Small Business Lessons from the Big Business Headlines on AM980.

We always 'suck' the first few times...

I wish I could say that was my only publicly humiliating moment, but not so. Many times I flopped in front of audiences.

From 2003 to 2007, I wrote a very popular column in the city which is why I was often asked to emcee charity and political events. Writing was a very different skill compared to public speaking – being in front of people when there are no backspace or delete buttons.

My routine was to trip or cause some sort of random commotion as I got on stage to break the ice. As I spoke, my face was fire-engine red, my voice cracked and I would become breathless. My words weren’t always cohesive.

Once I relaxed and shifted from total awkwardness to moments of funny it would turn out OK. I guess people would forget the first 20 minutes because inevitably I would be asked to speak or emcee another event. I figured eventually people would catch on that I didn’t know what I was doing, but the invitations to emcee and ultimately to speak about business development kept coming.

At times my performance was so bad that my brother would leave the room as I started. I’ll never forget this other fellow who used to shake his head and ask the people next to him, “Why do they give her the microphone? This is unbearable.”

There are countless stories like the above from 2003 to 2007 during the early stage of my career. I actually wrote a chapter in my book called, “How to recover from embarrassing moments”.

We only get better

Recently I ran into someone at a cocktail party and he said, “Let me get this right. YOU, the most uncomfortable speaker I have ever witnessed in front of an audience, earns her living speaking to audiences? How is that possible?”

That may have angered some, but not me. It was an important reminder of how this very long personal development journey I continue to take.

Early in May 2007 was the first time I was happy with a speech I gave in front of an audience of about 700 people. That means it took 4 years of being nervous on stage and in the media before, in my mind, I stopped “sucking”. It took another 7 years before I really found my groove and could truly claim that I loved being behind a microphone and was confident with my work.

That’s a long time to keep going when I could have just accepted that I sucked and gave up. At one point my mom, my most supportive cheerleader, even told me to stop speaking because it was so hard on my family to field my self-doubt phone calls (that night at 2:00AM!) and replays of my embarrassing moments. Given the hour her response was justified.

I refused to give up.

Deep down I knew that learning how to serve audiences was part of my greater purpose in life. So I kept trying. I kept trusting that one day, somehow, it would all click.

That blind faith combined with the right perspective, preparation and practice was worth it.

While I sometimes still get butterflies before speaking to large audiences or going on air for an interview, I am confident enough to pull it off and usually am proud of the way I present myself. Imagine how different my life and business would be if I didn’t keep trying.

Read: Staying Optimistic When You Feel Like You’re Losing

Don't give up

What about you? Have you given up on something you knew deep down you wanted to do because you thought you weren’t good enough?

We can’t be good at something the first time we do it. The more worthwhile it is to achieve something, the harder it will be for us to master the skill. If we interpret our first attempt as an indication of our end ability we would never achieve anything. Yet I think when we put ourselves out there, especially in public and flop, the natural instinct is to retreat to the confines of our comfort zone.

This article is to encourage you to stop retreating! Just keep at it. The way we achieve success is to continually push against the edges of our comfort zone to make it bigger and bigger.

This morning as I left a client meeting, I was scanning radio stations in my car and found the local college channel. It inspired my nostalgic mood because a young lady was on air filling space with um’s and ah’s and awkward banter with her co-host. Instead of tuning the channel to avoid feeling the embarrassment for her, I listened with enthusiasm.

Unfortunately she may hear the replay and think she sucks and give up. Her professors or colleagues may nudge her to build her career off air. The truth is she wasn’t very good on air today, but I believe there was enough talent hidden behind the nervous laughs, that if she sticks with it, one day she will be amazing!

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