Mr. Listenomics Goes A'babblin'

To Retain Humility, Sometimes You Have To Be Humiliated

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So, as you may or may not know, I spend a lot of time on the road speaking to total strangers in ballrooms. Over the years, I've been through the exercise many hundred of times in, like, 25 countries on four contintents. Sometimes the crowd is 2000, sometimes it's 20. I've played the Rainbow Room, the United Nations, the Kennedy Center, the U.S. Capitol, Circus Circus casino hotel, the Grand Ole Opry and, memorably, the Westward Ho! motel in Grand Forks, ND. And the result is usually pretty much the same.


Because I'm pretty good at this stuff. Sharp content. Some good punchlines. Entertaining video. Always some surprises. Like today. Today yielded quite a surprise.

I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a symposium called iCitizen, on a bill with Chris Anderson, ZeFrank, Steven Johnsonand other luminaries. And I was debuting my roadshow on "Listenomics," a subject I've been working on for 18 months. I'm not excitable by nature, but I must say I was pretty charged up. This is a presentation I hope to be updating and performing for a good long while.

Whoa. Did I ever suck.

In a perfect room, filled with a knowledgable audience, on a subject I know and care about, the stars were aligned just right. Plus, my opening jokes went over beautifully. By the time I actually began the formal presentation, this group was primed to be impressed.

That didn't last long. I could feel it. I could feel the vibe, as they drifted, drifted, drifted ever farther away. There was shifting in seats. They weren't delighted.

They were embarrassed.

Don't worry, folks. Me, too.

It wasn't just that the rhythm wasn't quite right, and that the organization of the speech wasn't quite right, and that half the jokes just hung up in mid air. It wasn't even that my premise was too elementary for this especially expert group, though clearly it was. No, it was much more than that.

It was that they were really looking forward to what I had to say and palpably shocked by how ineffectually I said it. Sometimes you get a bad audience, or a bad room, or a/v that doesn't work and you shrug and you say, "Oh, well." Alas, this was not a shrug-of-dismissal kind of experience. This was a they-think-I'm-an-idiot kind of experience.

Oh, they were polite. They applauded. There were no hoots or jeers. I don't think anyone was actually angry -- just sort of flummoxed. As in, "Gee, I've been reading Bob for years. I knew he was a smartass, but I didn't realize he was a stroke victim."

Being a critic has some occupational hazards, such as not being able to turn off the judgments where your own performance is concerned. And maybe, maybe I'm a little hyperselfcritical. But take my word for it, when I'm good, I know it, and certainly not shy with myself about it.

For that matter, don't take my word for it. The AdReview staff was present today, tool. They witnessed everything. Their rating:

1 1/2 stars.

Believe them. They never get it wrong.
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