When I agreed to speak to the employees of a printing company, it didn’t occur to me to ask where we would gather. As I approached their humble building in Kakaako, I saw four rows of metal folding chairs arranged in the street-front parking lot.
The employees filed out of the building at 5:00 pm and self-consciously took their seats. Some tried to stand near the curb, as if they weren’t part of this, but the boss made them sit.
There was no obvious “stage,” but there was space in front of the first row where I was to stand. The challenges would be numerous. Cars were driving by. People gawked at the scene, and some drivers called out greetings to people they knew. It was noisy and I didn’t have a microphone. I would have to yell.
Five feet away from me stood a tall green plastic trashcan. It was filled to the brim with ice water in which cans of Budweiser beer bobbed and beckoned.
The boss introduced me and said that I’d be sharing important tips on customer service. Then he said with a grand gesture, “Help yourselves to the beer when Pam is done talking.” All eyes shifted to me. Then to the trashcan. Back to me. Back to the trashcan.
The trashcan got better eye contact than I did.
I surrendered to the trashcan and cut my talk by ten minutes. The applause was enthusiastic. (Was that because I gave a great talk? Yeah, right.)
Moral of the story: Get to the venue early enough to control the trashcan.