One school day, 45 years ago, I was asked to publicly announce my score on a ten question biology pop quiz. “6” I said, and loud gasps were heard in the classroom. The class of twenty-three students was shocked. Segar (we were all addressed by our last names) was supposed to be smarter than that. Although it has lost its emotional impact, I still remember the shame I felt at that moment.
I suspect that most people can remember, all too well, similar experiences during their childhood. Setting up people for shame about their performance is, sadly, a far too common occurrence that can have a serious effect on one’s feelings of self-worth later in life.
And that’s why, when I introduce The Three Questions exercise at the start of Conferences That Work, the most important instruction I give is to tell participants:
“There are no wrong answers to these questions.“
For example, when each participant answers the first question: How did I get here? (in this room at this conference today) he or she can provide an answer ranging from the factual:
I drove here on Route 9
to the intimate:
I have been coming to this conference for years, got my current job through the connections I made here, this year I will be be on the winning team at the annual softball game, and I wouldn’t miss our conference for the world!
Every answer is right, every answer provides the opportunity for a participant to share at a comfortable level, whatever that might be for him or her.
I love offering participants the freedom to answer The Three Questions in any way they choose. Perhaps I’m still sensitive about what happened in high school so long ago, or, at least, still sensitized to its effects. Whatever the reason, starting with a safe way to share about oneself at the start of a conference provides a gentle introduction to sharing at a deeper level as the event progresses. And knowing that whatever you answer is right is a valuable gift to anyone who has felt shame about their performance, as I did so many years ago.
Photo source: Flickr user kalleboo