We have room for you in the front row she says.
I have comfortably moved into my seat in the back left corner of the gigantic ballroom, now lined with rows and rows of black draped tables and outdated upholstered chairs. I have unpacked my essentials- computer, blackberry, personal phone, bottle of Smart Water- when she happens by and casually floats the invitation.
The front of the room? You mean where the important people sit? You mean in the direct line of sight of the speakers? Close enough to the CEOs and other executives that I could see them sweat under the bright spotlights, watch them twitch their thumbs to click for the next slide? My first impulse is heck no! I’m perfectly happy here. I indulge in anonymity, enjoy chuckling with my similarly nameless neighbors when a mike produces feedback, or some other technical difficulty throws off the well rehearsed presentation. I like being able to slip in and out of the room for bathroom breaks or to stretch my legs without striding down the aisle for everyone to see. It feels safe back here. Comfortable. Easy.
But then Sheryl Sandberg spontaneously appears on my shoulder and whispers in my ear: “Take the seat at the table, Girl.” And “You belong in the front row”. Then Patrick Swayze leaps up on my other shoulder and says “No one puts Baby in a corner”, and before I know it, I’m tossing my electronics in my neoprene tote and marching to the front of the room.
I’ve been in this role for ten years. My biggest (non-vocalized of course) complaint is that I just don’t get enough respect! I can do more! I can be more! I want more, more, MORE. And now my seat is being offered to me. And I’ll be damned if I’m not going to force myself to take it. I deserve this!
I saunter regally into the daunting first row. I smile pleasingly at the formerly untouchable rock stars who I’d only ever known by the forcefulness of their hand raise from behind, the cadence of their voice as they plied executive after executive with thoughtful questions about business trends and strategy. And now I’m amongst them. I’m one of them. My beckoning chair appears haloed as I sit gingerly and unload my gear once again. I get my bearings and adjust my eyes and neck to the drastic change in size and angle of the stage in front of me.
I have arrived.
I ended up spending two full conference days in the Holy seats of overachievers. It was mostly as exhilarating as expected, but to be sure, there were lessons to be learned. Namely, when you can see the speaker up close and personal, it is also advisable to be aware that they can see you too. So don’t be surprised that when you unconsciously blow bubbles with your gum like a angsty teenager while a revered CEO speaks, someone is bound to notice. Sometimes multiple people will call you out on it. And that is when another learning opportunity present itself: The art of sincere apology…