Huffpost Business
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Erin Donley Headshot

Are They Talking Behind Your Back?

Posted: Updated:

Have you ever spoken publicly as a professional in your field and then later learned, something you said blew your credibility?

This happened to me recently and it took a few days for the sting to subside. I was asked to be a speaker at a conference about finding our voice and advancing our messages in business.

My presentation was about the words we commonly use in marketing that give off a (negative) vibe we would never intend.

The room was packed. The talk felt effortless. I got high-fives and applause for challenging the status quo and revealing how to choose our words wisely.

Five days later, a friend sent me a blog written by a well-known person at the event. The title alone made me instantly gulp, "Don't be 'that' presenter people are whispering about."

The article is about a statistic that's largely overused and has been taken out of context by communication specialist. Apparently, I had yet to receive the memo.

Pretty sure I kicked off my presentation with this "now-shunned" statistic: 55 percent of communication happens through body language, 38 percent through tone of voice. That leaves only 7 percent chance our words to come across as intended.

Being wrong isn't my concern. What hurts most is the notion that others might have been talking behind my back, as the article suggests.

In that moment, I felt my own insecurity, but also the vulnerability of the masses. No wonder public speaking is one of society's biggest fears. We open ourselves to being judged, ignored, or ridiculed anytime we take a public stand, even on social media.

Like a high school dance or the first day of school, we continually get put in emotionally-delicate positions, even as adults. With age, we get to improve how we respond and how it shapes our next steps.

It didn't take me long to realize, this was a taste of my own medicine. My entire presentation was designed to reveal the habitual words and phrases we think are effective in marketing, yet fail for many.

Someone in the audience may have shrunk in their chair, fearing they had violated one of these unspoken rules. I now better understand what's in their heart.

Perhaps this will serve as a big group hug to those of us who like to show up as our best and wow others with our words.

My takeaways are simple:

  • Our biggest critics are often our peers. Hear what they have to say, but remember, they're rarely the ones who write us checks.
  • Embrace and examine critical feedback. Few things are as satisfying as knowing our blind spots and doing something about them.
  • Advancing our message is a never-ending task. Those who continually ask, "How can I say this better?" get rewarded greatly.

More than anything, this experience reminds me that a world without judgment is fantasy land, and that most people will only say "nice" things to our face. Can we live in a world where this is the norm?

I'm up for challenge because my door is always open to the deeper conversation. Honesty has a chance to reach me and it often does, especially when I need it most.