The Most Important Thing to Remember Before Your Next Meeting or Event


As the elevator opened to the fourth floor of the Graves 601 Hotel, my mind spun a web of excitement, nostalgia and anxiety.

Earlier that day, my wife had asked me if I was nervous about attending my 20 year high school reunion. I had told her of course not. After all, I’m comfortable with who I am, satisfied with many parts of my life and at peace with my failures. I was just excited to see familiar faces.

But when I stepped into the room there was no denying the nervous tension playing out in my brain:

“Who should I talk to?”
“I can’t remember that person’s name!”
“How do I look?”
“What will people think of me now?”
“Be authentic.”
“Support your wife.”

Little did I realize, though, that shared high school experiences weren’t all I had in common with my former classmates.

Insecurity revealed itself in different ways in everyone’s behavior. Some were withdrawn, some aloof, some drunk before they arrived, others tethered to their spouse, some hiding behind their camera and others behind their accomplishments.

nervous business man biting finger nails

And then it occurred to me: Maybe every room we walk into is filled with insecurity. And knowing that going in could dramatically change our perspective.

If, at every business meeting, church service, kids’ soccer game or networking event, we faced the reality that anxiety and insecurity are everywhere, we might just let our guards down and appreciate each other more. And that means:

  1. We’ll be better conversationalists. At any event, conversation is the foundation for most human connection. And, let’s face it: A lot of people are bad at it. Realizing we’re all insecure might prompt us to ask more thoughtful questions and give more honest answers. My barber had just gone to her 20 year reunion the week before mine, and her advice was to ask fun and interesting questions like, “How have you changed since high school?” or “What have been defining moments for you since we graduated?”
  2. We’ll be more truthful, which is less draining. When’s the last time you heard someone answer the question “How was your weekend” with something like, “We had fun at the movies on Saturday, but later we argued and went to bed resentful. I stewed in my anger and stayed withdrawn most of Sunday, and then I felt so ashamed about how immature I was behaving. How was yours?”
    Let’s face it: We spin, posture and half-truth who we are all the time. Of course, really telling it like it is to that degree isn’t appropriate in all situations, but wouldn’t it be freeing if we could be just a little more honest?
  3. We’ll be less critical and judgmental. Research shows we relish in the flaws and pain we see in someone else because it makes us feel better about ourselves. On the other hand, if we don’t see another person’s flaws immediately, we’re usually hard on ourselves for not measuring up.
    Let’s face it: In our heads, we all have a tendency to be hard on others. And this negativity manifests itself in gossip, shaming and unhealthy competition. Recognizing we’re all flawed and insecure can keep us from being so judgmental about others’ shortcomings as well as our own, real or perceived.

So imagine the next event you’ll attend. What would change if you thought to yourself, before walking into the room:

Let’s face it: I’m insecure and so is every other person in here.

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6 Comments

  • Cathy Mehelich
    October 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    So fitting in hindsight after I just spent the past month stressing with coworkers and family comparing myself to the haves and have-nots of the other panelists for a presentation that I delivered yesterday to 130 people. I’ll definitely use this to put my anxiety into better perspective next time. Thanks!

    • Matt Norman
      October 3, 2014 at 1:42 am

      Cathy, your comment is so authentic. Thank you for being real, showing up and being seen for who you are. Nice work getting up in front of 130 people!

  • Mike Norman
    October 2, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Matt, Interesting blog. It occurred to me that the reason most of us are bad as conversationalists is because we rarely engage in real conversation. We interact for brief moments with friends and family and generally remain at surface level discourse covering who, what, when, and where. You and I spent 7 hours in a car yesterday and it was the most interesting and meaningful conversation we have experienced in some time. Like any skill, it takes practice and we rarely practice due to the pace of our society. I will personally work to create more of these opportunities. I just today called my next door neighbor of many years and set up coffee just to talk next Monday. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Marvin Knoot
      October 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Busyness displaces genuine connection.

      • Matt Norman
        October 3, 2014 at 1:46 am

        So well said, Marvin.

    • Matt Norman
      October 3, 2014 at 1:45 am

      Thanks Dad! I loved our time in the car yesterday. After I dropped you off, I reflected on how much good conversation can happen when we make time and slow down for it.

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