How to Have an Impact Without Trying

Written by on 02 Feb 2016

“Oh… sweetie… you don’t have to cry...


Trust me—those were not words I expected to come out of my mouth. I had just finished co-presenting a workshop to over 115 guidance counselors. They laughed, they cheered, they clapped… they even ohhh’ed and ahhh’ed.


But crying?!


I wasn’t ready for crying.


The workshop ended, and I had just fielded my 4th “great job, we loved it!” conversation, so I was feeling pretty good about myself.


Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her—The Hoverer.


Anyone who’s ever given a speech, participated in a networking event, or even been to a party knows who I'm talking about. The Hoverer just stands there—awkwardly far enough away from the conversation to not be included but definitely close enough to catch a glimpse of her staring at you in the periphery. She has her hands folded, shoulders hunched, and a slight lean to her body that suggests she would like to do one of two things: either tip-toe closer to the conversation or turn and run away as fast as she can.


You’re not sure which is coming.


If you’re a thoughtful person, you show some mercy to The Hoverer. This time, I chose to make a little eye contact and smile. I view this as the international gesture that means, “You’re welcome to join this conversation.”


The Hoverer does not see it that way.


Apparently to her, eye contact and a smile is the body language equivalent to saying, “Please continue standing there awkwardly staring at us and make no movement whatsoever—I mean it!”


So… there she stood.


Staring. Waiting. Staring. Waiting.


After several people had come up to thank us for the presentation, the room began to empty. It wasn’t until there were fewer than 10 people in the room that once held a bustling 115 people, that The Hoverer made her move. She cautiously walked toward me, holding a piece of paper in her hand.


Her shaking had was causing the paper to rattle.


“Here, I wanted to give you this,” she whispered.


It was our evaluation sheet. Just a standard document that we hand out to gauge the reception of the audience. It includes a couple of questions like, “Did you enjoy the session?” and “Name two things you learned today.” Definitely not a brainless exercise, but usually not something to cry over either.


“I just wanted to tell you, I loved everything you said. There’s no way you could have known this, but I really needed this today,” she whimpered. Her eyes started to well up and turn a little red. She sniffled. “It’s just really not a good day,” she continued. “Once you read that… [longest pause ever while she stared a the piece of paper]… you’ll know why.”


“Oh… sweetie… you don’t have to cry,” I offered. “I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it and the topic really touched your heart. Thank you for sharing that with me.”


We stood there for the longest 5 seconds of… my… life… before I got so uncomfortable that I just reached out and hugged her.


I mean, she needed it, right?!


Once my awkward-porcupine stranger hug was complete, I stepped back and thanked her again. She reiterated how much she loved our presentation and how she was going to do things differently based on our talk. We exchanged a few more “thank you’s” and “you’re welcomes,” and just like that, The Hoverer was gone.


Trying to convince myself not to pick up her evaluation and read it on the spot felt like telling a 5-year-old kid to wait until noon to open her Christmas presents—it was almost impossible.


My co-presenter and I packed up the room and said our final goodbyes to the last remaining members of our audience. We got far enough away from the room to high-five each other and talk about what a great success it had been. After all, we had only expected 10 people to show up to our breakout session… and we had well over 100 attend.


It was time for wine and cheese, if you know what I’m sayin’.


Once we each had a glass of wine in hand at the hotel bar, we decided to look through the evaluations. Again, I forced myself to wait until The Hoverer’s sheet came to the top of the pile. We combed through plenty of feedback before we stumbled on her evaluation.


At first glance, I was prepared for the worst.


On the every sheet, there was a short section in the middle of the page that said, “Name 2 things you learned.” After the question, there were two numbered lines, with underscoring that stretched across the page. Most people had kept their answer to this small, single-lined area.


But not The Hoverer.


She had written on one full line, drawn an arrow to the bottom of the page, written for 5 more lines, drawn an arrow to the extreme bottom of the page, then proceeded to write along the bottom edge, right edge and even across the top of the page, so that you had to turn the page 270 degrees to read the entire novel she had written.


In my experience as a speaker and a seminar-leader, people don’t spend that much time writing positive reviews.


They spend that much time railing you.


So, I took another sip of wine, mentally put on my big-girl panties, reminded myself that plenty of people LOVED the speech… and started reading.


What happened next almost made me spit out my Red Blend.


These are her words, verbatim:


[I learned] to realize the possibilities we have and that we have to choose to take them.


My husband took his own life 2 years ago, today. I thought about how I stopped living that day, [and] decided there would never be any happiness and [I] didn’t consider any possibilities; this directly impacted me—that I have to let go of my fear of the future and take advantage of opportunities and possibilities that still exist.


I hope this will help me to take changes, move forward, and try new things.


Thank you


I. Was. Floored.


Never, in my wildest dreams, had I considered that I could have an impact like that on another human being. If you had asked me if I would ever support someone who had gone through such a tragedy, I would have told you that the people who do that work are saints, but that’s definitely not for me. I didn’t think I had any business giving advice to someone who had experienced such pain and such loss.


I want you to hear this: every moment you interact with another person is a potential opportunity to have a positive impact in someone else’s life.


You may not think you’re capable. You may not think you’re ready. You may not have the status, stature, prestige, title, or power you think it takes to have influence.


But you have words.


And every day is an opportunity to use those words for good.


Go out there in the world. Share your truth. Be authentic. Stay positive. And know that you will have an impact.


Even if you don’t have the evaluation sheet to prove it.

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    • tracy   On   03 Feb 2016 at 12:51 am

      Thanks, Andy! It’s just one of those universal truths that we take for granted when we interact with people in passing. You’re very welcome. 😀

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