Whenever I facilitate a workshop or do public speaking, the energy of the people in the room can make or break the quality of my performance. It’s a give and take thing – if they give out positive energy, I’ll give it right back to them. The opposite is true too – if I’ve got good energy going in, I’m feeling confident, and they’re receptive to it, their energy picks up and we feed off each other.

Sometimes there’s one person in the room who wields too much power. Sometimes – especially if I’m feeling a little vulnerable or insecure – one person can suck the energy right out of me. Once, when I was speaking in church, I caught sight of a person near the back who sat with his arms firmly crossed shaking his head in disapproval while I spoke. It completely threw my concentration and I ended up fumbling my way through the rest of my talk and rushed to the end just to get it over with.

It’s even worse when I’m facilitating a workshop, and it’s not only negative body language I pick up, but negative comments and a resistance to feeding into a positive group conversation. I’m not talking about people who throw in ideas or thoughts that run contrary to mine – I can handle constructive disagreement and relish a healthy debate. I’m talking about those people whose negativity comes out in little jabs and passive aggressive undertones. Like the woman who once said under her breath, when she thought the discussion was pointless “I’m going outside to bang my head against the wall.” (My reply to her “a comment like that is not constructive to the process we’re engaged in. If you have a frustration, please voice it to the group.” That was the last passive aggressive comment she made.)

Fortunately, there are usually other people in the room who recognize the destructiveness of that kind of energy, and sometimes, with a little help from them, I can turn things around and not let it destroy the process. But on those days when I’m feeling a little vulnerable and insecure, it’s really hard to get past it and not let it destroy my confidence.

I have to make a presentation on Thursday in front of a group that I anticipate may be less receptive than many of the groups I present to. I’m trying to think of a few ways to liven up the energy a bit. I’m lousy at telling jokes, so I rarely bother with that, but I might need to think of something funny or light-hearted to start with. And I think I’m going to throw a few prizes into the mix – it’s a little manipulative, but sometimes I stoop to whatever lengths I need to for at least a few smiles in the room.

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