I was at a conference last week where the speaker had his audience's full engagement. Then he challenged us with a poignant question. The air thickened and the room went silent.
The speaker knew what he was doing. He stood his ground, letting us stew in our paralysis. I glanced around the room. Brows were furrowed. Lips were pursed. Clearly, the audience was bursting with opinions, but no one was speaking. After several more uncomfortable moments, a woman dared to raise her hand with an answer. The speaker responded, the rest of us relaxed, a few more hands went up, and the discussion picked up momentum.
What struck me most about that moment was the silence. There was no logical reason for it. Most everyone in the room had something they wanted to say, myself included. But instead, we waited for someone else—anyone else—to go first. I can only imagine that the rest of the audience was experiencing the same anxiety I was feeling. I had a response to the speaker's question, but I was unsure of it. And the last thing I wanted was to raise my hand and sound like an idiot. So I let the woman take that risk. (She sounded fine, of course.)
There is a valuable business development lesson in this anecdote: human beings are like pack animals. We don't want to stray too far from the group. Because when we do, we often risk embarrassment. And most of us will avoid facing our fears at any cost, which means that whenever you find the courage to step forward, you will have a distinct edge over the rest of us.
Fear is good for business. Not your fear, but everyone else's. Because their hesitation presents a canvas onto which you can paint your initiative. So the next time you're in a group, dare to be the first one to raise your hand. Let your voice be the one that leads the discussion in a new direction. In fact, volunteer to be the speaker. It's one of the best ways to broaden your influence and promote yourself to prospects and referral sources. And that’s good for business.
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