When You Are a No-Show

Wrote this speech for a Toastmasters event, gave it as a commentary on Puget Sound Access. Airs @ 7:30 PM on 9/20 and again on 9/24 on channel 77 (Seattle area) or streamed from http://pugetsoundaccess.org/

When You Are a No-Show

Bianca wasn’t always a dancer, at least not in front of other people. In her heart, perhaps, she was born for dancing – but her fears held her back. Her best friend, Marilyn, knew that Bianca had always wanted to dance, and thus began her crusade to get Bianca on stage.
It started with a small dance class. Marilyn signed them both up, and Bianca’s enthusiasm and natural gift shined through almost immediately. Marilyn wasn’t there so much for herself as she was for her friend, but she enjoyed the class, and enjoyed watching Bianca’s progress. Once the class was over, Marilyn moved on to her love, music, while Bianca continued with dance.

Bianca was so excited when she got her first break. She let all of her friends, family, and coworkers know when the performance – her performance – would take place. All were excited for her and said they would come. Marilyn was the first in line for a ticket.

Bianca worked very hard to learn her part. She worked even harder to overcome her fears. This would be her first performance in front of a large audience. Every moment of the day she spent going over and over the dances in her head. This would be the culmination of all her intense practicing, learning, and dreaming.

The day arrived, and as Bianca stretched and warmed up, one of the ticket sellers raced in shouting, “We’re actually sold out! Everyone – we’ve sold out! We spent all day on the phones turning people away – this is the first time!”

While Bianca was nervous, she was also thrilled. She loved everything about dance – the movement, the costumes, the music, the expression, the sheer joy of sharing a story and emotion without words to a receiving crowd.

Finally, it was time. Bianca waited in the wings, listening to the opening music. The curtain was still down, but anticipation was in the air. She took her place, center stage, and waited for the music to swell and the curtain to rise. Suddenly, all came together and the spotlight shone on her. With one fluid movement, she moved her arms and swept the audience with her eyes.

Throughout the entire auditorium, there sat only three people.
Bianca and the rest of the troupe finished the performance, but they were only going through the motions. Really, without a crowd to dance for, the experience was nothing more than another rehearsal. Pointless.

Bianca gave up dancing.

Marilyn, however, had continued with her pursuit of music. She became an accomplished singer, and had but one dream. She wanted to sing the National Anthem for the Superbowl. There were two reasons behind this very particular fantasy – one, because she loved her country and felt the anthem was the ultimate way that she could express it. Two, her beloved baby brother, Peter, had always wanted to be a football player, and he had worked his way through college and into the very team that looked like it would be playing in the big game.

Marilyn practiced for months on end, working very hard to perfect one of the most difficult songs to sing on the planet. In effort to get used to the idea of singing a capella in front of millions – if not billions – of people, Marilyn auditioned to sing for her local team. She had no idea she’d be so nervous, but she made it through the audition and was asked to come sing the anthem before both a live and a televised audience for one of the games.

While in the greenroom, her trepidation grew. Much like Bianca, she felt ready, but also nervous because singing in front of an audience was so much different than singing for practice. As she warmed up in the greenroom, she tried to visualize the grandstands full of people and hoped she’d remember all the words when the moment came.

Finally, the events coordinator came for her, and led her down the long, dark hallway to the field. The lights were very bright on her as she walked to the microphone in the center of the field. By the time she go there, her eyes had adjusted, and Marilyn realized that she was about to sing her heart out to approximately seven people.

Marilyn sang the anthem note-perfect, but she left feeling like the entire experience was pointless. She never sang again.

Ruth joined Toastmasters because she wanted to be a manager someday. The hardest thing she ever did, in her mind, was her icebreaker speech – but her club was so supportive and full of creative people and great speakers, that she actually found herself looking forward to the next speech. She found herself fantasizing about keynote speeches and maybe even going further than management. Before, she would have done anything not to speak in front of a group of people.

Ruth set a slot for herself in the schedule, and wrote her speech. She practiced it several times and felt ready. The day of the meeting, the e-mails started coming.

“I have to work on this report and won’t be able to do Ruth’s evaluation – can someone step in for me?”

“I can’t be the general evaluator because my son has a dental appointment.”

“I just found out that I have another meeting, can someone do Table Topics for me?”

By the time the meeting started, there were only four people left. Ruth gave her speech, but it seemed kind of pointless just talking to three people.

Ruth left Toastmasters.

Does this sound familiar? Are you squirming? Do you see yourself in this?


Toastmasters is not just a fun, extracurricular event – people join to learn and grow, and they depend on YOU for that growth. When you are a No Show, you stunt both your growth and theirs.

No matter what your role in life – from Toastmasters to your job to parenting – don’t set people up if you aren’t going show up.

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