A bad slip of the tongue

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I’ll admit it. I once said something in a sales presentation that was so profoundly obscene I have not shared the actual words with anyone, not even my wife. It was a slip of the tongue, but it was a bad slip. It was a lot more like a full-blown crash-and-burn. I remember like it was yesterday.

As the phrase was coming out of my mouth, I could almost see the words hanging there in mid-air, as if I could somehow snatch them back and swallow them all. If ever I longed for a do-over, this would have been the time. Once the words were spoken, there was a deadly pause in the room. I’m not sure who was more stunned: my prospect or me. We just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, I asked, “Did…did I just…did I just say what I think I just said?”

“Yes, you most certainly did,” was the reply.

Presentation over. Have a nice day. (“Do you validate?”)

The incident I have described took place very early in my sales career — nearly 30 years ago — but I still remember it clearly, and I do so on purpose. I no longer dwell on the embarrassment; today it is just a funny story. I just want to remember that screwing up is inevitable, but what happens after the failure is entirely up to us. I chose to use that situation as mental leverage. I made a horrible mistake, and I lived to tell the story.

Was it fun? Heck, no. Did it make me a better salesperson? Absolutely. I have since learned that mistakes, failures, and stumbles are a necessary part of learning and growing. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, correct, Mr. Nietzsche? Looking back on my sales career, if I had a dime for every stupid thing I ever said in a sales presentation, I would be a very wealthy man. And, in fact, I am. I am rich in experiential knowledge, and that is the very best kind available.

Jeff Shore, Shore Consulting President