Fortunately for me, one of my favorite things to do on this planet is host events: events that bring together exceptional business leaders from all over the world to have brave conversations about the issues that they’re facing while trying to do good through business. It’s kinda my thing. And as I pull together events like the Conscious Company Leaders Forum or the World-Changing Women’s Summit, I love getting to invite people who I think would benefit from attending. It’s like that feeling when you’ve found the perfect gift for someone and you can’t wait to share it with him/her/them. That said, the most common response I receive when inviting someone to attend an event nowadays is that the person will only come if they can speak.
As a business owner and CEO, I get it. I understand that taking time out of your schedule to come to an event needs to add value to your life. I understand that one of the best ways to get the word out about your business is to get on stage. I understand how it feels to be listed in the program and have the “speaker” badge on your nametag. I understand the opportunity cost of your time. I really, truly do. However, no, you can’t be a speaker at our event, but it’s not because I don’t think you have something worthwhile to say.
No, see, the problem is that we all have something worthwhile to say. That’s actually one of our key points in this conscious business movement: every person is worthwhile, every voice has dignity. And if we continue to put the same people on stage, hear the same ideas, and not listen to each other, our movement and our individual companies will stagnate. Think back to the new ideas that have come to you about how to run your business or do your job better — have those ideas come to you while talking on stage about yourself or about a topic you know a lot about? I doubt it. My experience is that the best new concepts come when I am deeply listening to others or having conversations with my peers.
My experience is that the best new concepts come when I am deeply listening to others or having conversations with my peers.
And this “some people get to be on stage because they’re better or deserve it more” idea? We call bullshit. No. That’s not what we’re about and it’s not how we choose speakers for our events. In fact, it’s one thing that makes our events unusual is the way we invite the folks who are on stage to take off their masks and get real and human, to reveal the things they’re not “supposed” to say up there, to practice courageous vulnerability and hold brave conversations. At any given moment, some of us are playing a role that has us up there speaking with a microphone. That only makes sense if others of us, equally worthy, are playing the parts of conscious, generous listeners.
I know it’s easier to justify the time away, the travel expense, and the investment in yourself, your work, and this community if you get to be on stage. But we promise: what’s happening on stage is just a small part of the reason we gather together in this way. The conversations and experiences around it are even more the point, and we need amazing people like you in the room for that — even if you’re not speaking. It’s most often through conversations with peers at our events that breakthroughs happen. The magic occurs in the spaces in between. To put it another way, think of the TED conferences, where some people take a turn in the spotlight, and everyone benefits from engaging with new ideas in a group of committed, diverse enthusiasts.
What’s happening on stage is just a small part of the reason we gather together in this way.
It takes courage to show up on stage, but in some ways, it might take even more courage to take the leap and come anyway, even after we told we don’t have room for you to speak at the event, even without that comforting badge of honor for the ego. I invite you to ask: what is this community worth to you? What are you willing to invest in it? What’s the value of convening with other brave leaders in a brave space? If you find you’re only willing to show up if it doesn’t cost you all that much, only interested if it can happen in the exact way you’d most like — we will truly miss your presence in the space. Because I mean what I said: you absolutely have something worthwhile to say. It’s just this time, we need you to shine within the crowd.