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Published:October 20th, 2005 17:53 EST


By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

It was mid afternoon as I pointed my Sebring south out of Abilene, on Highway 83, and headed toward San Antonio.  Disappointment swept over me.  Several months prior, I had given one of the best speeches of my life. That was then.  I was not pleased with what 250 people had just heard.


The previous day, the trip had started well. The decision to make the five hour drive, as opposed to flying, had been a good one.  The hill country was spectacular, the fried shrimp I had for lunch in Kerrville was delicious and Alan Jackson on CD was as good as usual.  A time or two I stopped for coffee and reading.  All of the things one cannot enjoy while shoulder to shoulder in an airplane, I had savored.  It was a nice road trip.


The hotel accommodations were exceptional.  After settling in, I walked across the street to the mall, bought a book and sat down for a quiet read, while eating dessert and sipping coffee.  I kept a close eye on the time, however.  I definitely didn’t want to miss the Astros – Cardinals NLCS game 2 on TV.


Back in the room, I had a nice visit with Sherry on the phone, and the Astros won their game.  I turned out the light and pillowed my head a happy man.


Sunrise brought an absolutely gorgeous day.  It made for a nice stroll through the very quaint, restored downtown area, while I entertained thoughts of the afternoon speech.  I was rested, relaxed and ready. 


I arrived at the meeting place several hours early, thus allowing plenty of time to get a feel for the occasion.  It was packed with a wonderful group of people.  They presented awards, we had lunch and I was introduced.  For some reason, things did not click.  Though I presented the material to the best of my ability, my thoughts and trademark humor, to me, seemed labored.


As soon as I got in the car and headed home, analysis began.  It didn’t take long before I came up with a handful of reasons for feeling that the speech did not go well.  Those are just excuses, I thought.   Thinking back to Astro baseball, I was reminded of recent poor playoff outings by pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite.  Pettite had a sore knee and Clemens had an inflamed hamstring.  So said the media!  I’m confident the two pitchers did not say the injuries were their reasons for poor outings.  They didn’t get where they are by offering excuses.  There’s a lesson here, I thought.  We must always improve if there’s room for improvement, but never offer excuses. 


As I continued thinking of two things I love, baseball and speaking, I recalled something I read years ago:  If a major league batter gets a hit one out of every three times at bat, he’s a huge success at the plate.   Why should I expect to hit a homerun every time I speak - or do anything?  What I should reasonably expect is what the group received – my very best effort at the time. 


In the midst of these random thoughts, another thought suddenly began to surface.  I had based all of my conclusions, regarding the presentation, on perceived audience response.  I didn’t feel like I had connected.  On a similar occasion when I had felt the same way, evaluations have proven my conclusions completely wrong.


The absurdity of such “mind reading” suddenly took a humorous twist.  I remembered two preacher friends, one who was preaching while the other spent the week in the audience.  Through the series of sermons, the listener took copious notes every night.  In the middle of the final sermon, he folded his paper, stuck his pen and paper in his pocket and just listened.  “What was wrong with that sermon?” his friend asked.  “Why did you take notes on everything I said, and suddenly stop taking notes tonight?”  “Nothing was wrong with what you said tonight,” he replied.  “It was great.  It’s just that my pen ran out of ink.”


Bottom line - I don’t know for certain how my speech was received.  Nor do I always know what a favorable reception looks like.  As with many things in life, all I can control is the process – not the outcome.  With respect to the process, I know I did my best!


BARBER-OSOPHY:  In most every undertaking, all we can do is put forth our best effort and then, without beating up ourselves - hope for a favorable outcome.