One of the most successful and most embarrassing training moments I ever encountered came immediately after the publication of one of my books, Filling the Glass. I was conducting a Filling the Glass for Sales Success training at a conference the happened to be at a hotel where I’d worked before and knew the manager, a somewhat shy but extremely conscientious individual. Though this was normally a great venue, they were having one of those days. Everything that could go wrong had: wrong room set up, not enough seating, defective audio/visual equipment with a sound system that kept cutting out and a cord microphone with a cord so short that it kept me tethered in one corner of the platform. The meeting planner and I spent the hour and a half before training session trying to get the situation straightened out with little success. The hotel had also posted the wrong room on all their meeting boards and on the in-house TV, so people kept dashing in late.
I turned the problems into a running, self-deprecating joke at my own expense, and the session came off well enough that I somehow got a standing ovation at the end, though how much of that was due to sympathy is anyone’s guess. Then, as scheduled, I went out into the hallway to sign books during the break before the next presentation. A coffee and tea service had been ordered. But when the doors opened we saw that, in atonement for all the problems, the hotel had augmented the service with several large glass bowls filled with strawberries, and, right beside the table where I was to be signing copies of Filling the Glass, a large pyramid of champagne glasses.
A chef dressed all in white was standing on the table next to the glasses. As we watched, he began to fill the topmost glass with champagne. It filled and overflowed, the champagne cascading down and filling the glasses on the levels below. While everyone gathered around him enraptured—working up a thirst—he poured enough champagne that eventually every glass from top to bottom was filled.
Then the hotel manager himself appeared before the pyramid. Obviously a bit embarrassed, somewhat flustered and unused to public speaking, he nevertheless called for everyone’s attention. He made a short but gracious speech apologizing for the day’s problems, assuring the group that the hotel was at fault rather than the association or the speaker. He got a laugh or two and as his remarks went on he seemed to gain confidence. He added a few very kind remarks about me, and concluded with a flourish, “Since Barry’s book is called Filling the Glass, I though it would be appropriate to fill all your glasses with champagne. So we could all raise a glass to Barry and to the success of his book.”
Then, apparently caught up in the moment, he reached over grabbed the first glass his hand encountered. Unfortunately it was in the middle of the pyramid. There was a quick gasp from the crowd, then a millisecond of complete silence, followed immediately by the sound of breaking glass and spilling champagne.
The strawberries were delicious. Everyone forgot and forgave the earlier problems. And from that point on, the manager and the hotel were looked upon with nothing but affection. More important, the group was energized, a coherent whole rather than the collection of strangers they’d been initially. They all had the perfect conversation starter for their networking.
I consider myself a pretty fair trainer, and my Filling the Glass training did go over very well that day. But I have to admit that that spilling the glass went over even better. And probably had even more to do with the success of that convention.
By Barry Maher