A Personal Reflection on Failure, Redemption, and a Look Ahead

by Marcus Sheridan

One of my favorite photos from speaking at SMMW---an engaged audience. :)

One of my favorite photos from speaking at SMMW—love the smiles! :)

I have so much on my mind tonight. I’m 24 hours removed from attending Social Media Marketing World with almost 2000 other people and I’ve literally just received an email from an attendee that has inspired me to go ahead and write this post.

The email was unique, as the sender had verbally recorded a “thank you note” into his phone immediately after listening to my closing keynote Friday night. Certainly a creative way to send an email, this is what the man said (in summary):

“Marcus, you recently said in a podcast that you were moved to tears after your Content Marketing World 2012 talk. Well, tonight you moved all of us in attendance to tears, and for that, I thank you…”

These incredibly kind words have now forced me reflect—taking a look back but also shifting my thoughts forward—and I hope these words will have some value for you as well.


Many of you may have heard me talk about this before, but I was asked to give a keynote at Content Marketing World by Joe Pulizzi roughly 6 months before his event in 2012. Knowing this was my first really BIG speaking break (my previous high was about 500 people), I was over the moon, and therefore spent the next 6 months envisioning what that keynote would look like.

Well, to make a long story short, I made a big mistake in preparing for that talk, mainly because I never did a complete “dry run” before the actual presentation. (Note** Just because you *think* a lot about a talk or presentation doesn’t make you *prepared*–I learned this the hard way.) This lack of preparation caused me to go over the allotted time by 20 minutes. And not only did I go over by 20 minutes, but Joe Pulizzi (rightfully so) had to come up on stage to let me know I was out of time…in front of roughly 1500 people.


After the keynote was done and the room had cleared, I sat alone on stage, head stooped over, wondering how I could have possibly messed up so badly. Even though Pulizzi had laughed it off and told me not to worry, I couldn’t believe I had disrespected (unintentionally) the time slot I’d been given and the fact that the talk had fallen so short of what I’d envisioned.

It is for this reason that when Michael Stelzner came to me 6 weeks ago and asked me to close out Social Media Marketing World 2014, I jumped at the opportunity. In fact, as soon as I’d hung up the phone I immediately verbalized one-single word: Redemption


I knew this would be my shot to at least “get it right” the second time, which is exactly why I was extremely prepared for the 45 minute keynote. In the two weeks leading up to SMMW I gave the talk (privately) 7 times—all the way through—so as to have a perfect feel for not only time, but every single point I wanted to make. (Note***The more I prepare for a talk, the more it allows me to go “off plan” as I’m giving it, which is a subject we’ll have to discuss another day…)

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, the keynote went exceptionally well. In fact, it was magical—for me as the speaker and for the 1700 or so attendees. Together, we laughed, we cried, and talked about some pretty meaty subjects—professional and personal alike.

Social Media Marketing World

The Power of Personal and Professional

As I look back, I think this is why the talk resonated so much—it provided intellectual value while hitting a very personal chord, something that isn’t often seen in professional conferences.

Even more interesting, since leaving the event I’ve been inundated with messages from attendees of the keynote and at least half of them haven’t mentioned a thing about marketing. Instead, they’ve given me a glimpse into their personal world and struggles, as well as the fact that the keynote led them to do a serious reflection on their personal life, prompting them to make some much needed changes.

To say this makes me happy, and humbled, would be an understatement.

If I may be completely candid, I think for too long we’ve been trying to separate “business” conferences (and teachings) from “life” conferences.  The more I consider this fact, the more I realize this should not be the case. It just doesn’t make sense. The two are much too interrelated and connected. This isn’t to say that some industry events and speakers don’t crossover at least somewhat, but for the most part, it’s rare.

Each and every one of us are struggling in our own unique way—personally, professionally, etc.

Going forward, the companies (with their employees), the conferences (with their attendees), and the speakers/writers (with their audiences) that can achieve this crossover of message will likely find the greatest success stories and ultimately, the greatest impact as well.


One Last Note

I’d like to give a special “thank you” to Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Marketing World for giving me such a unique opportunity this past week. Closing keynotes are often reserved for big names and folks that have the ability to move lots of ticket sales. Frankly, I’m not at that point yet. But Mike, as he always has since I first met him 3 years ago,  believed in my abilities as a teacher and communicator, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.


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