‘Increase your profile. Build your brand. It’s the only way to market,’ says the woman on stage.
I roll my eyes and slump in my seat. My hands are crossed over my chest. My friend, Rose, who brought me here is next to me, lapping up every word, her glasses pinching her nose. She’s even taking notes, for fuck’s sake.
You may have guessed I’m not into motivational speakers. Particularly this one, whose name I don’t remember. She rubbed me the wrong way as soon as I laid eyes on her. She was greeting people at the door as we walked in, all gushing positivity. I could feel my bowels constrict as she gripped my hand and searched my eyes as if she were a psychic, reading my brain and knowing my thoughts. If only she could tell what I’d been thinking at that moment.
‘If you’re struggling to brand yourself, take a moment to go through a simple values exercise.’ She uses a remote to click her PowerPoint presentation to the next slide. Up comes a website link to a values site. There’s words on the screen that tell the audience the value in the values exercise. I snigger as she continues, ‘Once you understand your values, your brand will blossom at a macro level.’
Oh, this is too much. Not only has she just used the word macro, she’s crouching on stage.
‘I don’t usually do this, but I feel a presence here. Negative. Condescending…’
You bet your arse there’s a condescending presence here, lady.
‘…so,’ she looks behind the audience to the IT and sound crew, up the back. ‘Can I get a roving mic?’
A voice yells, ‘Take it off the stand.’
Is she joking? How did she not realise the mic comes off the stand?
‘Oh, silly me,’ she giggles as she stands up. ‘Now I’m going to come around and randomly ask you to name three of values. Name your brand. Own your true self.’
Own your true self? I don’t know even what that means. I shake my head, look around. Am I the only one here not falling for this shit.
She’s stepping off stage. Someone in the front seat is craning her neck, trying to get the speaker’s attention. Christ, she’s raising her hand.
‘Yes? Your name?’ She’s hooked the speaker who’s pointing the mic at her. The audience member reaches for the mic.
‘Oh, hi Maryellen,’ she clears her throat. From where I’m sitting I can see her hands shaking and her eyes goggling wide. ‘I’m Sally Taunton. Thanks so much for your talk. This is exactly what I need…’
As Sally rambles on, I think that this is exactly the problem with moments like this. You hand over the mic, you lose control. There’s no way Maryellen—that’s her name!—can get that mic back without causing a scene. I lean into Rose.
‘I’m outta here, Rosie,’ I whisper.
‘Come on. I’m dying here. This sort of stuff is so not me,’ I rub Rose’s arm. ‘You stay. I can see you’re getting a lot from it. I’ll catch an Uber home.’
‘Yep. Call you later.’ I stand and slink away while Sally Taunton is still holding the event hostage, gripping that mic and oh Christ, she’s crying as well.
I reach the door of the auditorium. I feel someone behind me. I turn my head as my hands lean on the clunky door-width-long steel handle. About twenty people are leaving with me, all crushing against each other. I’m Moses, leading an exile, taking true believers to the promised land. I see Rose, right at the back of the group. I push the handle, the door opens and we rush through.