It was the best week of my life. It was the worst week of my life. OK, I’m exaggerating about it being the ‘worst’, but it still presented a challenge that I don’t handle well. I was asked to keep a secret—and if confronted about the secret, I was instructed to lie. And I don’t lie well. I look like some stammering five-year old saying “I didn’t spill the grape juice on the couch. It was already there.” Yeah, sure it was.
This past week I was inducted into the National Speakers Association ‘Speaker Hall of Fame.’ This induction ceremony takes place during the annual NSA convention. It is truly a career highlight and an accomplishment that I am immensely proud of. Most Hall of Fame ceremonies I‘ve seen for different professions are not secretive. The audience knows who the inductees are going to be. However, NSA likes to increase the excitement and keep the names of the winners a secret to everyone….except to the inductees themselves.
We are notified in early March that we will be receiving this prestigious honor in July. And we are told that it is imperative, it is crucial, it is mandatory, and possibly punishable by death if we tell anyone. And so the secrets begin. (I think this may be the one thing ‘this’ NSA has in common with the ‘other’ NSA.)
Many inductees invite family members to join them for the ceremony. I had it pretty easy initially, because my wife and our two teenage sons already attend the convention with me each year. Seeing them there would not raise any eyebrows. But I also invited my two sisters and brother to fly out for the event. I was thrilled that they accepted the invitation—but then I told them the ‘rules’.
They couldn’t tell anyone. And they couldn’t post anything on social media about where they were going or why they were going. Had they been Millennials, I know this may have been a deal breaker. But with all of them being over 40 we were golden.
About six weeks out, I started getting invitations from friends to sit at various tables for the event. I had to turn them all down, as I would now have my own table—which would be full. But I had to turn them down with lies.
“Uh, I’ve already gotten an invitation to sit with some other folks.”
Oh, who are you sitting with?
“Hmm, I don’t remember. I think they’re some people from my local NSA chapter.”
You don’t remember?
“Oh, you know, there’s so many people. I have it written down somewhere.” And, no, I didn’t spill the grape juice on the couch.
Fast forward to the convention itself. It’s several days of lying before the main event. As I walk the hallways, many colleagues are ‘baiting’ me.
“Oh, this is the year, isn’t it? I bet it’s you. Come on, you can tell me.”
And I have to keep lying, “No, not this year. It would be nice, but it’s not happening. Maybe someday.” And my brain is screaming at me, “Liar! Liar! Liar!”
And so comes the big night. A beautiful ballroom at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix filled with over 1300 professional speakers dressed in formal wear. I tell my siblings to come to the table at a different time than us, so nobody sees us walking in together. (The night before, we took separate cabs to a restaurant 10 miles away, so no one would see us having dinner together.)
In a room of 1300 people, you really can’t see too many specific people. But anyone who is at a table near ours is going to see these ‘strangers’—who look remarkably like me. And most people within a one-table radius of mine start to figure it out.
And at that point, there’s nothing you can do to keep the secret going much longer. I tried lying even more as someone approached the table and said, “Oh, I see your family is here. Congratulations.” And I stammered some stupid response like, “No, they’re not my family. They’re some cousins from Scottsdale.” Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why would cousins from Scottsdale not be considered family? But at this point, we’re about half an hour away from the ‘big reveal’, and I’m just trying to honor the secret up to the last second.
When my name is announced, there is a wonderful cheer in the ballroom. Everyone seems happy. I’m also happy for two reasons. 1. I’m being honored by my peers for expertise in my profession. 2. I don’t have to lie anymore! And nobody else has to lie on my behalf.
So the next time you have to ‘lie for a good cause’—maybe throwing a surprise party for someone or delaying the announcement of some good news until you’ve handled all the logistics—I wish two things for you. 1. There’s a great happy ending that justifies the lying. 2. You also find it uncomfortable to be lying. If the lying doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you may find yourself moving from ‘lying for a cause’ to ‘lying just because.’