A Speaker with Laryngitis

By | March 19, 2014

How to turn misfortune into a learning moment

It was like Armenia all over again. The lights started flickering above my head and a few of them went completely black.

The similarities ended there, actually.

Southern California? Nothing like Armenia!

Southern California? Nothing like Armenia!

The spotlights above the stage twirled drunkenly, occasionally lighting up blue or purple or red. The overhead lights came on, white and bright, then dimmed just as quickly. The main spotlight lit up Chalene like a Christmas tree, then like a deer in headlights, then that, too, went black and she faded from our sight. The room got warm as the air conditioning stopped working and 1300 people continued to generate body heat.

The microphone crackled, the lights on stage came back on—half-strength—and the audience plunged into blackness.

Audience members used their phones to light up their scribbled notes as Chalene went on talking.

Smart Success Seminar initially looked like a rock concert. Then the lights went out.

Smart Success Seminar initially looked like a rock concert. Then the lights went out.

I was at Chalene Johnson‘s Smart Success seminar in Orange County last weekend, and one of my biggest take-aways was that you can use your seeming disadvantage to your advantage, no matter what the situation.

This was illustrated time and again:

  • Through Dr. Mcayla Sarno‘s heart-breaking story of growing up as an abused child—she now helps people break through childhood experiences that were holding them back, through a specialized treatment called E.M.D.R.
  • With Bo Eason‘s vivid dramatization of how he became a pro football player and then switched careers after a terrible knee injury—he is now an acclaimed Broadway playwright and performer and story-telling coach
  • By some of the audience members who shared their troubled circumstances and how they are getting through them and using their knowledge to help others
  • And from Chalene herself—through her personal story of hitting rock bottom with stress and overwork and how she overcame that, and through real-life on stage, as things started falling apart at the seminar.

It was during day two that we ran into some minor problems with the microphone cutting out, and then we had the lighting trouble, which they later said was a “brown out” in the hotel; the entire electrical system had to be re-set. Chalene carried on through it all with good humor, pausing only momentarily to see if her team was working on it, and simply repeating herself when the microphone cut out.

Day three was when adversity really struck. It happened abruptly.

Between breaks, our speaker completely lost her voice.

What would you do if you were the main presenter for an eager audience of 1300 people, and you got laryngitis?

Chalene’s team stepped up while she gargled salt water back stage.

Her husband Bret and another guy named Kevin held down the fort as best they could, delivering some of the content and opening it up for questions from the audience. It was a valiant try, but it fell flat. The audience grew restless and bored. Up until then, we’d had prepared, polished speakers, and these guys simply weren’t as dynamic or comfortable on stage. 

They weren’t Chalene. They didn’t appear as knowledgeable, and we didn’t understand why they couldn’t answer our questions. The topics were jumping all over the place.

I was disappointed. We’d fought through the lighting and sound issues with very little trouble; those didn’t detract at all from the fabulous content that was delivered on the second day of the workshop. But the third day? I didn’t feel like I was getting value. I couldn’t complain about it, either, because I could tell Chalene was doing everything she could to try to keep the seminar going.

It’s not like I was mad at Chalene for getting laryngitis—there wasn’t much she could do about it—but I wished it could have waited a day.

The very last portion of the seminar, Chalene and Bret were scheduled to come on stage together to talk about their partnership and their marriage. I wondered if we would get the real story. There had been hints throughout the weekend about troubles they had gone through as a couple, and I wondered if they would address that more head-on. I was also concerned that Bret would have to do all the talking, and Chalene would just have to nod her head in agreement.

In a scratchy voice that barely made any sound, Chalene spoke into the microphone. But her voice gave out on her again, and she quickly let her husband take over the story of how she used to work all the time without being present for her husband or her kids.

But then she wanted to share her side of the story, so she did something I’ve never experienced from a speaker.

She started whispering into the microphone.

She whispered the communication challenges and struggles her marriage has faced. She shared with us her darkest moments and her deepest love for the man by her side.

At that point, her lack of a voice became her most powerful tool. It was the most intimate I’ve ever felt with someone on stage, because she wasn’t speaking out loud. She was whispering to her friend, her confidante.

She was figuratively inviting us to sit down next to her on the sofa and listen to her pain and learn from her mistakes. And in the audience, we were listening more intently than we ever would have otherwise.

There were tears flowing by the time she finished, as everyone reflected on their own lives.

It was deeply moving, and I learned something in that moment.

An expert can turn any unfortunate situation around and use it to teach others.

There is no way Chalene could have predicted the effect her laryngitis would have on her seminar, and I’m sure that she would never wish for it to happen again. But her key priority is family, and there is no more effective way she could have gotten that across than by whispering into the ears of 1300 people.


Do you have a story of misfortune? How could you use that to spread your message? Please comment below.


My mom and I at Smart Success

My mom and I at Smart Success

The Smart Success seminar, overall, was fantastic. I got a lot of ideas that I want to share with you over the next few weeks, including information on:

  • goal setting
  • intrinsic and key priorities
  • organizing your to-do list
  • describing your “utopia”
  • how to reverse-engineer your schedule to make sure there is time for all the important things you need to do in a day
  • your ideal customer

Also, I am going to start sharing my story about finding my uniqueness in a family of 15 kids.

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2 thoughts on “A Speaker with Laryngitis

  1. Carrie

    Wow. Evelyn, your article is amazing. Well written, action driven and you brought ME to tears. Thank you. Carrie

    1. Ev Post author

      Thanks, Carrie! I appreciate the feedback.

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