Have you ever been offended when someone has walked out of your talk, workshop or meeting? You’ve put in many hours of your own time and effort to arrange it, and in the case of a public speaking talk, you might have even suffered from a bit of stage fright. Surely no-one would be so rude to leave when you’ve only just begun?! But is it actually rude, or are you just letting your ego get in the way? What if instead of feeling butt-hurt, we consider the positive side of people leaving?
The Law of Two Feet comes from Open Space Technology and is super simple:
If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: use your two feet and go someplace else.
Let’s consider the following:
- They’ve used their two feet and have realised that this talk isn’t relevant for them right now. That’s not to say it isn’t useful, they’re just not who your talk is aimed at.
- The people remaining in the room are those whom you really want to address - they’re probably more engaged with your topic and stand to gain the most (that is, if they’re not just sitting there watching the clock tick by because they haven’t plucked up the courage to leave).
- They might have a personal emergency they need to deal with. I personally have had to leave sessions because my anxiety has taken a crippling effect over my body and I need fresh air.
How to react instead?
- When someone leaves, think of it as a feedback opportunity. Not just from the leavers, but also from those who remained. What was it that made them stay, and in the same vein, if possible, ask for feedback from those who left. And act upon that feedback where you feel necessary.
- When someone gives you feedback such as “I liked it” or “Great talk” - instead of simply saying “Thank You”, consider tacking on a question, such as “Thanks, what did you like about it?” or “what were your key takeaways?” We focus so much on user feedback these days, but very few ask for feedback on their talks and meetings. Similarly, ask those who left to provide constructive feedback on what you could change to make the talk relevant for them.
- Accept that your talk or meeting isn’t going to be relevant for everyone everytime. This is especially true for bigger conferences that may have several tracks. Some people may want to try several talks on different tracks at the same time. Others tend to stick to the same track for the entire day, even when there are some talks that are less relevant to them.
The Law of Two Feet is possibly the most powerful law I try to follow - at a conference, or in life in general. But it’s not always easy to execute - for example, I’ve stayed in a work environment for long enough that it began to affect both my personal and emotional well-being - with very little gain (that is apart from the comfort of knowing I’d be getting a pay check at the end of every month). I’ve also been at the receiving end of someone not using their 2 feet - when they told me after that they felt it would be rude to leave in the middle of my session. I was really disappointed that this person didn’t feel courageous enough to use their two feet and contribute value elsewhere, but I hope that they now feel more empowered to do so.
If you’ve ever found yourself sat in a session where you’re neither contributing or receiving value - I encourage you to leave that environment. Time is the most precious thing we’ve got, don’t waste it by doing things that don’t help yourself or others.
And next time someone walks out of your talk/session/meeting/family gathering, drop your ego. Often it’s not about you, it’s about their own personal learning. Let’s make this practice less taboo, and more normal. Time is all we’ve really got.