I just gave a talk on 3 hours of sleep and serious election heartache. Here's how I did it.

I tried to sleep last night, I swear.

I’m grateful for the three hours I did get. They came early in the evening, when the writing wasn’t fully on the wall. The likelihood of sleep (and any peace of mind) evaporated after I woke at 1:30 and decided to check results.

In addition to my civic heartache, I could not stomach the next day’s work. Talking about the “business case” for anything, much less emotional intelligence, seemed outrageous. I tossed and turned, trying to figure out how to deliver the talk that I had promised, with integrity.

Worse—and I’m not proud of this—my vanity threw fuel on the fire. I had no doubt that, in the light of day, my eyes would betray both my lack of sleep and my disappointment. My anxiety increased and my sleep prospects diminished.

Eventually, I acknowledged that sleep would not come, so I determined to get out of bed and get to work. Which I did. Here is how I did it with some degree of success:

As best I could, I cleared my calendar.

  1. I asked forgiveness on an evening appointment and cleared my afternoon for writing—a good recovery technique for introverts. Today, my single most important job would be to kick ass on the talk.
  2. I committed to an early bedtime. The promise of good sleep tonight bought me some welcome psychological peace at 4am. I had no more time for self-pity.

I addressed substantive concerns decisively (and ignored the rest). 

  1. I decided that I would not ignore the partisan elephant in the room, but that I would respect the group’s officially nonpartisan membership. I wanted to acknowledge the election with an authentic, but gracious tone. I tested several iterations aloud in my living room. My phrasing wasn’t perfect, but I felt confident enough that it was honest and respectful.
  2. I decided to be transparent about my belief that business logic should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. I would make the point that financial outcomes are significant for all kinds of organizations, hopefully in support of meaningful missions. Again, I practiced the delivery out loud. My goal was to be respectful and very clear.
  3. Because my audience shared a service mission, I invited them to reflect on it. This reframed the entire talk in light of their shared ethical language, which supported my fourth-quarter changes.
  4. Finally, I mostly ignored the vanity factor. I had to hope that my pantsuit would compensate. I didn’t have energy to waste on outsized concern for my appearance.

I leaned on my preparation--hard. 

  1. I gave myself credit for staying off the sauce last night. Likewise, the attempted early bedtime was smart, even if unsuccessful.
  2. I reassured myself that I was very prepared. I knew that I would be tired, even in the best case scenario, so my goal had been the public speaking equivalent of muscle memory. I had practiced the talk over, and over, and over again.
  3. I trusted my audience to be forgiving. This gave me some much-needed calm. (They were delightful, by the way. I was right.)

I allowed time to settle in gently.

  1. I stayed away from coffee until I arrived, because I couldn’t expect endless forgiveness. I could not come out strong on the topic of E.Q. if I was jittery and on edge. (Also, I wanted the full benefit of that initial jolt.)
  2. I went through the presentation again, arrived early, and tested the onsite technology. I took a deep, quiet breath when I felt my heart rate increase ahead of the talk.

The talk went well. I found a way to execute with integrity, and it made me feel surprisingly great to put my pantsuit back on this morning. All in all, it was a welcome win in the wake of a tough election night. 

Not every situation warrants the call to “put on your big girl pantsuit” and get to work. However, when one does, rest assured: you can do it.


 My post-election, pre-talk, pantsuit selfie.

My post-election, pre-talk, pantsuit selfie.