What we can learn from Michael Jackson

The passing of legend Michael Jackson has been felt in every part of society's fabric, so it should come as no surprise that the community of presentation professionals can reflect on his life and take something from his experiences.

As I separate the bizarre from the pathetic, I try to disregard the surgeries, skin-bleaching, bed-sharing, and bone-scavenging. Instead, I focus on the loneliness and extreme isolation which led to his confusing two important emotions — a confusion that could befall anyone who performs in public.

Michael Jackson confused attention with adoration and adoration with love. He wanted people to love him and thought that he could get there through his fame. That became a dreadful, perhaps fatal, cycle. As Jackson said to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the unofficial rabbi to the stars in Los Angeles, "I want people to love me…because I never really felt loved. Maybe if I sharpen my craft, people will love me more."

This is an all-too-easy trap for anyone in the public eye, including presenters who might place inordinate value in earning applause from an audience. If that is the closest personal connection they feel to other people, they are bound to become lonely.

I have experienced a related dynamic myself. In the course of four compressed days at PowerPoint Live, we develop tight bonds with people whom we have just met and it is easy to regard these types of friendships as more than they are. Not to suggest for even a moment that there is anything artificial in the affinity that we all feel for one another, because the congeniality and the vibe that we create at the conference is one of its most important qualities. Come Thursday morning, however, the day after the conference closes, we all realize that our newfound BFFs cannot replace the closeness of life-long relationships that have been forged over decades.

Many of the veteran alumni who see each other year upon year have created lasting relationships, and that is the point — they take time and earnest effort.

If we presenters are not careful, we could find ourselves seeking the quick fix that Jackson did — adoration instead of love. When you have just nailed a presentation and 200 people are all standing and applauding, it's tempting to want to have the Sally Field moment. We can bring meaning to Michael Jackson's passing if we remember the importance of cultivating genuine and healthy relationships, instead of fooling ourselves into believing that a grateful audience can magically turn into a room full of best friends.

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