Graphic Designer. Photographer. Speaker???

A friend proposed that I share my journey on becoming a professional public speaker. If she had told me a few months ago that I would be entertaining the idea of being a public speaker, I would have thought she had gone crazy!

The move towards the stage began the first week of August 2011. At a networking function, I was asked to give a 10 minute presentation on business marketing. After my speech, I received a generous round of applause and accolades on how useful the information was and how well I spoke. My dear friend Michelle Ketterman was so enthralled with my speaking abilities that she invited me to speak on the topic at her annual Home Inventory Professionals conference. I thought it was her way of being generous in providing me with opportunities but she was sincere. She believed I gave a great presentation and her audience would benefit from it.

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In less than two months, I had to stretch my 10 minute presentation to 45 minutes. This was an overwhelming task for me. I panicked. I even questioned myself, "how in the world can I speak for 45 minutes? I have nothing of value to say!" After setting aside my angst, I created an outline from my ten minute speech, adding a list of other topics for discussion. Under each one I indicated ways to expound on those. I practiced my presentation multiple times in the mirror and then again in front of my two cheerleaders, my husband Rick and Michelle. With their support and encouragement, they helped build my courage and reduce some fears.

I had only spoken one time prior to this. When I was a nuclear medicine technologist, an event coordinator asked me to give a continuing education class. I flunked. Miserably. The content was dry, and though I tried to add some humor, it was miserable. I spoke to fast and didn't feel I added any value. I thought I could do it because I had acted in a few plays as an adult. But I was never center stage, just supporting cast. I was never quite good enough to be in the spotlight. Ever.

And this history mentally hung on some 20 years later. Though Michelle had faith in me, I didn't. But one day changed that. I attended an all-day networking seminar. A dozen speakers spoke to a full room and only one impressed me. Perhaps I am a harsh judge, but after observing people who did not inspire, enthrall me, or teach me, I said to myself "hell, I can do better than that." And that's what I set out to do. It took an all-day seminar of listening to poor speakers to create an entire new mindset. The tuition I paid that day was worth every penny!

As Michelle's conference approached, I grew nervous, and I rehearsed while in the car, while dressing in front of the mirror, while eating lunch. I prepared visual aids for my speech and printed out my speech, double-spaced on paper. And the hour before I was to present, I was anxious, nervous, tapping my toes, breathing shallow.

And then I was there. In front of the audience. I began with a soft, quivering voice and trembling hands. Five minutes into it, I took a deep breath and proceeded to set the stage on fire. I used my visual cues, I gestured, my voice fluctuated appropriately. Yes, I goofed up but it didn't stop me. And, much to my surprise, the audience didn't realize it.

And then it was over. I did it! And they were clapping! As I looked into the audience, smiles beamed back and heads nodded in approval. After the speech, friends and strangers both commented on the value of my presentation and how well I spoke. Michelle declared "You knocked it out of the park!"

And that's how I felt. Like I had just hit a home run. Who knew several months later that this one experience would lead me to entertaining the thought of becoming a public speaker. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Alicia White is the CEO of Back of the Room Productions, home of the Speakers Briefcase™, Authors Briefcase™, and The Speaklet™ and North America's first Back of the Room Branding and Marketing Materials Provider. Copyright 2012.


Blindsided by a Bear

My husband and I travel to Yellowstone every year. He first introduced me to this magical wonderland in 2006. We have been every year since, sometimes vising twice a year.

One fall, we traveled down a heavily wooded road anxiously anticipating our next wildlife encounter. We came upon two sets of couples photographing a small bear eating berries in the trees. We pulled over, jumped out of the Jeep and just as we set up our cameras, he came crashing towards us out of the trees and scooted down the road way.

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Everyone but me followed this guy down the road. I wasn't interested because I figured all one would see is his behind. And who wants butt shots! lol As I watched the group get further and further away, I began to enjoy the stillness of my surroundings. Autumn was creeping in bringing yellows and reds to the trees. Golden shards of light filtered through the branches. A hauntingly musical sound played over head as the wind whipped through the lodge pine needles. I was truly in the moment, savoring every bit.

Then I heard a disconcerting sound. Brittle twigs snapped and branches rustled. Apparently, I wasn't alone and, worse yet, I was in bear and moose country. My eyes darted in and out of the woods surrounding me, scoping for a shape. I feared being trampled by a bull moose or worse attacked by a grizzly. It didn't take long for my eyes to guide my gaze upwards. It did take a second, though, for my mind to register. It was a black bear! In a tree! Twenty feet above me!

I backed away slowly and positioned myself behind my Jeep. I called to my husband, but he was too far away to hear me. I had a little reassurance as I felt for can of bear spray attached to my hip. Feeling some what safe, I set up my camera gear and began taking photos. He was bigger than the first bear, which explains why the smaller bear was running away.

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A few minutes pass and I am still alone with this bear. The photos do not share my experience with him very well because he is hidden behind the leaves and branches. Finally, my husband and the others arrive and we all have a good laugh as they take some shots of the black bear for prosperity.

Even though I planned ahead and had my safeguards in place (bear spray, vehicle, exit plan), I was still completely blindsided by this bear. About once every two or three years, I will encounter a situation in which a client blindsides me. The blindside occurs when I present a finished product and they tell me it is nothing like what they wanted. It always catches me off guard because I've done my due diligence in gaining insight on how my client's product should look and function.

The first thing I do is take a deep breath and step back as I did with the bear. I then evaluate my notes and try to determine where the disconnect occurred. Just like when I saw the bear, I double checked to make sure I had bear spray. Fortunately, the notes and emails show the client's request clearly. Having a contract stipulating what happens in these issues helps me during these situations. Just like having a Jeep for safety eased my apprehension with the bear.

If you are getting blindsided multiple times a year, it's time to evaluate your processes. Create two checklists: 1) a list of actions your client must follow (provide info, sign contract, make deposit, etc.); and 2) your list of actions you must do to achieve your client's request (define clearly what client wants, send proofs, follow up calls, etc.). Follow through on these each and every time, checking off each item as you go. Once you get the hang of it, you will see a decrease in the blindsides.

But when they do happen, don't let blindsides knock you down. Stay calm, take a step back, go over your notes, and 99% of the time you will find you did absolutely everything right. Nature just has a funny way of messing with your plans!

Alicia White is the CEO of Back of the Room Productions, home of the Speakers Briefcase™, Authors Briefcase™, and The Speaklet™ and North America's first Back of the Room Branding and Marketing Materials Provider. Copyright 2012.