A New Chapter as a Keynote Speaker
Have you ever had a career experience that impacted that you so much that you feel it could greatly affect your future? This is mine — perhaps because it help me see myself in a new light.
On Friday, I had the amazing experience of delivering a new keynote presentation at the CPRS (Canadian Public Relations Society) and IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) conference. This was really was the accumulation of the past 18 months or so of preparation — I knew I wanted to do more speaking, so in the past year I took CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) Calgary’s Fast Track program and paired that with a Toastmasters membership to get myself going.
Getting Started as a New Keynote Speaker with Training and Mentoring
While Toastmasters gave me lots of great feedback and practice, it was the Fast Track program that really challenged me. Through the Fast Track program, I discovered that to launch oneself as a keynoter, you really needed to dig deep inside your soul and be find out what your “message” was. Did you have something to say? What is unique about you that can really help others? It’s a journey in confidence, marketing and trying to see yourself honestly. The program gives you lots of peer feedback and mentoring from other professional speakers.
What I learned was that in order to make the most of what I had to offer as a speaker, I needed to combine my professional skills as a strategy consultant with my experience as a singer/songwriter and performer. This was a revelation to me — because although I knew the processes of developing strategy and songwriting were similar, I wasn’t sure I could make a keynote around it believable and relevant. I was also very accustomed to keeping the two careers quite separate. And would songwriting be a helpful metaphor for strategy development? Could I make it clear and entertaining? The CAPS course and the very supportive people in it made me believe it was possible, although I had a lot of work to do. In fact, after the course ended, I procrastinated actually finishing the keynote for a few months, intending to “get back to it” when I had more time.
The First Keynote Speaking Gig: Rubber Hits the Road
I’d forgotten that I shown my draft 1-sheet (a promo sheet about my keynote, which was an assignment for the Fast Track program) to my dear friend and associate, Judi Gunter (asking her to proof it for me) that the rubber hit the road. It turned out she was now planning a conference for her industry association, and needed a keynoter. She decided mine would be perfect — the audience was mainly women business owners, and my example offered something to learn about strategy, an entertainment aspect, and a first-hand example of a woman juggler of two careers and two kids. Knowing I might not get another opportunity like this for a long time, I said yes, and the gauntlet was dropped — I had 6 weeks to get my “act” together and be ready to present it, and I wasn’t about to let Judi down!
Preparing for the First Keynote
The pressure to do well in front of fellow peers in marketing and communications inspired numerous drafts and rehearsals. The process was – concept outline, draft, practice, re-draft, practice, practice, practice, practice, tweak practice, more and more and more. Instead of aiming for a word-for-word, I focused on key segue lines until I knew excatly where I was and where I was going next. I practiced the “acting bits” – I had to put on a couple Newfie accents (refreshed by listening to YouTube examples) — and directing the crowd to interact. I spoke through the whole thing 2 – 3 times a day, in my office and in my car to and from work. Over and over, until I knew it down pat. There was no way I would read notes, cards, or Power Point slides. I’d seen the pros, and I wasn’t going to be anything less. In addition, my husband Gary, who has done hundreds of presentations during his career, had fantastic ideas and I soaked up every one. I must say that as a singer/performer, I have been in front of 6000 people and performed live on many radio stations, and not even been even fractionally as nervous or worked nearly as hard as I did for this performance. This was a whole new kettle of fish. Here’s why.
How it Stretched me as Professional
I have been accustomed to sharing one or maybe two aspects of myself at once — either as a strategy consultant OR as a singer/songwriter. The keynote combined the whole thing, and shared a lot of personal background too. It was the WHY of who I was, and the whole picture — I talked about what strategy was, where songs came from, sang/played musical demonstrations, showed how songs related to developing a persuasive business strategy, and even wrapped it all up with an original song. As a bonus I finished off the conference at the end of the day with a second song which was a first-time debut written just for the people in the conference (many of whom were women business owners) called “The Boss is a Woman.” I’m sure that the experience was one of the greatest career moments of my life. No longer would the people in this audience know me as “either” a strategist “or” a singer/songwriter. Now people would be getting to know me as BOTH — the whole picture.
This perhaps explains why I didn’t sleep the night before – and I’m kind of proud of that – because just knowing I have stretched my comfort zone that much (more than in YEARS) makes me happy, and means I’ve made personal headway. Somehow the speaking has made my unconventional life make more sense to ME as well.
How it Turned Out
The feedback I got from the keynote was amazingly wonderful — I “entertained” “inspired” and was “wonderfully authentic”…. and the positive feedback was like a bonus gift of just getting the chance to do it in the first place. I also got some wonderfully constructive new ideas from these expert listeners which I cannot wait to incorporate!
Judi, Gary, CAPS Calgary, Foothills Toastmasters, CPRS and IABC, I cannot thank you enough. This experience made me view myself in a new light –in fact I was so moved by the it all that I have already written another song to get it out of my system (seriously!). I hope there is a next time, in the not too distant future. You may never know what a difference you have made to my self-view and my personal career growth. As for future keynoting — YES — like getting on the greatest roller coaster of your life– I WANNA DO IT AGAIN! The sooner the better! Wohoo!!!