Stepping Into the Light

MakersLast week, I spoke at the most significant event to date of my career.

As you may know, MAKERS is an AOL-led conference which honors women who make the world.

This year, honorees included Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg, Annie Leibovitz, America Ferrara, Abby Wambach, Caitlyn Jenner, Katie Couric, Halle Berry, and many other extraordinary women.

I was invited to speak at the wrap-up MAKERS event for Verizon/AOL, wherein I presented to the 60 most powerful women at Verizon/AOL on the topic of leading change as women leaders in a 24/7 world.

As you might imagine, stepping into an arena this big, with these kind of names, requires some serious preparation.

And while I’ve gotten used to what it takes to grow one’s profile at a highly accelerated pace in the last few years, I still needed more preparation for this event than I’ve needed for any other.

So what does it take to step into the light of an event like this?

Here’s a few things that I learned about what you need to do to get ready for a huge professional opportunity like this.

Preparation is everything.

I spent weeks getting ready for this event. Weeks. I read new books on public speaking (more on that below), framed out the content of my talk, had numerous conference calls with the folks at Verizon/AOL about where my talk would fit into their programming, and practiced my speech at least a dozen times.

Why does preparation matter so much? Because you never know what might happen on the day of an event like this.

In my case, the program was running long, and I was asked at the last second by one of my contacts at Verizon if I could try to get them back on schedule. Because of preparation, I knew exactly what to cut from my speech to get her where she needed to go, and pulled it off without a hitch.

Know what you don’t know.

Even though I speak in public on topics of women’s leadership at least once a month, I knew that I might need some extra help on this one.

Fortunately, I had an easy source to turn to for advice: a book written by Michael Port, entitled Steal the Show.

In Steal the Show, Michael shares all his best public speaking tips and all his best preparatory advice for a high-profile appearance.

And while some of what he shares in the book has always come naturally to me, much of his advice provoked me to prepare and plan my speech in new and different ways.

When you know what you don’t know, you’re able to fill the gaps. And then, your weaknesses can be converted into strengths as well.

Trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to change on the fly in response.

Two days before the MAKERS event itself, something in my speech didn’t feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something wasn’t resonating as I’d hoped.

I reached out to several high-profile entrepreneurial friends, gave them a rough outline of my speech, and asked for feedback.

Result? The day before the program, I scrapped the organization of my original speech and rearranged the content entirely.

Now while that may sound scary, my intuitive alarm bells knew that if I didn’t pay attention, I wouldn’t resonate with the audience. Something needed to be fixed to get the result I wanted and share the best of my knowledge with this amazing audience.

Despite this last minute shift– or perhaps because of it– my final speech was met with a standing ovation and rave reviews from everyone in the room. The panelist immediately after me took the stage and said “we’ve seen some great things in the last few days, but Elizabeth was, to me, the home run.”

Which leads me to the final thing I learned from this event.

Accept praise and compliments with grace.

This is a reminder to all of us: when we’ve succeeded and performed well at a new level we’ve never hit before, it’s important to not downplay our hard work and achievement.

I was thrilled to hear the feedback I received on my speech. I also accepted the compliments with grace and without minimizing them.

You, like me, work hard for your success. The next time you hit a pinnacle, remember: no one got you there but you. Bask in it. You’re worth it.

With gratitude for all the ways in which you step into the light,

Elizabeth

 

 

 

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