Those closest to me can probably remember when I added “Become a Keynote Speaker” to my life-long bucket list. I had spent several years sharing my educational experiences at local and state conferences, but hadn’t yet been invited to share my story to a large gathering. I was a novice to the main stage and, quite frankly, a bit intimidated at the thought of being front and center with everyone in attendance staring back at me.
In 2015, I checked that bucket list box when a woman contacted me and asked if I would like to keynote a childcare conference in our local community. I jumped at the chance.
It was the first time I wore a wireless microphone.
It was the first time I had a full-fledged panic attack at the thought of forgetting what to say.
It was the first time I realized my story could impact others on a professional and personal level.
Since that time, I have been a keynote speaker for several conferences, each with their own unique flair. As a full-time educator currently serving students and staff at two elementary schools, my school-year schedule fills up quickly, so I have discovered the necessity to schedule events several months, even up to a year, in advance. This has required me to be very selective regarding which opportunities I accept.
This week I had the honor of being a keynote speaker at the Women Education Leaders in Virginia (WELV) conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. In preparation with conference organizers, I was humbled that they chose the subtitle of my book as their conference theme: Lead, Love, and Learn. Wow! Talk about a compliment! I was floored!
As I prepared my keynote, “The POWER Paradox: Leading with Empathy and Compassion” I thought of the women who would be in attendance. Many were Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and district leaders from school divisions all across Virginia. Some were teacher-leaders in their schools, aspiring to rise into roles of leadership in their respective districts. How could I inspire them when they were tasked daily to inspire others?
It’s quite easy to fall prey to imposter’s syndrome when preparing to share your story, whether it’s through a keynote presentation, a published book, or even a pre-recorded podcast. In a study shared in The Journal of Behavioral Science, researchers concluded that nearly 70% of respondents had battled feelings of inferiority, attributing success to coincidence or luck, not because of the valuable contributions made and shared. Imposter’s syndrome whispers lies of incompetence to push down and paralyze, but it’s one of those battles rarely discussed in open spaces.
I worked on my presentation on nights and weekends, often jotting down thoughts in my turquoise, spiral-bound notebook. (Yes, it’s true. I’m a technologist with a weakness for top-notch school supplies, including college-ruled paper!) When I found articles of interest, I emailed them to myself and I read many books to gain a greater insight to the message my heart needed to share.
The more I prepared for my presentation, the more I pondered the impact of my words. Would my purpose resonate on the hearts of others? Would attendees be moved to take action in their schools and districts? With each passing day I would create, edit, and revise. In essence, my keynote quickly became an extension of my book, A Passion for Kindness, allowing me the opportunity to elaborate on stories briefly mentioned and showcase additional stories untold. It wove through the paradoxical challenges of serving in leadership positions and the ways we could still rise up with strength, empathy, and compassion.
As the conference opened to a sold-out crowd, I took the stage and looked out among the faces of so many powerful women. It was in that moment that I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Their smiles of encouragement immediately put me at ease; their laughter at my southern vernacular reminded me that I was in a safe, encouraging place.
For ninety minutes I shared my heart with these incredible ladies and when my keynote came to a close I was humbled to see not one, not two, but an entire room rise to their feet in applause for the message shared. It was an unexpected gesture of kindness that filled me with awe.
As the conference continued with inspiring and empowering learning sessions, led by women leaders from a multitude of school districts, I was reminded again and again of one of my favorite quotes by Robert Ingersoll: “We rise by lifting others.” The conversations we shared were heartfelt; the selfies radiating the joy of rising together for a common cause. We were here to be the best we could be for students, staff, and communities we serve each day. We were unified by our vision and purpose.
See, I would not be in the position I am today were it not for the women who came before me, paving the path. And while there are still gender disparities in this field of educational leadership (and public speaking!), I am thankful for each and every opportunity I have to share my story with others. It is only fitting that today, on International Women’s Day, I spotlight this amazing organization and the women who make it soar.
Many thanks to the WELV members who graciously accepted me as one of their own and continually poured into my soul with their kindness, grace, and thought-provoking conversations. I may have arrived at their event as a keynote speaker, but I left as one of their own.
Thanks also to the Pierce Group Benefits who sponsored the purchase of 150 books so every conference attendee could be uplifted and inspired with A Passion for Kindness.
The next time you have an opportunity to lift up someone else with your words or actions, don’t hesitate. Go and do. Your vote of confidence in what they have to offer the world may be the one thing needed to push them forward to greatness.
We rise together.