3 Lessons Learned from Speaking at the What If…? Conference

What If Conference 2014


This past weekend, I had the honor of asking a question at The What If Conference in Columbia, Missouri. Wow! What an INCREDIBLE experience!!  I met some awesome thinkers and made some great connections.

So you might be wondering, what is What If…? Check out this video:

My question, what if we were all family generation changers, is something that has been on my heart for a long time. It wasn’t something I openly shared with a lot of people so talking about it at What If…? was definitely out of my comfort zone. Now that it is over, my experience as a presenter has impacted my life in so many ways.  Here are just a few lessons I learned as a presenter:

1. Just Hit Submit

I came across What If…? by accident. One of my Facebook friends liked a presenter video from #WI13 and it came across my news feed. It immediately caught my attention so I watched it. From there, I went to the What If…? website and watched all the videos. A few weeks later, I found myself back on the What If…? website, but this time I was on the “ask” page.  I read all the details, checked out the application and then talked myself out of it.

The next day, I found myself writing my question in a Word document.  I played some inspirational music on my Pandora station (to get my creative juices flowing), and 20 minutes later, I had something I could submit. I read over my question a few more times, and again, talked myself out of submitting it. This happened on a few more occasions. Can you see the pattern?

I can’t tell you exactly what it was that made me submit my question, but I did finally submit it. Maybe it’s because I am a dreamer and the possibility of the impact or change my talk could initiate (even if small) outweighed the noise and the insecurities in my head.  Maybe it was because I wanted to prove to myself that the small steps are just as important as the big steps. Or, maybe I wanted to prove to myself that my questions mattered.

Sometimes you just have to hit submit. The one thing that this dreamer knows is that doing speaks louder than dreaming. Personally, I have the dreaming part down; it’s the doing part I have to constantly challenge myself to work on.

Doing is scary. Doing is hard. You might be asking yourself, well what if people don’t agree with me. What if people don’t believe in my cause? The truth is it doesn’t matter. There are always people who won’t agree with you and there will also be people who don’t believe in the cause. But, guess what? There will also people who do agree with you and who do believe in your cause. Focus on that! Not doing is also not knowing. Hit submit.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
This might sound like a no brainer, right? I struggle with this… a lot! After all the presenters were announced the first thing I did (thanks to social media) was look up as many of them as I could. I looked at their credentials, websites, about  pages, and heck, even the number of twitter followers they had. You know where that got me? Feeling like I was an imposter. Like I was unqualified to be on stage asking my question. It scared the crap out of me.  Panic sunk in, and all the noise and insecurities I’d thought I had defeated by hitting submit came charging back with full force.

As I was talking to my friend about these feelings, she offered some words of wisdom-focus on your goals and why YOU are asking this question.  When I shifted my focus from the other presenters to my why, a remarkable thing happened. I began to regain my confidence and tell myself you can do this! The more I told myself that, the more I began to believe it.

You want to know something else? All the speakers I spoke with on Saturday were battling nerves. Maybe some more than others, but it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t the ONLY nervous one. We all encouraged one another and emphasized that we could in fact do this.

Although there might have been some common themes in the questions that were asked, we all had very different questions. Our stories were all different. That is what makes What If…? such an incredible conference. It demonstrates that we all have our own unique level of awesomeness. Embrace it and stop comparing yourself to others!

3. Perfection Isn’t the Goal, Sharing is
This is a hard one especially for a perfectionist like me. I think I spent a little over 20 hours practicing for my 8 minute talk. I read articles on understanding your audience and speaking to inspire action. I used an app, SpeechPrep, to record myself over and over. I carefully planned my pauses and the words I was going to emphasize. Oh, and that word um? It wasn’t going to find its way into my 8 minute talk. During practice, I knew my talk from start to finish never missing a beat.

Fast forward to the day of the talk and now throw everything I just said out the window. My talk was not perfect; I did mess up and “um” did find its way into my talk. But you know what? I walked off that stage feeling confident and proud. Even though my presentation wasn’t perfect, it was real. It was authentic. It was human. I asked a question that I was passionate about and that meant something to me.  After my talk, not one person approached me and said, “hey I loved that point you made, but geez, it might have come across better if you hadn’t said um or stumbled your words at the 5 minute mark.” Instead, people told me they loved my talk because of the story I shared. It was real. It was me.

The realness is what sets The What If Conference apart from every other conference. It wasn’t a competition. It wasn’t about who could ask the better question or who was the smartest. It was about sharing, connecting, and collaborating about the issues that were being presented. It was about sharing perspectives, working together to ignite change and developing ways to take action.

I made real connections with people and even made some wonderful new friends.  Stop waiting for perfection. Realness matters.

So for anyone reading this, I hope you will take some time to check out What If…?. Stay curious, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to take a step. Even if it is a small one.

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