Wow! I just returned from Austin after an incredible few days at the 2018 SXSW Interactive Festival. This was my first time attend as a speaker, and I learned A LOT. Having been once before, but in a different capacity — I was an event planner at the time, so I played more of a behind the scenes role— this experience was totally different. My talk was all about embracing vulnerability and leveraging it as a strength — ironically, being a speaker is a very vulnerable (yet exciting!) experience.
I thought I’d share the top 3 things I learned as a SXSW speaker.
1) Practice makes perfect… but be ready for some curve balls
The last few months have been filled with lots of preparation for my talk. Most weekends I would hole up in a coffee shop editing and practicing what I’d say. By the time I got to Austin, I’d made my speaking coach, my husband, best friend, her 6-month old, and countless co-workers listen to me practice. I’d even drive to work listening to an audio recording of myself giving the talk to help it soak into muscle memory. I was prepared. But there was something I didn’t see coming.
You see, my talk centers around a very personal struggle I overcame about three years ago. My family wanted to be there when I gave the talk to support me, and so my mom, dad, sister and husband were right there in the audience. As I began talking through one of the tougher parts of my story, I locked eyes with my husband who was starting to tear up. I could feel the tears welling up for me and all of a sudden I was right back in that place I was three years ago. I had a split second where I wondered what I’d do if I couldn’t pull it together. This hadn’t come up in all of my hours of practice. Thankfully, I composed myself and kept going. I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done to prepare myself for that, but I think being familiar enough with the rest of the content allowed me to work through it in real-time, and get back on track.
2) Make time to explore…AND take care of yourself
I arrived in Austin on Thursday, March 8, just three hours after giving a preview of my talk to Capital One’s Women’s Business Resource Group on International Women’s Day. When I got there, I did a quick sound check and run through of my presentation at the Capital One House. My talk wasn’t until Saturday morning, and I was so excited to have all day Friday without any plans. Part of me was tempted to rest (I mean, the Westin Heavenly Bed is no joke!), but I knew I’d regret not making time to explore all of the interesting things happening as part of SXSW.
My favorite was the “Mindful Oasis” for speakers, hosted by Lululemon. Imagine a space that is open, airy, filled with plants and delicious scents. Once inside, you could take part in a guided meditation session, enjoy some yummy refreshments, or take a few minutes alone to soak it all in.
One thing I didn’t fully expect was just how tired I’d be after everything was over! My adrenaline had kicked in big time to keep me going because I felt so great leading up to and during the talk. When it was over, it was like my brain finally felt like it had permission to relax. I took the best nap I think I’ve ever had that afternoon! That was crucial to be able to recharge and keep soaking in all of the cool things SXSW had to offer.
3) Practice gratitude
At my talk I had the chance to meet some amazing people from across the country (there were even folks visiting from outside the US!) and hear their own stories (and sometimes struggles) around vulnerability. I am so thankful for each and every person who attended the talk and who came forward to share their stories.
And finally, as a former event planner, I felt like I had a good sense of what goes into pulling off a massive event like SXSW. Even that couldn’t prepare me for how different it would feel as a speaker. I have to give a huge shout out to our Capital One team that put their heart and soul into making this year the best yet. I had plenty of nerves coming into the event. Would something go wrong with my slides? Our team made sure that speakers had tons of regular communication leading up to the event, manageable deadlines to help us back into all of the deliverables/due dates, and on-site it was true white glove service. Thank you, Robin, Chandler, Meagan, Mike, Eric and the whole team who make this look (and feel) so seamless!
My SXSW journey has been incredible. When I submitted an idea for a talk back in July (yes, it has been a nine month process!) I had no idea the amazing ride I was about to go on. I have grown so much through this experience, and most importantly, I hope I’ve helped others realize how much greatness they can unleash by embracing vulnerability.
Sponsored content and photos provided by Capital One