Anne Wotring – Dare to Think

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Confidence

May 10, 2011

Early on in my career I was asked to give a keynote address. I really wanted to say “no.” I hadn’t ever done anything like this. I thought a keynoter should have more experience. But I said “yes” because everybody felt I was the right person. They had confidence in me whether I did or not. Self-confidence has always been an issue for me.

My topic was controversial – and frankly I love cutting edge stuff. But I was really scared. Everyday when I thought about it, my stomach churned, but when I was able to concentrate on the material that I loved, I felt better and actually got excited. Until the next day and the whole process started again.

The months passed, the day before arrived and I took the plane. I turned in early that night knowing I’d better try for a good night’s sleep. At 2:30 a.m. I sprang awake. A radical idea: I would change the way I delivered my message, turning it into an interactive conversation with my audience, thus demonstrating my message’s essential point. It was very nervy for this particular group. They would squirm, the silence would be deafening. I would have to stand there. And clearly the idea was absolutely perfect. Like the intuitive hit Einstein got in his shower.

When I arrived at the auditorium, I found the absolutely worst arena for an interactive presentation. Dark and cavernous with rows of old-fashioned theatre seats bolted to the floor, and even worse, a stage six feet higher than the floor. Making me essentially eleven feet taller than my audience. The house lights illuminated the room only slightly. How was this going to work? Now I was really nervous, but there was no turning back.

My introduction came and I stepped onto the stage. I spoke for about 15 minutes. I’ll never know because my portable tape recorder malfunctioned after 5 minutes. I then invited dialogue – thoughts and questions. As I expected, an eternity passed as I stood in the middle of the enormous stage, peering down into the murkiness, contacting eyes as best I could. (Today I would have silently prayed but back then didn’t know to.)

Finally, one gentleman raised his hand. “Thank you so much,” he began. “For the very first time in being associated with this 75 year-old organization I understand its purpose.”

What others learned I will never know, but I was delighted that I’d hit a homerun for somebody. I’m glad I stepped up to the plate and swung. But, oh, my doubting mind steps in and I debate with myself about what I could have done better. What good does that do?

When was a time that you didn’t have confidence in yourself? What thoughts were you thinking that undermined your confidence? Do they still?