It took a trip Down Under to find my “Zone”, by Liz Elam of GCUC

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The very first time I stepped in front the 200 or so attendees at GCUC USA in 2012 I was scared to death.  In addition to friends and industry peers I had gotten to know, there were plenty of strangers out there, and I felt the need to say something really smart, thought provoking and powerful; a desire to leave everyone with a big TED like ground breaking idea to ponder.  I hired a speech coach, spent countless hours writing and rewriting my opening remarks, not to to mention practicing in front of the mirror. Even with professional hair and makeup (and a new dress), I felt I did ok, but just ok. While I communicated  my points across just fine, there was a disconnect. I hadn’t hit my mark and felt pulled into a unfamiliar zone.

Three years and a massive coworking industry boom later, I find myself in the green room at GCUC Australia with Brad Krauskopf, our Executive Producer down under. While I’m pinching myself that yes, I’m not dreaming – we’re about to take the stage for our keynote interview (in AUSTRALIA!), it dawned on me that there were a few things different this time around: There was no speech coach; I’d done my hair and makeup by myself that morning and my dress that day was one I wear all the time.

There was a calm that I felt.  A sense of comfort and confidence.  Brad and I had only prepped for 30 minutes the day before and that felt more like two friends catching up rather than a review of talking points.  This was basically the polar opposite of four years ago at the very first GCUC. What had changed over the course of that time to make me feel this way? As I look back on my experience down under, here are a few things that I think made the difference.

  1. After 2012, I realised I needed help. I had never taken a speech class in my life – why would I?  Being on a stage, addressing a large audience was something I never actively worked towards nor thought I’d ever do in my career.  But, life has a funny way of making you do things you said you’d never do, doesn’t it? Anyone out there driving a minivan? I can’t emphasise how much a professional helped me craft and deliver my message over the past few years.  If you need help, find a someone that knows what they’re doing and pay them good money to teach you how.
  2. Approach the crowd as if they’re all rooting for you.  They probably are as they more than likely paid to be there…. so give them the person you are.  Be 100% authentic.  Tell them your fears, laugh at yourself and be human.
  3. Dress comfortably, but make sure you feel like a badass in what you’re wearing. Maybe the dress or suit isn’t brand new but the cufflinks or the pumps are epic.  Hint – if you’re on stage you’re already a badass, so stop doubting it and start embracing it!
  4. Be a storyteller.  If there is one new “it” job out there these days, it’s being a storyteller.  Think about the idea you want to communicate to the crowd and find a story that leads in or exhibits that point. It makes you and the content more compelling.

It took some time, some coaching, and some learning, but as with anything worth doing, you have to put in the work.  Speaking now feels like an old habit, and while getting compliments from the audience is something one never tires of, it was a unique compliment received at GCUC Australia – when a woman told me “You’re the Tina Fey of Coworking” – that I knew I had arrived. I’d finally found my zone.

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