Faking It the First Time

Lisa at VocusI embellished my restaurant experience to land my first fine dining server position in 1989. I’d only waited tables for a few months but said I’d done so for years.

No one wants to be first, and let you be their guinea pig. So we sort of fake it that first time in order to take it to the next level. We all have the stories  – how we got our first break doing whatever it is we do.

When Geoff Livingston invited me to speak at the Vocus Demand Success Conference, I knew I’d have to pull it off with some serious swagger. I’ve been doing a lot of speaking lately, but this would be my biggest. I didn’t want to let on this was a big deal for me and I knew I was up to it.

Arianna Huffington was keynoting.

Arianna. Huffington.

Here I am with her. I know. My facial expression is dorky as hell because I was PRAYING to DJ Waldow to take the darn photo. My camera was acting up.

Lisa and Arianna Huffington

Swagger. Was going to have to call in the swagger.

Having butterflies before you take the stage will never go away. Being nervous is part of the process. It’s what makes you sharp. But I had more than butterflies in my belly. I had cotton balls in my throat.

Ten minutes prior to the start, as they were “miking me up” in the Green Room, my throat started to close up. Geoff is nervous either for me or for his own career for inviting someone so green to talk. I AM READY. (Even though I was greatly concerned for my ability to speak given that the walls of my esophagus were closing in on each other at an alarming rate.)

WATER. I need some water. They give me some.

I have some quiet alone time in the Green Room. Why the hell do I do this to myself, I wondered? I walked in a circle and I gave myself a serious talking-to. “You feel like a fraud, but you are not. You got this. You know your stuff. You practiced. You have no choice but to pull this off. You will do this and you will kick ass. Just pretend you are at home, practicing in front of your two dogs. Ready? Break.”

I hear Geoff introducing and saying amazing things about me. I SMILE warmly and happily. I am walking to the center of the stage staring out at a sea of about 600 faces stretching from my left to my right.

I say as if I were just talking to my sister in the back of the room and no one else: “AND! I’m speaking on the same stage as Arianna Hufffington. Same stage. I can say this forever.”

And I got hoots and laughs.

Then I shared my opening story about Jackson. And I heard myself speaking, and punctuating, and pausing. I scanned the room as I spoke and people were nodding and taking notes and taking photos of my slides. I was off and running.

It was so much more fun once it was over.

Commit and proceed

Running in the rain sounds dreadful, but once you get started, it’s so much fun. In mountain biking, when you hit the top of a technical area, you look ahead, visualize the line you want to take, and you commit, because once you are in it, you are in it. baby. There is no turning back.

This is no different.

It sucks feeling like a fraud your first time, but we all have first times for everything. I’m not just talking about public speaking. It could be launching a new product, opening a business, taking a big new job leading a team, running your first marathon.

There is a first time for each and every one of us and there is an element of pulling it off like you know it to being successful.

Three Ways to Pull it Off With Swagger

  1. Ignore your inner fraud. Shut up the voice that says you shouldn’t be there. Get scrappy and make it look like you’ve done it before. You are not alone – I know many people far smarter than I who have grappled with that voice.
  2. Smile warmly. I’ve said this before. A warm, genuine smile masks any anxiety and makes you look at ease with yourself. It also makes you like-able. People want like-able people to succeed.
  3. Get personal. The whole premise of my talk was the importance of good storytelling to get your business found online. I opened up with a personal story about my dog. This was almost an unfair tactic – how can you go wrong starting with a personal story about Jackson? I’ll talk more about my topic later this week.
  4. Over-prepare. If you fall off your bike in the middle of that technical section of trail, it’s going to hurt. Study, prepare, practice, practice, and practice again. Start on smaller features and easier trails. I put a lot of hours into my practice doing it out loud with slides and notes, then out loud in the car without any slides or notes. I even ran through sections backwards. Think about what you are most afraid of happening. For me, my brain short circuits when I get in front of people, and I forget things like transitions and pauses. So I need to know the material. Know your weakness and compensate accordingly. 

One thing before I wrap up: the Vocus Demand Success conference is a fantastic event and I recommend to any marketers seeking to up their online game. The Vocus Team were phenomenal and paid attention to every detail. My sister and I were prepared for about 100 to 150 people for my session (with the giveaway raffle tickets). We needed hands on deck when the room packed with 600+ and hands on deck is what we got, so thank you Vocus staff.

Now I can’t wait for the next one. Once you get past that first hurdle, the next one isn’t nearly as big.

And now I’d love to hear from you – tell us about YOUR first time.

*Photo credit: Geoff Livingston


Tell others about this:
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Buffer this pageEmail this to someone
  • geofflivingston

    You did a great job. Once the adrenaline kicks in its all over. I find speaking to a crowd that large actually is easier because you can’t see their faces. And you’re right preparation makes the biggest difference in the world. Thanks for coming, and doing a great job. This is just the beginning!

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      I had so much fun not only at the event but speaking to that group. I found the bigger the group, the more energizing. Can’t wait to do it again.

  • http://www.boomeresque.com/ Suzanne Fluhr (JustOneBoomer)

    My husband’s theory is that half of being an expert is declaring yourself one. (Don’t panic when I tell you he’s a physician.) I’m a recovering lawyer. Twice a year I would attend our national professional conferences and I would bi*ch—um—complain about some of the speakers. Then, a little voice in my head told me to put up or shut up. So, I wrote to the executive director and offered to give a talk about “x” at the next conference. Much to my shock, they said “great”. Truly, put up or shut up time. People started considering me an expert—all I had to do was the other half—i.e. the work. Now, that I’m a recovering lawyer, I have declared myself a travel blogger. (Definitely more fun than being a lawyer). I’m ready for my first HuffPo blog post 😉

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      Hi Suzanne! your comment about your husband being a physician cracked me up. But the big question – are you seriously sending in your first HuffPo post? Because Arianna was very open about wanting to hear from people.

  • http://www.bradmarley.com Brad Marley

    I don’t have a first time story to tell, and I’m not going to tell you that “first time” story. Just wanted to stop by and congratulate you for making it through. Way to go!

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      We’re disappointed We wanted to hear THAT story. OK, not really. Thanks, Brad. It was fun. I can’t wait for the next one.

  • http://www.WaxingUnLyrical.com/ Shonali Burke

    First, CONGRATS for rocking it! It was great to see you while you were here.

    Funnily enough, my first time (the one you’re asking about 😉 was also at the Vocus Conference, it used to be called the Vocus Users Conference back in the day. @robinhlane was Vocus’ PR manager at the time, and got me on the schedule (and then I spoke three years in a row until they dumped me, I have no idea why, because I got terrific speaker ratings!). It was also a big crowd – 100-ish, I think? Definitely not 600 – but I was so pumped, and scared. I remember presenting on the crisis communications (I was with the ASPCA then, and had just been through the pet food recall and was in the middle of the Michael Vick case), and it was terrific.

    Now, when I look back at my presentation, my style has changed quite a bit, but I think the things that have grown/become better are my confidence and, quite frankly, story-telling ability. I do try to smile quite a bit, and have some openers/ice breakers I use, but there is a level of spontaneity that comes when you are completely prepared, and I hope I never lose that.

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      Just like anything – we get much better as we find our voice, and our “footing.” I know I have lots to do to improve, but I felt good. I started with an ice breaker AND a story. but I felt like I finished without a strong call to action. Gotta work on the finish. I fizzled. LOL.

  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    SXSW was my first somewhat large gig. I probably would have been really nervous, but the person who was to speak after me kept me entertained until I stepped up to the microphone. My slides messed up, but I carried on. I think, for me, all the practice I had done – working with video, teaching classes at the library – helped me to move forward even when things went awry.

    It’s a weird transformation, but I actually like speaking. I’m not really sure how that happened. It used to scare me like none other.

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      When did you speak at SXSW? That is awesome. I would be way nervous there. I like speaking too. It’s definitely an ego thing. Not gonna lie. :)

      • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

        I had a fifteen minute session at this past one. I think I got in because I promised illustrations. 😉

  • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

    Mazal Tov. Sounds like you did great!

    • http://bigleapcreative.com/ Lisa Gerber

      Hey Josh – thanks. :) Always room for improvement, but I’m happy.