The photo above was my view of the keynote panel at BlogU this past weekend. That's because I was a member of the panel and I was required to speak for five minutes about myself and then answer moderated questions.
Five minutes might sound like nothing, but it sounds like an eternity to someone who is used to sitting quietly in the back of the room.
You might be surprised to know that if you met me in real life, I am not nearly as entertaining as I am on the blog. I'm fine and I make friends and people think I'm pretty cool (I think), but if someone was gathering a group of people together, they wouldn't say— "I know! Let's invite Ilana! Then we are guaranteed a good time!"
I'm probably more reserved then you would expect.
Also, whatever confidence I posess in other areas (and I do believe I'm a pretty confident adult), I am not confident speaking in front of a room. I get tongue-tied and forget words and lose track of what I am saying.
I think the affliction is called "living too much inside my own head".
In other words, my mouth is talking but my brain is thinking "you sound like an idiot!" and then that makes me actually sound like an idiot because I'm not thinking about what I'm saying.
Does that make sense?
If the answer is "yes", that's because I wrote it down.
Stage fright has plagued me through many walks of life, because being a good speaker is something that can benefit you in almost every pursuit. When I was in junior high school, I had a recurring nightmare that I would pee in my pants on stage. It caused me to stop auditioning for school plays. As I got older, I found there was a ceiling to where my skills could take me because it wasn't enough to have good ideas in your head. You have to be able to stand up and explain them out loud.
I've been to a bunch of blogging conferences over the years but I've never spoken at one. You have to pitch a session idea to the conference big wigs and I just haven't had it in me.
Then Stephanie Geise (Binkies and Briefcases) asked me if I would teach two sessions at a new conference she was dreaming up called BlogU— one on Instagram and one on Sponsored Content. I said "yes" because honestly, I didn't think BlogU was really going to happen.
Then a few months passed and she asked me if I would also like to participate in the keynote panel. "Sure, Stephanie! Whatever you want! I'll ride there on a unicorn too!"
Flash forward a few more months and all of a sudden, she was selling tickets.
Oh wait. You mean I actually have to get up in front of people and teach them valuable lessons to make it worth the price of admission???
I put off preparing those sessions and my keynote speech until the very last possible moment. It was like the time I went bungee jumping. The whole time I was standing on line on the bridge, thinking— Ha, ha. These people all think I am bungee jumping too. Joke's on them! There is no fucking way I am bungee jumping. All the while, I am inching up closer and closer to the front of the line. Even as they were putting a rope around my ankles, I was still in denial this was actually happening. It wasn't until I was standing there with my toes hanging over the edge, with a line of people behind me and an audience of people below, that it hit me. You are doing this. Close your eyes. Breathe. Jump.
This past weekend was the conference. You might have seen me in the prom picture Baby Sideburns posted on facebook. (More about that later.)
The keynote panel was first and after debating whether I was going to speak off the cuff or read something I prepared— I went with reading something. There were four of us, Karen (Baby Sideburns), Jen (People I Want to Punch in the Throat), Susan (Divine Secrets of a Domestic Diva) and myself. Karen and Jen spoke off the cuff. Susan and I were readers.
It went better than I expected. I said what I wanted to say which is something I knew I wouldn't have been able to do without the words in front of me. After our intros, the panel was asked a bunch of questions by a moderator— Kim Bongiorno (Let Me Start By Saying). They were questions that attendees had submitted and I felt myself begin to let my nerves go.
Many many years of nerves.
I realized I wasn't trying to sell someone on something or pretend to be something I'm not. I was just talking about my experience. It is the topic I know best and I was amongst people who were genuinely interested. There was no real reason to be afraid or try to rush through it.
By the time it was over, I was totally enjoying being up there. But there was no time to think because I was being rushed off to my first session, a course on sponsored content I was teaching with Anna Luther (My Life and Kids).
This is Anna. Doesn't she look totally competent?
I've never taught anything in my life and I had no idea how it would go, but Anna and I were prepared and knew our stuff. There was so much information to get through in so little time that I forgot to be nervous.
The room was packed (we had to bring in more chairs for everyone to have a seat) and for once a packed house made me feel encouraged instead of cowardly.
I am the last person to admit when I am good at something, but I will this time. I think Anna and I did a really good job.
Next I taught a session on Instagram and by that point, I was totally comfortable. I think doing so much in one day really helps as opposed to having isolated speaking engagements every so often.
Below is Jenny from the Blog who always made sure to tell me I was crazy when I told her I wasn't good at this.
Whether people walked away with a growing knowledge on the topics I discussed or not (I really hope they did!), I learned something. I learned I can be comfortable even when all eyes are on me. I can talk about things I know and not sabotage myself. And that I am actually looking forward to doing this again.
To all my fans and readers I met at BlogU, thank you for being an awesome audience.
Thank you for making me feel like the bridge between who I am online and who I am in real life is just a little bit shorter.
Did I mention I finally met Julie (aka Lydia) from Rants from Mommyland?
In my first year, I lost a blogging competition to Julie and as my consolation prize, she supported me and shareds my posts for the next three years. This was the first time we met in person. I love you, Julie/Lydia!
And now for some prom pics.
NickMom hosted a "retro prom" on Saturday night. I was planning on pulling a "real life Ilana" and putting on a dress from Banana Republic, but a half hour before the party, Susan handed me an extra dress she happened to have in her suitcase. (Only Susan would have an extra retro prom dress.)
It also happened to fit me perfectly, so I decided to leave my comfort zone once again and wear something totally hideous in a public place.
Honestly, with this crowd, I think I would have drawn more attention to myself in the Banana Republic dress.
Kelley (Kelley's Break Room):
Nicole (Tyop Aretist):
Janel (Girls, the Care and Maintenance of):
Lastly, here is me and Baby Sideburns. She was my official prom date.
She was also my roommate. Neither of us could poop the whole time.
Thank you to everyone at the conference! Organizers, faculty, attendees, sponsors (HuffPost, American Public University, Nickmom, Baltimore Coffee) and founder Stephanie Geise— I loved every single thing about this conference and am looking forward to BlogU 2015!