I still remember how red my face turned when I got called on to speak up in the classroom.
It burned. I imagined looking just like a cherry tomato from the outside. I felt the heat radiating from my skin.
It happened in class when I was called on, when it was my turn to speak up, or when a boy I was crushing on walked by.
I later learned what was happening scientifically. The blood vessels in your face can widen when you get embarrassed, allowing for more blood to flow through them. Maybe by knowing what it was, I could fix it.
I learned some techniques that would help ease some of the anxiety around tensing up and reddening. Headspace, perspective, and remembering to breathe all helped. That saying of pretending the audience is in their underwear never helped me, but preparation always did.
Yet, preparedness only got me so far. I didn’t want to be reading literal slides or just going by what was planned. I wanted to be better. I wanted to inspire and speak from my gut in the moment, and show up as me. I was smart and had I’d seen others do it so why shouldn’t I be able to?
Last year, I graduated from a board training certification program with Michele Ashby and ACE alongside an incredible group of women. Many were 10-20+ years older than me and had far more experience running and growing successful businesses, but I held my own. I also recognized how impactful my WHY made me. Sharing the story of suicide loss in our family and launching “She’s Independent” to tackle areas of gender equity gave me a voice. Plus, I was doing incredible things and helping women. Mom would be right there in the room with me - from wherever she now resides - and she’d be cheering me on, shouting in delight, and weighing in with feedback.
The board group held its first summit this week. The founder of it asked me to speak on our newly launched investment club and the opportunity investing presented to women. I spoke of the importance of thinking like an investor and gaining experience and credibility through the investing journey to get in the boardroom.
I was thrilled. I’d been speaking to large audiences and doing it pretty well for years now via zoom (with the “crutch” of well-prepared slides, and the ability to reference speaker notes while I presented). This event was IN PERSON. This was with real people and as it turned out, without a projector.
I dove into prep. I worked on the slides over a multi-day window which I then reviewed with a friend until I felt it covered all the bases. The organizers confirmed we wouldn’t have a projector. “Damnit!”, I thought. I headed to Kinkos to have the presentation printed out. 40 copies, in color, and stapled. I had my presentation, my crutch. It would be okay.
We opened the summit with an exercise called The Box. It’s an incredible tool to dismantle patriarchal thinking and was created by Jay Duplass, a star of the Amazon show Transparent. It involves coming together, in a circle, and individually sharing how you are and what’s on your mind that day. It breaks down walls. It allows us to show up as ourselves; to connect with and understand others; to release.
In this exercise alongside these 40 other brilliant women, many spoke of the energy and inspiration they were feeling by coming together as a group for the summit. I felt similarly, but more was at play for me. I had been working through some very tough family events.
I spoke up, or rather, started to cry when it was my turn. Once I regained my voice, I said “Hi, I’m Natalie. I was hoping to keep it together today but here it is. I’ve had a really tough few weeks, few months, and few years. Our family has experienced multiple suicide losses…” I don’t recall the exact words after that but it was along the lines of, “I feel so grateful to be able to participate in events like this alongside women like you where we can do impactful things. Where we can create and inspire together. Where we can make a difference.” My incredibly deep WHY shined through. I couldn’t keep it inside of me, it was too big. Mom and my cousin Z were there with me. And they are now a huge part of my story, an unstoppable force that deepens my WHY. It’s not just for me. It’s for them too.
Our keynote kickoff was both inspirational and educational. The content was dynamic, engaging, and truly hit the mark. John Kelley, who has been supporting this group of women for years, shared deeply relevant stories. Personal anecdotes, dug into past corporate board work that I was scrambling to take notes around. It was clear John cared about people, about our paths and journeys, and about making an impact.
He asked questions, drove engagement, and spoke to us. And it worked beautifully. None of which I had on my agenda. But I took note. I came up with questions that may be interesting to ask up front and throughout my session.
Then more spoke. I listened. In this case, I was slated to go last. I could have viewed this as a negative, given I’d lose some of the audience who had to leave early. But I now view it as a positive. I had the time I needed to reflect on what and how I wanted to present. I could build on learnings from earlier stories, engagement, and feedback. Plus, it’s a draw. Put a good speaker last and people will stick around, right? But could I deliver?
It was time to step into the spotlight. I walked up to the microphone behind the podium and took a breath. I told myself not to hide. Behind the podium, my armor, or presentation. I stepped out and held the microphone so I could look around. So I could connect with those around me.
And my plans to reference the slides I’d created which had been distributed to the entire room? Out the window. I was going to try something new. I was going to speak to the room. Not pretend the audience was in their underwear and do the planned presentation but speak to the actual people. Speak to what I learned throughout the day. Get creative.
I was going to TRY to do what I’d seen John do. How does one get creative when working from prepared content? I knew enough about what I wanted to say, but I made it more relevant, more specific, more impactful.
And guess what? IT WORKED. I felt the energy. I felt the engagement. I loved the experience.
Maybe a dozen women came up to me after to share personal stories, ask questions, and tell me that they were absolutely joining the investment club I spoke about.
I did it. I finally got out my analytical, engineering mind, to be a human. Because I’m on a mission to change things, and my story matters. As does yours. That’s how we connect.
Are you interested in gender equity or mindset work? Curious about investing, improving your negotiation skills, or building your professional confidence?
We’d love to meet you.
Thanks to cousin and investment club member Ari Fink for reviewing this post!