Mixed Bag

TEDxDirigo invited me to leap…I did

Posted by A. Smith on Feb-1-2012

I am a TED fan. And, I sometimes do things on a whim. This can be a dangerous combination. A month or two ago, I received a newsletter from TEDxDirigo. I scanned it and noticed a link to an upcoming workshop: “Give the Talk of Your Life.” I clicked on it, thought, “jump,” and without a moment’s hesitation registered. I could grow my wings on the way down, after all.

I forwarded the e-mail to a friend, conned her into signing up, and felt victory in knowing we snagged two of only 12 spots that sold out in a day. I was psyched. Then, reality sunk in and a little voice in me started whispering, “What the heck were you thinking?” This voice got louder when we were assigned homework, which included identifying our “big idea” and developing a two-minute presentation.

What’s a girl to do when she’s in over her head? Procrastinate, of course. That’s exactly what I did. I started to think about my “big idea” less than a week before the workshop. Then, with only a few days remaining, I began to scurry – jotting notes, mapping out ideas, and finally writing my piece.

I was ready. Okay, kind of ready. At the very least, I figured I’d learn a thing or two. And, I did. I learned a lot. The lesson that struck me the most was when one of our facilitators said, “Your audience is always having a virtual dialog with you.” I realized giving a presentation isn’t about being on stage. It’s about connecting with your audience on a very authentic level. It’s about having a conversation as if they were sitting right next to you.

Something happens when we trade spaces and move from chair to stage. But it shouldn’t. Giving a great talk is not simply about great content. It’s also about creating intimacy whether with hundreds of people attending a TEDx event or one person curled up on a couch watching a talk after the fact. It’s about intentionality and connection.

Perhaps what hit home with me the most about this workshop, however, was the unspoken. The powerful feeling of community and support, the positive energy that filled the room, and the amazing people who, along with me, decided to grow their wings on the way down.

I left my TEDx workshop experience filled with gratitude. And, I look forward to the next time my passion for TED and my spontaneity collide. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll take the stage!

Be Real…It’s What the World Needs

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-21-2010

Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending a Women’s Leadership Series program sponsored by the Maine Women’s Fund. The focus was authenticity, a topic near and dear to me. It’s something I believe in and strive for always. Be yourself. Sounds simple, eh? For many women in business, it’s not.

When I reflect on my own career, I realize there were times I wasn’t true to myself. I remember working for one marketing communications firm where I was expected to be the expert, to always have the answers. What a sham. It never fit me, and, ultimately, it was one of the reasons I walked away from a good job.

Fortunately, to a great extent, I have come into my own. I am very comfortable being myself, I believe the answers are in the room, and I don’t pretend to be one person at work and another at home. The area where I have the most room to grow now is to show up glitches and all – to be human, to fail publicly, and to embrace the beauty of imperfection.

One of the ideas shared during the leadership program that will continue to inspire me forward: “Authenticity is a lifelong curriculum and a minute by minute choice.” I love this. It’s true. Knowing ourselves and sharing openly with the world is a journey, but we have the opportunity to make choices every day whether to assimilate or to show up as we are.

I encourage women everywhere, and men for that matter, to tap into their authentic selves, to bring forth their natural gifts, and to contribute to the world in a way that’s in alignment with their core identity. Be real…it’s what the world (and business) needs.

NYC part two

The big day has arrived. I’m New York City bound. But, before I head out, I have some other important business. It’s my middle son’s last day of school, and it’s my pleasure to escort him to kick off his day. I throw this in because no matter how passionate I am about my career, it doesn’t hold a candle to my family. In many ways, my boys are the inspiration behind my work.

You get the picture.

Okay, Lincoln delivered. Now, it’s time to catch a plane. Little did I know when I boarded my flight how powerfully the next two days would impact me. Namely, I would experience the city through the eyes of locals for the first time, and I would discover a strong sense of community that I had never experienced as a tourist.

Laura and I had a full agenda, which included meeting and sharing in conversation with Fast Company’s Noah Robischon and Ellen McGirt, JetBlue’s Dean Melonas, social media strategist Zeb Dropkin, and freelancer/improv performer Amanda Hirsch. Oh, yes, and attending FC’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

I don’t think we could have met with a more welcoming, bright, inspiring, and kind group of people. I offer a heartfelt thanks to each of them. I am a better person for knowing them, and I look forward to lasting friendships.

Let me share my Fast Company experience:

The days leading up to our arrival, Ellen and I emailed back and forth. This is when I discovered Ellen’s a beer drinker. Score. I liked this. I have always found women who drink beer tend to be real, fun, and down-to-earth.

We were off to a good start, and it only got better.

Upon meeting Ellen, a person I hold in extremely high regard, she hugs me. In that moment, a friendship is born. All of a sudden, the fact that Ellen writes for Fast Company fades. We are just people being people, enjoying each other’s company. Amidst a television commercial being shot on location, we take a quick, quiet tour of the headquarters.

We are on the 29th floor of 7 World Trade Center, and I see Ground Zero firsthand for the first time. It affects me more than I let on because I want to hold steadfastly to the positive vibes we’ve generated. Moments later, I am grateful to catch a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River where Captain Sullenberger landed his aircraft safely sparing the lives of every member on board. The good vibes are back, and we head out for drinks.

Ellen, Laura, and I swap stories. We cover topics ranging from Montana and gift chains to Steve Jobs and our own families. Then, Noah joins us, and the dialog grows. I am genuinely happy because, to me, this is what life is all about: people.

We do touch on journalism and all parties seem to truly care about the thoughts and ideas of each other. We discuss how people get their daily news, story development and execution, and opportunities for media collaboration. And, I think to myself, this is why journalism, whatever it might look like, will survive and thrive. It’s because there are people inside news organizations and consumers outside of them that are truly committed to sharing stories.

And, as I state on my website, stories are how we celebrate the past, embrace the present, and create the future.

Moral of the story: Ellen and Noah rock. So do millions of people that walk our beautiful earth. Put yourself out there. Discover new friends. Build community. And, share stories!

My head is full

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-17-2010

Wow. What a week. I am flying home from my first ever SXSW Interactive, and I am looking forward to the next few days to process every thing I learned and to truly reflect on my experience. Perhaps the irony I least expected is that I just spent five days at an interactive conference, and technology is, in some ways, far from my mind.

Technology is a medium – a channel for exploring much bigger concepts. The core themes running rampant through my head include storytelling, improv, visual thinking, happiness, innovation, engagement, creativity, passion, gratitude, helping others, and living in the now.

This is right up my alley because I am a big picture person – a dreamer. I can hardly wait to think through and share everything I learned, and to put my ideas to work. There are so many people out there doing amazing things. I am inspired, and I am ready to rock the world with them.

Innovative people descend on Austin

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-26-2009

Well, being that my goal here is to spill my thoughts on paper rather than sit and contemplate for hours on end while spontaneity slips away, today I will write about the first thing that came to mind: SXSW. For people who don’t know what these letters stand for, I am referencing South by Southwest – or as I describe to people, “A huge conference/festival where innovative people with an passion for music, film, or interactive descend on Austin to connect with each other, new ideas, and the future.”

Well, I am going to be one of these fortunate people because I am attending SXSW in March 2010. I registered last week, booked a hotel, and made all of the arrangements necessary to make it happen. I am thrilled. Five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events, and an unbeatable line up of special programs…I can only imagine the energy.

Now, if only Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, makes another appearance!