As I admitted in one of my first Chair’s Messages, I’m a lifelong introvert who tries very hard to overcome my dread of crowds, attention, and public speaking. I remember getting zeroes in class participation in business school, and feeling faint when I had to present my designs in class. Some view my career path as a series of triumphs, but the truth is, it’s been a sequence of daunting challenges met with deep breathing, a positive attitude, and tons of preparation.
This was the case earlier this year in São Paulo, Brazil, when I found myself staring into a sea of empty seats that would soon be full. I’d been rehearsing for weeks, I’d Power Posed at nauseum in the Green Room, and now I was being fitted for one of Madonna's headsets and told that every word I uttered would be simultaneously translated into Portuguese. Sure, it was an incredible honor to be invited by the Brazilian Association of Interior Designers to be the keynote speaker at South America’s International Forum of Architecture & Design, but it was hard not to hyperventilate!
A few hours later, I walked off the stage thrilled, grateful, and very, very relieved. The crowd numbered more than a thousand but the faces were friendly and interested. The topic – the profession of interior design in the U.S. – was one I obviously feel very strongly about. And being introduced as the leader of ASID, “the world’s leading interior design association that sets the standard globally” was an incredibly proud moment.
Attending events has been critical in my personal development. At first, I would stay in the back of the room, taking notes at seminars and observing others quietly. Later, I started recognizing others who I had met at previous events, and those connections became the basis of my professional network and helped me become a better designer. Now, I’m often asked to speak at the same events I attended as a student, and while the terror of standing in front of a crowd has never fully subsided, I know that the payoff is well worth it.
ASID events often feature the industry’s best speakers, such as the incomparable Kay Sargent – senior principal of Workplace at HOK – who can somehow turn a speech into improv hour while sharing a wealth of knowledge on workplace design. There’s Susan Szenasy, publisher and editor-In-chief of METROPOLIS magazine, who puts down her notes and asks the most penetrating, daring questions of panels she moderates … and gets brutally honest responses from even the most circumspect panelists. And how about Randy Fiser himself, whose gracious presence and endless knowledge never cease to blow my mind?
So, I encourage you to invest in yourself and attend a conference. The Leadership Experience: Presented by ASID is a great place to start. Check out the link: you’ll find a remarkable speaker line-up. Along with unique learning environments and non-traditional presentations. You’ll get to mingle with all sorts of designers and make lifelong connections. When I’m standing on that stage, please smile if you see me looking at you. And if you are uncomfortable with public speaking, hopefully my tale will give you confidence. When I see you on stage in few years, I promise to return the smile.