WANACon, Fear, and an Unexpected Victory

On Saturday I had the honor of speaking at WANACon, the online writers’ conference sponsored by Kristen Lamb’s WANA International.

I’ve spoken at many conferences, to authors’ groups, in libraries, and on the radio. I spent five years as a law school professor and almost twice that many in adjunct teaching roles. I long ago passed the point where fear was a factor in public speaking.

Until this weekend.

As the hour of my talks approached, I found myself increasingly nervous – sick-to-the-stomach nervous, something I haven’t felt in over a decade. I told my husband about it, and (as usual) he found the solution almost at once: technology.

When I’ve spoken before, I’ve spoken either in person or (on the radio) with an interviewer guiding the talk. I’d never lectured via web-conferencing software, and the new experience took me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t worried about the talks. I know my subjects and know them well. I was worried about interfacing with a computer instead of a human, and about goofing up because I had to lecture out of sight of my audience.

Those who know me probably find this funny. I’ve adapted to blogging, to Twitter and Facebook and Skype. I use FaceTime to talk with relatives on a regular basis, and I’m a huge fan of tech that lets me connect with family, friends and readers.

Yet WANACon scared my boots off.  (Literally … I did the sessions barefoot.)

As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry. The technology worked exactly as planned and from what I could tell, the attendees enjoyed the sessions. After a nervous minute or two, I loosened up, established my bearings, and had a fantastic time. (Big thanks to Jami Gold for moderating, too – her confidence helped me re-establish my own.)

The experience taught me a valuable lesson about flexibility and preparation. My willingness to take a chance allowed me to reach an audience that I never could have reached in another way. Even so, if I hadn’t been well prepared, it wouldn’t have been as easy to conquer my fear. Having conquered it, however, I find myself looking forward to the next time I have the chance to reach an audience this way.

The lesson in this applies across the board: as authors and as people, we need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, and to be as prepared as possible when we do. Facing fears is never easy, but the positive payoffs – for ourselves and for those we can help and reach – is more than worth the risk.

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10 Responses to WANACon, Fear, and an Unexpected Victory

  1. Jami Gold says:

    You did fantastic, Susan! You didn’t come across as nervous at all. :)

    Seriously, I *loved* your presentations.You saw me admit in the chat box that I have a “girl crush” on you now, right? LOL!

    • sspann says:

      Jami, you cracked me up with that comment. I’m so glad you liked the presentations. It’s hard, sometimes, to make law interesting but I sure try! I used to tell my law students that if I’m teaching something boring, I need to at least try and spice it up or it bores me too!

  2. Susan, if you were fearful or lacking confidence, you sure had the rest of us fooled. Your presentations were professional, eloquent, and very clear to someone like me who knew nothing about your subject. I learned so much! As an aside, my husband walked into my office while you were speaking, and he said ‘Who’s that? She’s very well-spoken.’ So there you have it: you have the Hubby Seal of Approval. lol You did a great job, and thank you SO much for being so generous with your knowledge and time.

    • sspann says:

      Thank you so much Kristin. It makes me very happy to hear that people enjoyed the presentations and learned from them. I love getting feedback, because it helps me know when I’m on the right track (and also what I can improve on!). And please tell your husband I said thank you too – that’s a great compliment!

  3. Elen Grey says:

    Susan – You were professional and articulate. I kept wondering how you could lecture, pick up a question from the chat box, answer it and move back into your lecture so seamlessly. I never even saw your eyes shift! I learned so much from you, and I hope I have the opportunity to hear you present in the future. Kudos.

    • sspann says:

      Thanks Elen – I really appreciate the feedback. I was trying hard not to look like I was staring at the question box – I tried to read peripherally so I’m glad it worked out from your perspective!! This was my first time lecturing to the laptop camera, so I actually put a little cat toy (with googly eyes) on top of the camera so I’d remember where to look. When I got nervous … I looked at the “goofy duck”!

  4. Jay Donovan says:

    Hi Susan,

    I thought I used up all the nervous energy in getting the technology to work. 36 hours before the conference, nothing was working. I was a ball of stress with *flailing Muppet arms* and pondering a new career as a WalMart greeter.

    Glad you enjoyed it! We were thrilled to have you and I very much enjoyed both your sessions!

    -Jay
    @jaytechdad

    • sspann says:

      Thanks Jay! You know, it’s nice to hear someone else was as nervous as I was!! You did an amazing job with the technology – everything worked perfectly from what I could see!

  5. Susan, you *are* incredibly well-spoken as a commenter (and her husband!) remarked above. I also enjoyed the benefits of your dread, as you gave me the trick of “talking to a face.” I used my Lego man zookeeper the next time I taught on camera. It …sort of…helped! Grin.