At the Agile Tour here in RTP last Thursday (, I heard someone say to me, "Dawn, you are a natural speaker."

I specifically say "heard someone say to me" because it felt like exactly that -- it didn't sound like it could possibly be /me/ they were saying that to.



Uhhhh, here's how I picture me: I'm 6, at my house, and my dad's VP is coming to visit from California (I live in Jersey at the time). It's a big deal, mom has had us helping clean the house for a few days. The VP, Jim, comes into the house and introductions are being made. Me? I'm hiding behind my dad's leg, holding on for dear life, hoping against all hope that I will just disappear.

Me? I'm shy. I'm reserved. I'm the quiet one. I always see my sister as the outgoing, social one. I took public speaking in college, but even in front of just a few people who I shared class time with (summer class even!), when I got up to speak, my mouth went dry and my ears started ringing, and my vision was enclosed with dense white fog surrounding all but two small circles.

One more exemplary memory: Not terribly long ago, when I /really/ started hearing that I should be speaking at conferences, my son, Steven heard me talking about it. He was 12. He came to me, gave me a hug, and said, "Mom! Don't worry! Talking in front of people isn't so hard! I'll help you! We can practice together!"

Isn't so hard? HA! Who are you kidding?! It's impossible!!

It's a good thing I listened to other people. It's a good thing that as I heard person after person tell me I should speak, I should write, I should teach, even though that concept completely contradicted my own picture of my abilities, that I tried it anyway.

It's not terribly easy to accept that my own view of my own characteristics, strengths, and potential may not be the same thing that other people see. I sat in disbelief for many long hours, repeating to myself the words from other people ("Dawn, why aren't you speaking at conferences?" "Dawn, you have so much passion and energy! You would be great as a speaker!" "Dawn, will you come talk about that topic at the local user group meeting?").

Finally, I decided to jump. I came up with a plan to ease myself into it. First, I would talk at the local user group. The audience would be small, and it would be people I knew. Then, I would speak at a bigger, less familiar venue with someone else who had experience speaking (that way, I could pass off the parts I was having trouble with and learn from how they handled situations). Finally, I would begin speaking by myself.

Of course, life doesn't have the same plans for us that we have for ourselves.

I was presented with an opportunity to speak at STAREast this year (last minute, nonetheless). I took it, and spoke about a subject I was familiar and comfortable with. I did great! I've spoken several times since then, and it has gotten easier every single time. People told me that it would (chances are, people have told you similar things if you've thought about speaking and have been afraid). Really, it did.

I spoke at Agile Tour amongst such speakers as Jeff Patton, Andy Hunt, May Lynn Manns, and Laurie Williams. I am unspeakably honored to be in such company. I was excited and happy before my session, rather than nervous, anxious, and just wanting it to be over. I felt confident and comfortable and in my element.

My first public speaking engagement was right at 6 months ago, and I have no idea how I have gotten here from where I was a year ago. What I do know is that if I had not listened to those wonderful people who encouraged me, I would still be sitting here, telling myself that I wish I could speak, but am just too scared.