Making Dreams Come True ... By Killing Them Softly: A Confab Story

In our last episode, we left our heroine at a crossroads … WOULD HER CONFAB PROPOSAL BE ACCEPTED?

The answer, happily: YES!

Confab website showing Speakers tab and my picture

My talk is called Killing Dreams Softly: Managing Difficult Stakeholder Conversations, and you can read the full description at the link. I’ll give you the one-sentence summary I composed for the proposal, which may be one of my favorite sentences ever:

You *can* actually refuse a stakeholder’s requests, and even kill their dream about the homepage content, yet at the same time build a closer and more productive relationship with them.

BOOM. So now it’s just, you know, putting this talk together and not exploding from excitement and nervousness between now and April 25/26. Eep.

As I mentioned in my last post, Confab is such a standout conference – the speakers, the topics, the attendees, the Confab Events staff – that having my proposal accepted really feels like an honor and like a true accomplishment. And, nothing wrong with library conferences, but being able to take the stage at an event that draws people from such a wide variety of organizations – industry, higher ed, independent consultants – feels like a validation of my chops in the content strategy & UX community of practice, writ broad.

In the interest of being authentic, let me share a little about how we got to here. After a couple of short presentations to Chicago librarian group gatherings about a year into my career, I didn’t get another invitation to speak until 2007 – so, seven years into my career. Then in 2010 (that’s a decade in) I co-authored my first book [1] and got some invitations, which boosted my confidence enough that I started submitting more proposals. After my second book was published, the good people at the Library Technology Conference took a chance on me and asked me to be the opening keynote for their 2015 event. So my career was basically a student driver before that happened.

All of that to say – don’t get downcast if “it” is not happening for you as quickly as you think it should. Keep doing great work, keep sending proposals, keep taking notes on techniques & practices of effective speakers, keep your optimism – and, to me the most important: keep lifting other people up and repping them when you do have opportunities to recommend or suggest names for talks. As I’ve noted, for a good stretch of years earlier in my career, I watched a lot of people with similar or even lesser experience get invitations while my inbox figuratively grew cobwebs and at first, I felt sort of downcast – just being honest! Over time I’ve realized each voice brings something to the conversation, and there’s always room for one more seat at the table. It’s been so important (and life-giving) to learn to operate from an perspective of abundance rather than from an assumption of scarcity. I often say to myself, “Well, maybe tomorrow’s the day for [whatever it is I’m striving toward].” PS – This works for non-work, too.

I still feel sort of shocked every time I get an invitation – if you’ve seen Sixteen Candles, the part where Molly Ringwald’s character looks around for the other person that she’s just sure her crush is waving to … that’s the idea.

Sixteen Candles movie still - Jake Ryan character in front of red Ferrari waving 'Yeah You'

When I got the email notifying me that my proposal had been accepted and asking me if I could keep it under my hat until the official announcement was made (two agonizingly long weeks ago…) I actually jumped up from my chair and ran around the outer office suite twice before I could even reply.

After texting my husband and my mom (#priorities) the very next person I swore to secrecy was my friend and former colleague, Anne Haines. I want to take a moment here and thank Anne for her encouragement, support, and editing skills – I can’t even put a number on how many times she’s been the recipient of half-baked ideas, dashed-off emails, early drafts, middle drafts, later drafts, final drafts, final final drafts, contextless sentences pasted into IM … inevitably greeting them with her wonderfully consistent good humor, great editing, excellent advice, and horrible puns – in other words, a very particular set of skills.

When you have a very particular set of skills

Anne, you’re the best. I would not have submitted this proposal without your encouragement.

[1] You can get a used copy for a DOLLAR. I’m not sure why but this makes me feel more like a real author than I have ever felt.