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Vintage microphone

Week 15 in review: everyone’s favourite fear

On the way home to Vancouver from Nanaimo for the week, I ate my White Spot meal and listened to podcasts and thought about how I started my communications career in radio news – waaaaay back when I was a sixteen year old, still in high school. How that work seemed to come naturally to me. I’ve never been afraid of speaking in public. It has always been a mystery to me why people freeze up when they have to talk in front of a group.

I’ve read the news to tens of thousands of unseen listeners, I’ve given impromptu speeches to convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve given presentations to hundreds, or at least several dozen. I’ve been the corporate spokesperson giving media interviews on television and to newspapers, always confident in my messaging and my delivery.

Until today.

Vintage microphoneMy staff may or may not have known it, but today, when I had to speak in front of all of them assembled at the staff meeting, I very nearly choked. Suddenly, as I looked out to their faces, I realized I wasn’t saying everything I wanted to say – that I should have prepared more.

I told them they have lifted me up as I embarked on this journey: a new city away from my family, a new job, a new institution with its history and culture that I knew nothing about three months ago. I’ve had to run to catch up. It’s been intimidating and wonderful, and I truly couldn’t have done it without the talented, amazing people I work with.

As I talked, I worried. A doubting voice in my head chided me: “What if they don’t believe you? You’ve made some changes since you’ve been here and you know some people don’t like all of the changes you’ve made – what if they think you’re full of malarkey? What will they think of you now, hearing you trip over your words because you’ve suddenly become nervous?”

So – I tried to speak from my heart. I acknowledged there have been a few bumps, and thanked them for not letting me stumble too much. Then, I thought I’d better just shut up and buy them all a drink, which is what I did.

But if I had to do it again, I’d acknowledge the three graphic designers who turn out such stellar products day in and day out, often on the spur of the moment, often without the client even knowing exactly what they want. I’d acknowledge they have been having a hard time with the uncertainty of the departure of their well-liked manager, and a new one not hired yet, and myself not being able to give them the hands-on support they’re used to. One time last month, we had to completely re-do a major piece just before we went to print – and by god they pulled it off with alacrity and grace. Now that’s professionalism.

I’d acknowledge the communications team that writes speech after news release after speech, and handles media calls, and successfully pitch stories to local news outlets. In addition, they’ve stepped up enthusiastically when I asked them to “lead with benefit,” pay more attention to our (newly-minted) corporate key messages, change the format of speaking notes, and do a little more advance communications planning, all mixed in with instituting an issues management process that was completely new to them. Oh – and also work closely with the graphics team in re-jigging that major print piece. Add to that – they’ve taken on more of a role in social media integration and planning.

I’d acknowledge my one sole events person who makes sure everything is perfectly organized at each lecture, open house, trade show, and conference that comes along. She will stay to tear down, even if she has to do it herself. She works her ass off to make everything seem easy and seamless at the front end. She’s the go-to gal for an idea for how to dress a stage, decorate a cafeteria, or come up with a fun party activity.

I’d acknowledge the UR assistants who take on the myriad little tasks: getting out the digest twice a week, doing data entry, answering switchboard calls, offering help in the Welcome Centre, always with a smile, even as they’re being interrupted by someone needing a stapler, directions, change for parking (“Parking is in the building right behind us sir…”) or just a chat.

I’d acknowledge my web team – the Bearded Ones, as they are becoming known – who in addition to keeping the “lights on,” juggle multiple and competing demands from internal clients to convert a complex network of pages over to a new Content Management System.

I needed to acknowledge that I have asked a lot of my team since I arrived at VIU such a short time ago, and they’ve done everything they could to make it happen. I hope they’re reading this, because they really did deserve that drink. Cheers! And all the best for 2016.

Photo credit: Vintage Shure Microphone B&W General Lee by Lex McKee; used under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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