The choke

It was everywhere. Images of Jordan Spieth choking. He ended the 12th hole with a quadruple bogey and saw his shot at winning the Masters slip away.

I could barely watch.

Have you ever choked?

I have. Maybe that’s why it was so hard for me to see Spieth in that place.

I’m not a pro golfer. But I choked big time on a big stage.

It was two years ago. As part of a business I started, I was asked to do my pitch in front of a team of potential investors – including Steve Case.

Yes, that Steve Case. The founder of AOL.

I’d done this pitch at least ten times in front of sizable crowds. This particular event had 200+ in the audience.

I rehearsed. I practiced in the mirror. (A necessary but painful step. Like trying on bathing suits.) I knew my presentation inside and out.

I applied every bit of coaching I’d ever given a client during presentation training.

I was the first of ten speakers. They introduced me. I was called to the stage. And, then, it happened.

My head started buzzing. My heart started pounding. I started sweating. And. Everyone. Was. Staring.

For a solid 10 seconds, I actually contemplated leaving the stage. I figured I could walk off, go right to the car and pretend the whole thing never happened.

Good plan, right?

It was only a three-minute pitch but it felt like 300 minutes of me stumbling through a presentation about a business I started.

After I finished the presentation, the judges had three minutes to ask questions. The worst part came when a judge asked, “So what is your product?”

Translation: You just spent three minutes pitching me your business and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I couldn’t get off the stage fast enough.

For months, I replayed it in my head. I shied away from additional presentations. I even found myself not speaking up in meetings for fear it would happen again.

I kept thinking: “Kater, you’re a professional communicator, for cryin’ out loud!”

(Yes, like Bob Dole, I use third-person when talking to myself. Always Kater. Never Kate.)

I was convinced I was an extrovert who’d become an introvert and would forever be plagued with stage fright.

Slowly, though, I started to shed the skin of the choke.

I regained my footing and started speaking up again in meetings. I sought opportunities to present to groups.

Along the way, something unexpected happened: I gained a better understanding of my clients. Those who come to me for presentation or media training nervous that they, too, will choke on a big stage.

I’ll likely never get a chance to redeem myself in front of Steve Case. But, I now better relate to my clients. I know first-hand what it feels like to be in the limelight and not at my best.

Have you ever choked? Did it give you better perspective professionally or otherwise?

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Figure it out

 

I recently closed a business.

Walking away, I feel a little lighter, a bit nostalgic, more confident and a lot smarter. More on the confidence piece in a minute.

My business was an online clothing store called TallChicksRule.com.

Great name, right?

If you know a female taller than 5’9”, you likely know the plight of tall fashionistas. I’m here to assure you: The struggle is real.

There’s this crazy misperception by clothing designers and retailers that if you’re a tall woman, you’re one of three things:

  1. 80-years old
  2. Amish
  3. A librarian

Seeing how I’m none of these — though I do like to read — I knew there had to be other tall chicks who wanted fashionable clothing options.

After all, our petite friends have lots of choices. Why should tall ladies be shorted?

I launched TallChicksRule in April 2008.  For the next few years, I ran all aspects of the business.

I negotiated with buyers and purchased inventory. Never done that before. 

I oversaw the company financials. Dude, I’m a PR person. We just round.

I handled all IT needs. Seems like a good time to share that I did not go to DeVry. 

Ninety-five percent of the time, I had no idea how to do something or it was my first time trying.

I just had to figure it out.

And, that’s where the confidence comes from my now closed business: I learned that I could figure it out.

TallChicksRule was not a commercial success. At one point, I owed $50,000. On a credit card. I’ll let that sink in.

(Pretty sure that day I started questioning my decision not to drink. And, decided that a flask would be my next fashion accessory.)

But it was a professional success that will continue having a lasting benefit on my career.

The first 15 years of my professional life were spent in corporate PR. I can’t think of many communications positions that would have provided first-hand experiences like:

  • Figuring out how to stay self-funded and digging myself out of that $50k hole.
  • Attending the top clothing “markets” and pitching hundreds of manufacturers on the benefits of making special sizes for my clients.
  • Opening a brick-and-mortar location – despite having no retail experience – while continuing to run the ecommerce site, and my PR consultancy – AKA my day job.
  • Learning how to navigate city, state and federal tax regulations. (Have I mentioned I’m not a mathlete?)

I now own just one business – a PR consultancy. My focus is on helping companies of all sizes tackle external, internal, executive, social and HR communication needs.

TallChicksRule didn’t lead to the early retirement I hoped but it did make me a better consultant.

I know what my small business clients face every day because I lived it. I get that their days are full of tasks they’ve never tried. And, I know how it feels to stare at a to-do list and think, “How will I ever…?”

The difference between Kate today and Kate 2008 is I now have the confidence and business know-how to help them figure it out.

After all, I’ve walked in their shoes. Mine are probably just a bigger size.