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?

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

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.