I faced my fears head-on and killed it! Oh yesssirreee… I’m talking about my session at the 2014 Louisiana Society for HR Management State Conference in Baton Rouge (#LASHRM14). I took a packed room through my own personal story growing up with both a severe hearing loss and speech impediment, and how I translated my experience into diversity and inclusion strategy work with various organizations throughout my career.
I posted my slides on Slideshare (see below) and feel free to take a look, comment on them and share with others.
I started off this presentation more nervous than I had been in a very long time. During the past 5 years I have done countless presentations, seminars and workshops to a variety of audiences from business students to volunteer groups to HR professionals. But… this was the very first time EVER that I talked about my own personal story in front of a public HR audience.
As I shared early on in the presentation there was a point in my life where I was unable to speak a word in front of a group setting. I lacked any ounce of confidence due to my energy sapping speech impediment and my constant worry of how others perceived my hearing disability. I did my best to express to the audience how I felt about this and what I was feeling at the time.
After I hit one of my lowest moments in early 1990 I found inspiration from Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison on February 11, 1990. His story inspired me and helped me make my life-changing decision. My options were clear; black and white. First option was to roll over, give up and live life to the low standards that many expected of me, or second option was to fight. I chose the latter and boy, am I glad that I did.
I remember sitting on the plane enroute to Dallas (first leg of my trip) thinking to myself, “what will I do if I break down”? Well… I did display some emotion, a lot of emotion actually. There were a couple of moments where I wasn’t sure I could continue… BUT… I told myself to keep going—be courageous, have confidence, persevere, keep working hard and maintain perspective. These words are what I aspire to. They keep me grounded. They support me.
I made it through the tough part of my presentation, telling my personal story for the first time in front of an HR audience. I won. I then continued by talking about the business case behind diversity and inclusion, why it matters in business today, the link to employee engagement, the employee experience and ultimately to top and bottom line results. I talked about the workplace diversity and inclusion framework that I use, which I created years ago, and tweaked on several occasions.
This was not a normal presentation for me. I usually like to engage the audience far more than I did but I felt I captured their attention with my personal story. The most humbling part of this experience was getting approached by many of the attendees thanking and congratulating me. All I responded with was, “thank-you”. My goals were simple—to inspire and educate, and I believe I achieved both. Maybe I achieved more, and if I did then great.
I will continue to tell my own story and hopefully others will continue and start doing the same.