This past Saturday I attended a writer’s conference.
It’s the same conference I’ve attended for the past four years.
The same conference I’m always nervous about attending because I have to mingle with “real writers” and “put myself out there.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Go,” my husband said. “You’ll come home inspired. You do every year.”
“Not this year,” I said.
But I go.
Writer friends I hadn’t seen since last year beckoned me over to their table.
Before the keynote speaker took the stage, we talked quickly, trying to catch each other up on everything that had happened in the past year.
My cheeks flushed and I couldn’t stop smiling.
I walked to my first workshop with another writer friend from last year.
The workshop was titled, “Elevator Pitches: How Does Yours Stack Up?”
As we settled into our seats a panel of three convened in the front of a large room with tall glass windows. Introductions were made. Panelist #1 – Senior director of publicity and acquisitions editor at a Boston publishing house. Panelist #2 – Director of marketing and sales at a NH publishing house. Panelist #3 – The host of NH’s highest-rated morning radio show.
#2 announced how class would proceed.
“When we call your name, come to the front of the room. I’ll start the timer and you’ll have 60 seconds to give your best pitch. Then we’ll critique it.”
I looked around as others started pulling loose sheets of hand written or typed paper from bags, binders and manila folders.
Wait a minute.
“Did you prepare anything?” I whispered across the table to my friend.
She looked as wild-eyed as me.
“I thought we were going to write our pitch,” I whispered.
#2 then announced, “I’ll call your names in the order they’re written on the registration list.”
A blustery wind of words and phrases began swirling around in my mind – preemie baby, born too early, alternative therapies, hospitals, life lessons. Followed by a screaming chant of – Please don’t call my name. Please don’t call my name. Please don’t call my name.
A name was called. It wasn’t mine.
A woman strode to the front of the room. With all the blood pumping in my head, I heard little of what she said.
“54 seconds,” #2 announced. “Very good.”
As each expert spouted their opinions, I furiously scribbled notes: Leave your listener wanting more. Think of the first sentence as your headline. State your credentials – why are you the one to write this book. Throw in a teaser – leave us wanting more. Give a sense of place – use a local connection if you have one. Be specific, but not too specific. Make it universal, but not too universal.
Another name was called. Not mine.
More advice. More scribbles.
More names. More scribbles.
And then… My Name Was Called.
I stood up. I picked up the promotional post cards the publisher had made in time for the conference and strode (like the first woman) to the front of the room. As I crossed the room, I said loudly and clearly, “Hi. My name is Kasey Mathews. I have a book coming out in May.” When I reached the front of the room I placed a promotional postcard in front of each panelist.
And after that, I don’t remember much.
I do remember turning around and looking at the class that was looking back at me and saying something about a publication date and the national conference where I was scheduled to speak in May.
And then I remember saying something about my preemie baby, how she looked “like a potato with tiny arms and legs” and that I was so afraid of her that I didn’t want anything to do with her.
And then I remember I started to cry in the middle of my elevator pitch, until Panelist #2 held up his hand and said, “STOP.”
And I did.
“That was over a minute and 30 seconds,” he said.
My cheeks burned.
The acquisitions editor on the end gave me a “you poor woman” look.
The radio announcer said, “Yeah you went on much too long.”
I wiped a tear from my face.
“You had us in the first 30 seconds,” he said. “It was an excellent pitch.”
Then they said things about honesty and emotion and intensity, but I don’t remember exactly what they said.
I do remember collapsing in my seat and resisting the urge to scream Wahooooo and thinking, I did it! I gave a great pitch!
And then I remember thinking, If I could only remember what I said.
How about you? Ever been caught totally unprepared for something? What happened?