When Texas Women Rainmakers asked me to give a keynote address, I was intrigued. I do a lot of work with women in male-dominated industries, so this professional association of trial lawyers whose tagline is “practicing law with our hair down” seemed like a good fit.
3am: Convince my body and brain to go back to sleep
After spending the evening with new rainmaker friends, I woke up around 3am the morning of my speech with a stomach ache. I realized that wine and particularly decadent macaroni and cheese don’t make for a great pre-speech dinner. Fortunately, I was prepared. I grabbed the wet washcloth I’d put in the mini fridge earlier and, using it as a cooling eye pillow, was able to go back to sleep fairly quickly.
7am: Time to get moving
I woke up (again) to put the finishing touches on my presentation, adding in anecdotes from the night before. I caught a great panel on female stereotyping but stepped out for some final prep.
My attorney friend Jenny taught me that before she starts closing arguments, she goes to the bathroom and draws out the word “BONG” at full voice to get her voice warmed up. I decided to employ this technique. “BONG! BOOOOONG!” Thankfully the bathroom stalls at the St. Regis Houston were empty.
Fully prepared, I went onstage. Since my presentation topics often make people squeamish, I always start my speeches with a bit of levity. The Rainmakers asked me to talk about workplace negotiations for women, so I decided to kick it off discussing the game of “20 Questions” women play when getting dressed. I talked about how every time I pack for a trip, it’s like I’m playing a sh*tty ladies-only game of 20 questions. How I’m asking myself questions like, “What will make me more uncomfortable, wearing a thong or wondering if I have a panty line all day?”
Using this picture from the night before, I described the inevitable purse pile at women’s events, where we dump our bags so we can more comfortably navigate happy hour without 5-pound anvils on our shoulders. We laughed about the challenge that creates of not having pockets for business cards or (gasp) a tampon. Or, my personal favorite, having pockets that are sewn shut, as if Ann Taylor doesn’t want me to be successful.
Even with a couple hundred people, straight speeches aren’t really my style. I asked a lot of questions and built off of their responses. When asked, “Why do women agree to do something they don’t want to do?” participants suggested feeling a responsibility, knowing no one else will do it and not feeling like they have the ability to say no. We talked about recognizing the emotions that are coming up in these moments and strategized about how to say no.
The presentation went off without a hitch. At the end, I facilitated a glorious storytelling session where participants share more of their own experiences. (Until now) no one realized it wasn’t planned.
12:30 pm: New friends and the ultimate lunch-time validation
As I walked back to my seat, a group of veteran attorneys said, “That was so much fun! We loved your speech and want you to sit with us.”
After lunch, I found myself talking with a fellow writer and professional speaker. Recognizing our shared professional path and orientation toward social justice, we stepped out during a break and started sharing experiences and favorite strategies. Two hours later, she had missed her planned departure time – Houston traffic is the worst! – and we’d covered everything from using social media, to being a working parent, to pricing.
I popped back into the conference for the closing keynote from one of the first female United States Secret Service Agents. Through rich anecdotes about Jackie O. and the Queen of Spain, Kathryn Childers described her experiences protecting the first family and foreign heads of state. When she talked about her success in the service, she said it wasn’t that she was never scared — it’s that she just did it anyway. It was seriously compelling.
5pm: A very happy hour
At the happy hour that followed, I met more inspiring women and reconnected with my friends from dinner the night before. We started a group text that was promptly filled enthusiastic emojis and promises to visit in the future. Many people commented that the interactive aspect of my keynote was their favorite part (despite being an on-the-spot addition), so I recommitted to a conversational approach in future speeches.
8:30: Dinner and down time
Finally, I grabbed dinner with one of my best friends from college and later fell asleep instantaneously upon getting in bed.
My only regret: forgetting my leftover macaroni and cheese in the mini-fridge.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.