It’s not quite what I pictured it to be, this speaker life. But as I traveled back to the city where it all started this week, I can remember the first time I ever stepped on a stage. It was a small event. I think they were doing someone a favor. I was just a managing editor far more familiar with marketing than recruiting all those years ago.
I had quiet aspirations of becoming a speaker. Watching people become teachers of their peers, living the life of a speaker, made me crave that time on stage. I just wanted to help in an industry I watched suffer from a lack of an education pipeline. There’s not one path to take when you’re becoming an HR or talent professional. We all needed to teach each other. It made me love this industry even more to see how people offered to help all the time. I didn’t care much about the accolades or how big that room would be. I just wanted to be a part of that community and live the life of a speaker myself.
Even with all the inspiration, I never felt brave enough to apply at first. As a child, I suffered from paralyzing anxiety that sparked when I was called on in class. I hated being the center of attention. Knowing my teacher was going to call on me would make my body feel like it was on fire. Sweat would appear on parts of me I didn’t even know it could.
Standing outside the first conference room that ever had my name on it was no exception. As much as I had prepared the content, I hadn’t prepared myself for the feelings that would rise up. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure they’d hear it in the microphone attached to my shirt.
As I paced to ease my anxiety, a gentleman was sitting on the floor nearby charging his phone. I noticed he was staring at my odd and anxious behaviors. “I’m fine,” I stammered. “I’m just nervous.” He laughed. “Yeah, I noticed. Have you ever tried jumping up and down? It can help regulate your nervous system.”
I began to hop up and down the hallway. With each hop, I could feel the anxiety start to melt away. “It worked,” I said with obvious surprise in my voice as I continued to hop. He smiled. If this happened today, I’d be sure there was a video or something on TikTok of the weird kid hopping up and down the hallway in a suit. But no. This man was just genuinely kind and helpful. Almost 15 years and many speaking engagements later, I’ve spent a lot of time hopping and remembering that kindness.
Today, those moments before I speak look a little different. You won’t catch me hopping around because I really hope that if something I do goes viral, it’s not because a stranger caught me doing something weird. I still have that twitch of nervousness, though, whether I’m standing in front of 5,000 people or 5. But it’s not like the first time.
The nerves are caused by the realization that I had this dream all those years ago and I made it come true. Even when I’m frustrated with travel or details, I remind myself how in awe I was at that first gig. The excitement of it all. I’m so grateful. These speaking experiences have created a life for me that has been better than my wildest dreams.
How often do you look back and realize you’re living your dreams? I forget all the time.
I’ll never take for granted these moments to stand on bigger stages and move from the breakout to the keynote sessions. These chances to be a teacher. To open doors for other speakers and remind them that if they get really nervous? Just hop.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.