They were four of eight powerful keynote speakers that rocked The Massachusetts Conference for Women last week.
If you are wondering what 8,000 women (and a sprinkling of men, including speaker Deepak Chopra) might look like in a huge convention center, here it is from my 100 yard vantage point – a sea of women. I was worried about the physical distance. Would I connect with each speaker? The women on stage were ants, the size of my thumbnail. But, the jumbotrons ensured each speaker and her message were bigger than life. And it worked! I could see each women’s expressions, gestures and I felt the energetic flow of connection. Check.
All the women engaged me for different reasons and one completely surprised and delighted me. Here are my speaker Cliff Notes.
Charlotte Beers: This was my first encounter with Ms. Beers, a famous Madison Avenue executive and very powerful presenter. “I” words. Intense. Impressive. Intimidating. In some ways she was the most relevant to my work, because her subject was clarity in communications. Her most excellent advice? “Edit, edit, edit. Eliminate everything but the complete center of your communication.”
Dr. Brene Brown: I have watched her TED talks many times and I consider her a personal public speaking idol. Her ability to align her message (research on vulnerability, shame and courage) with her method (she shows what she tells) while drilling into the hearts of an internet or live audience is extraordinary. “C” words. Courageous. Clear. Compassionate. Connected. “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.”
Kristin Chenoweth: I have seen her twice on Broadway, on TV shows and thanks to my BFF’s connections I have actually exchanged three sentences with her in person. She is funny, talented, charming and has impeccable stage timing. “K” words. Kind. Kinesthetic, Killer voice. Kooky.
Delia Ephron: While she wasn’t a keynote speaker (only 1000 women in her “breakout”), she shared relevant, heartfelt and amusing “advice for life.” Being an Ephron sister, she has strong and vocal opinions. I appreciated her stated intention to disable our inclination to romanticize other people’s lives. About writing? “Know the rules before you break them” About sisterhood? “Sisters prepare you for friendship.” “S” words. Special. Salty. Smart. Sad.
Arianna Huffington: Here was my big surprise. Arianna Huffington reached out and grabbed the audience. “B” words. Brave. Bold. Brash. Blond. Blue. Huffington is an experienced and charismatic speaker. She kept the presentation simple – here is my personal story, here is my professional story and look how they merge. She was so unexpectedly and wickedly funny that I wondered if she had a comic writer on her team. How she came to America? “All of this happened to me professionally because a man wouldn’t marry me.” On her extensive participation in research correlating sleep and stress and her love of naps, “ I wanted to write a book called ‘ How I Slept my Way to the Top’.” She moved through the trajectory of her life, career, failures, redefinitions, vision, marriages (quoting Nora Ephron, “Marriage comes and goes, but divorce is forever”), with clarity and aplomb.
Of course when you self-select a group of powerful and recognized women leaders, it is going to be inspirational and purposeful. But what I really loved was the honest, heartening truth they all spoke about their circuitous paths to their present presence. Huffington said, “When you succeed, people forget about all the times you failed along the way.”
This conference was a public speaking paradise – honest, funny, courageous, smart and powerful women telling their stories with relish. My first 2012 holiday gift to myself.