My First Keynote Speaking Engagement

My first keynote speaking engagement…

and all the mishaps in between. 

The Call

Actually, it was more like a text. I mentor a few students at the university where I work.  Some I know through health projects, some I know through Greek affiliation, and some I just know.  One of the students who fits all three, sent me a text.

I have some great ladies that I’d love for you to meet. 11 ladies of achievement to be exact…

Reading this text initially, I’m thinking he wants me to extend my mentoring to a group of  young ladies that he believes would benefit.  I found out later that my assumptions were not too far off, however they in know way hit the small mark that I was presuming it to be. The text continued…

So I was thinking, what is the best way for the great Asha Fields Brewer to meet these women?  As I sat and thought to myself, it hit me. It would be an honor for them to have you speak at this year’s scholarship gala as the keynote. 

I was so worked up, I forgot to take
pictures! Here is one of a few.

I speak frequently at various community events, so the speaking part is not what floored me.  What really made me drop my jaw was the occasion for which I was being asked to present.  This would be the 8th Annual Achievement Gala for the Theta Eta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated at Florida State University.  This is a speaking engagement at my alma mater, for an organization I highly respect and appreciate, in front of [what I assumed would be] about 80 people.  They have asked me, to be the keynote at their event. Wow.

The Prep

The gala was a little over a month away.  I don’t usually like to write out my speech this far in advance. I write notes here and there, and I let it come together on its own.

How do I prepare a speech?
-Voice recordings in the car (to and from work, between tasks, etc.)
-Jot down key thoughts, inspiring points, and other stuff on Googledocs
-Pay close attention  to conversations with others of the same demographic or interests as the intended audience (to gather relatable information and steer my preparation)
-Glance at my Toastmasters International workbooks for any nuggets or tips

One week before the event, I organize my notes and voice recordings into one concrete outline.  I fill in the outline with key points and “quoteables” (these are coined catch-phrases, astute alliterations [pun intended],   memorable takeaways, and other carefully packaged moments in the presentation). One night before the event, I print out the meaty outline, rehearse the speech a few times, and go to bed confident and prepared.  At least that’s the idea…

The Series of Unfortunate Events

1. One week before the event, the “meaty” outline never happened. I did not factor in that my Sorority had a huge conference that weekend that would claim most of my attention and all of my weekend. 
2. When I finally did organize my notes, I realized I had a lot of “material” (about 8 pages worth) but not so much content. There’s a big difference. My main points and takeaways were lacking. There was no clear line of thought or unifying element within the notes I had. The event was scheduled for a Thursday, so I basically had 3 days to make this come together.
3. Monday was packed.  Tuesday was packed.  So here we are at Wednesday (yes, the day before), and I still have yet to finish up this speech!  I worked all day, then jetted off to nail and hair appointments.  I figured the only opportunity I would have to finish up the speech would be during my pedicure.  Well, I forgot to factor in one thing…I’m ticklish.  I literally had to hold down my leg to avoid kicking the aesthetician.  

You can imagine how much of my speech got done…NONE. 

My hair appointment was immediately after, but I knew I wouldn’t get anything accomplished there.  The stylist is my friend, and it’s difficult for me to work around people I know.  (I need to be able to check out and zone out).  I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be tackling this speech until I got home. I pulled into my driveway about 12:30am, went inside, propped open my laptop, and prepared for a late night…

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I had fallen asleep without even TOUCHING the speech!

4. This is the day of, and I have no speech!  I begin to revisit these notes, and guess what?  I hated it. I hated the whole thing.  
I was starting to get a bit flustered, because I knew time was not on my side.  All I knew to do was pray.  I just focused all my energy on God and asked for His hand to guide me through this. 
God visited me that morning, and He told me why I was having such a problem. I was making the speech all about me. wanted to do well. I wanted them to like me. I wanted to revel in the prestige. I was preparing “Dr. Asha’s” speech, not God’s speech. This is why it was so hard for everything to come together!  Once I finally understood this, it all started to flow.  Unfortunately, this flow was 5 minutes before I had to leave for
The Fraternity members were great! 
They were very chivalrous, and even 
gave me a bouquet of red carnations
—the Fraternity flower. 


5.  I had work all day, then would need to rush home to get dressed for the event before my date came to pick me up. My best bet would be to tackle this speech on my lunch break. God used that time to really turn some things around…
How God overhauled my speech
-Prayer and meditation (first this time)
-Picked 6 solid points from the prepared notes
-Looked for Scriptures that correlated with those points (if I couldn’t find a Scripture, I took if off the list)
-Dissected the Scripture to provide “meat” for each point
-Turned each point into an alliteration
-Looked for places to add personal anecdotes, humor, emphasis, examples, etc. 

I prayed and decided on going with 4 points.  However, by the end of my lunch break, I had only fleshed out 2 of them. 

So here I am, hours before the event, and I only have HALF of the speech prepared. Smh. 

6. I got home around 4:30pm and went into focus-mode.  I had exactly 2 hours to shower, fancy my hair, get dressed, apply makeup, and write a life-altering keynote address. This would be plenty of time to get all of these things done, except that I’m natural.

Natural hair is it’s own beast.  Every mane has it’s own personality, and mine is especially temperamental.  my curls did not fall right AT ALL.  In fact, my hair seemed to actually be defiant.  Tehe.  I realized later that I forgot to mention to the hair stylist my hair can only handle a certain style done a certain way.  Well, we prepped my hair for that “certain” style, but definitely not in that “certain” way.  Hence the thing that was currently staring back at me in the mirror.

I worked on that hair until my deltoids popped.  It ate up nearly all of my allotted 2 hours.

30 minutes before the event…still no speech. 

7. It is now 6:30pm.  The event starts at 7pm. My date is late. I barely have on clothes, and I am just getting started on my makeup.  My date finally arrives at 6:40pm.  I’m getting ready to leave, and I realize not only do I NOT HAVE a full speech, but I haven’t even PRINTED it! I didn’t let this bother me.  I had the two remaining points in my head, so I would just leave space on the document to hand-write these points, print the speech, and head out.

Weeeeeeeell, the printer stopped working. 

I couldn’t have planned it any more perfectly.  My date sat patiently on the couch as I sprinted back and forth from my laptop to the printer to see what was going on. I prayed hard and caressed my printer with loving words of encouragement.  It spat out that speech, and we finally left at 7pm, the time the event was scheduled to start.

Members of the Theta Eta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc
and the “11 Women of Achievement”

The Actual Event

We arrived, and the event had not started.  I thought to myself, “Good, I’ll get a chance to go over this speech.” Wrong.  A number of my friends came to support me, so I was cordially social with them all.  Finally, God just told me to “steal away” and get His message right. I and a couple friends went to another part of the building where I could read everything over.  They let me wander in the hallway for 15 minutes, so I could rehearse and become more comfortable with the material.

Truth be told, I barely rehearsed anything.  I used that time to just connect with God.

God put me in a place where I was comfortable enough to present, and we returned to the event. It started shortly after.

The Speech

Let me start off by saying,

I got a standing ovation before the speech even started. 

Wow. At first, this made me a little nervous, but I think this was God giving me time to get in the groove.  He knew how big this was for me (remember those 80 participants?  Try 150 or better).  He knew that speaking and mentoring are my passions, so He needed me to be in a place where I could hear from Him.

At the end, I barely used my notes.  I glanced at them to transition between key points, but I realized I had revised the speech so much, to where a lot of it was ingrained in my spirit. I was so relieved to sit down, and I was even more relieved to get positive feedback afterwards.

 What I learned from my first keynote experience

Recipients were awarded over $2000 in scholarship funds. 
  • Seek God intentionally. 
    • This is moral overall.  In the beginning, I was not intentional about seeking God.  I prayed and asked for His help, but I did not take the time to mediate on Him or even allow Him to respond. In the future, I have to be intentional about spending time with Him, outside of our devotion time, to really allow Him to talk to me about what it is He wants me to say and do. 
  •  Make rehearsal part of the preparation. 
    • Looking back, the thing that bothered me the most was that I did not get to rehearse the material, even when it wasn’t only half complete.  I have learned in Toastmasters to rehearse areas of vocal emphasis, body language, change in tone, etc. I never got to go over this, because I was so focused on preparing that I never made time to rehearse! In the future, I will expect an outline 2 weeks in advance, “meat” 1 week in advance, and rehearsal 3-5 days in advance.  Oh, and I will print my speech 3 days in advance at the latest. Tehe.  Speaking of printing…
  • I need to invest in a tablet.
    • I have been testing out products, but I have not made the financial commitment in my mind. (I understand that a Samsung Galaxy 10.1 Tablet is a good investment for $400, but that’s a loooot of money to spend at one time, especially when I can [hopefully] print).  I know as my business and brand develop, I’ll need one, so I’m moving it up the priority list.  In the meantime, if any of my awesome readers wants to contribute to an up-and-coming professional speaker….I’m just saying. 🙂  
  • I like it better when my friends, or at least familiar faces, sit up front. 
    It was good to see my Sorority sisters and friends
    in the audience.
    • There were a number of reserved seats up front, so my friends ended up sitting in the back.  I could barely see them. I didn’t realize how dependent I am on the facial expressions of people I know, to help me assess the flow of the speech–am I speaking too fast?  Am I on point or as dull as a kitchen knife? Their faces also encourage me and help me do well. 
    • Sub-point: Never take your friends for granted. A number of them showed up simply because I was speaking. 
  • Even if it’s a banquet, eat beforehand.  
    • I barely ate my food, not even afterwards.  I spent the minutes right before my speech thinking about how hungry I was, because everyone else was eating. (I didn’t want to chance food flying out of my mouth, so I had them set my plate to the side). I know better now.  
  • Get the audience engaged.
    • I like to do this anyhow, but it is especially necessary when speaking to a crowd that just finished eating dinner! (By the way, did I mention how hungry I was? Oh, I did? Ok)…. 🙂
  • Let them laugh.  
    • I had a few jokes in my speech (I did the “Nae-Nae”.  I was literally inspired to learn it right before the speech.  I otherwise had no idea what it was. See point 3 under “How I prepare a speech”). However, I rushed the laughter afterwards.  My brain was already three or four sentences ahead of my verbal speech, because I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked.  I think time to rehearse would have helped here. I have to allow the audience to not only hear what I say, but to enjoy it as well. 
  • Blog about my experience.
    • A friend of mine non-nonchalantly mentioned this a couple days after the speech.  I told him a little of what happened, and he said, “…The funny part is that most of us go through similar situations, but we all think it only happens to us!  You should blog about it!” So here it is!

Here It Is!

I hope to do many more speaking presentations in the future.  In fact, I already have a few down for the next couple of months!  God is really cultivating this gift in me, and I can’t wait to see where He takes me!

Live Blessed!
~Dr. Asha

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