Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday in the Park: Speaking at the SWE Picnic

Yesterday started out a long drive - San Jose to Sacramento to be precise. Because I am perpetually worried about being late I left for the three hour drive (there's always traffic everyone says) at about 8:15 - assuming I would arrive in the park at 11:30 - plenty of time to figure out where the picnic I was the featured speaker at was. And the fact that it was Easter weekend was also lurking in the back of my mind - would the whole world have taken a three day weekend - and if yes which three days. From the moment I left my driveway to the time I got to the park the only time I stopped was at the single toll I encountered. I never even hit a red light. So there I was in the park an hour earlier than planned.

McKinley Park in Sacramento is really just lovely, their only flaw is a complete lack of a parking lot. Which on most days was probably not a problem but the fact that the park was hosting a Pancake breakfast, a massive easter egg hunt and about 20 other smaller events did not help. However, after circling the park 4 times I finally figured out that you could only park on one side of the street, changed direction and managed to locate a space not far from the picnic location - the tables near the tennis courts. It was such a pretty day I walked around the park enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine and the people watching. I settled near the tennis courts and reviewed my speakers notes, envisioning how I would be working with the audience and enjoyed the vigorous games of tennis that were taking place. Better than Forest Lawn.

Around 11:30 I called Allison, my contact, to see where exactly the picnic was taking place and settled in our section - Area 1. I had been watching with some consternation the setting up of a large bouncy house with an extremely loud engine/pump thing that was inflating it. I found myself praying that this would not be running the entire picnic. My prayers were not answered- that darned engine ran the entire picnic and straight through my talk - my voice is a wreck today.

Anyway, Allison arrived and we set up what we had available and settled into people watch and wait for everyone and the food to arrive. We were thrilled to literally see the Easter Bunny hopping down the trail towards us - but he was derailed by a group of small children. Definitely a classic moment. More on him later.
The group arrived and we all ate the lovely picnic lunch. I was fed first since I was speaking during dessert. The group I was speaking to was the Sacramento chapter of SWE - Society of Women Engineers. We had about 20 people - including several children, students from area colleges and several professional women. Everyone had a great deal of interest in our topic - The Imposter Syndrome.

The talk went really well. I spoke about the Anita Borg Institute and the Grace Hopper Celebration. Our initial exercise had everyone standing up and sitting down as a read a set of conditions - you had to stand up if you matched the condition - i.e. you have children, you're over 40, you've ever felt that you were unqualified for your role. I think it was a great icebreaker (cheers to Kim McLeod who taught me that icebreaker method) - each time people stood up they looked around to see who was like them - and it drew some big smiles.

I talked for a while about the Imposter Syndrome, what it is, what the "symptoms" are, and ways to overcome it. I was glad everyone was so focused on me, though I was momentarily distracted when I saw the Easter Bunny run by on the trail midway through my talk. Not something you see when you're inside HP speaking. Then we did a breakout session where they broke into groups and discussed ways they would overcome specific situations. The groups did a great deal of talking, then we all came back together and shared our experiences. Each team did a great job presenting and had really well thought out answers.

We did a general Q&A session and then everyone turned to the most important work of eating desserts. Yes, I went off my diet and had an Easter Cupcake. Finally I said farewell and headed home. It was a great group that was very open and shared a lot of their feelings and insights on the concept of the Imposter Syndrome.

I was able to stop by and see Kim and take a break from my journey on the way home. I was exhausted and having dinner with her and relaxing a bit was just what I needed before making that final push to get home. All in all a great day in the Park. Now if I could just have gotten one of the engineers to sabotage the engine of that darned bouncy house.

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