My crazy journey from obscurity to a regular on the credit union conference speaking circuit

If we knew each other in high school and happened to bump into one another today, there is no way that you would believe me if I told you that in the past four months I had spoken at 10 conferences all over North America.

Growing up, I barely said a word in front of people I didn't know for fear of embarrassment. I was extremely shy. I've had to overcome this fear since starting my own business 18 years ago, but the act of public speaking has always ranked very high on my list of least-favourite activities in life.

But something happened 18-months ago. I began to follow blogs and to blog myself. My reasons to start blogging were simple:

  • I wanted to raise our company's profile outside of British Columbia
  • I wanted to enter into a dialogue about credit union branding and marketing with other like-minded people
  • I wanted to understand this new social media thing

Through blogging I connected with an incredible group of credit union advocates online and slowly began to get Currency known outside of Canada.

How did I go from hiding behind a keyboard to not hiding behind anything on stage?

My big speaking break came when I read Trey Reeme's May 15, 2007 post on Open Source CU. Buried in the bullet points was an invitation to be a guest speaker at the 2007 FORUM Solutions/Trabian Partnership Symposium.

You can be a speaker, too. We’re holding open auditions here on OSCU for a speaker slot. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never addressed an audience before or if you’re as seasoned as Chris Farley in a van down by the river. Submit your auditions in any format you’d like – text, audio, video – but were it me, I’d record a video about what I’d like to present, upload it to YouTube, and post the HTML for the video as a comment to this post.

I had never done anything like this before, but for some reason I was compelled to act. Three days later, I posted my silly application video to YouTube. Ironically, we had proposed the same type of video contest to Common Wealth Credit Union six months earlier in November 2006. I think, subconsciously, I wanted to see how this would work in practice.

I was chosen, I spoke reasonably well at the Symposium and I thought to myself, "Hey, I think I can actually do this speaking thing."

In January 2008, I put a speaking package together and I contacted veteran credit union speakers Shari Storm, Doug True and Denise Wymore for some advice. Each suggested that I talk to Christopher Stevenson from CUES. Meanwhile, a very talented young woman in a green room in the rural town of St. Albert, Alberta started creating some of the best Internet content that the credit union world had ever seen.

The timing was impeccable. Dumb luck? Karma? I don't know, but all of a sudden I was guilty by association to Young & Free Alberta and Larissa Walkiw. I was pegged as the poster child for credit union social media and Generation Y marketing.

How the &^%@ does this happen?

Since February 25, 2008, I have been flown to Ottawa, to Houston, to San Antonio, to Toronto, to Steamboat Springs, to Cancun, to Chicago twice and to New York City three times! All to speak about a mix of traditional and non-traditional marketing strategies including social media, branding and Generation Y marketing for small and large credit unions.

Here are my mega-travel stats over the past four months:

  • 34 days away from home
  • 31 flights covering 46,251 miles
  • 92 hours in the air
  • 84 hours sitting in airports (including check-in, lay-overs and delays)
  • 1 upgrade to first-class
  • 9,536 kg CO2 added to the environment*

To some, this amount of travel might be old hat, but to me it has been overwhelming. I didn't even have a passport until last September. A total of seven 24-hour days in airports and airplanes—are you kidding me? My staff, my clients and especially my family have been very supportive as I ride my 15 minutes of credit union fame.

Why am I telling you this story?

Partly to thank everyone for their support, patience and belief in me. Partly to apologize for dumb Twitter tweets like, "Here I am in another airport waiting for a delayed flight." Partly to document this ridiculous rise from obscurity. But mostly, to tell you that if you shoot to overcome a personal fear and really believe in something, who knows what can happen.

Here's to blogging and to the tremendous community of great people in and around the credit union movement!

And while I am documenting this, I need to tell myself to smile more during my presentations! I am also glad to be home for awhile. I have one more speaking date in July and then I am home for a couple of months. Thank goodness.


P.S. Head over to FORUM Solutions right now and cast your vote for the 2008 Partnership Symposium wild-card speaker. Whoever wins could see themselves racking up some serious Air Miles in 2009!

*P.P.S. William, I got your link and am looking at ways to offset my out-of-control carbon footprint.

Wow. An actual brand-spanking-new credit union is being formed in Canada!

Shout out: You belong at Premier