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You never know where an opportunity will come from, and that includes a snowstorm.  It was just after 2pm on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013. In preparation for the impending “snowmageddon” I sent emails to rearrange my Thursday appointments to the following week. The phone rang. Stacey with the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association was calling me in a panic. Stacey and I had met through the KC Meeting Industry Council, and now she was asking if I could be of assistance to her client, the National Association of College Stores (NACS), who organized the CAMEX Conference.

CAMEX had just gotten underway. It’s a huge conference spanning six days with 3000+ attendees, over 100 tradeshow exhibitors and 49 speakers for the various keynote, breakout and thought leader sessions. The majority of attendees had already arrived, but some of the speakers weren’t scheduled to be in till Thursday. Five phone calls with five different people from NACS followed in the next hour. It was one of those ‘we think we may need your help, but won’t know for sure till tomorrow’ kind of things.

Just as the media predicted, snowmageddon hit Kansas City on Thursday a little after 8am. With record snowfall in just a few hours the city was paralyzed, including the airport. News channels were telling everyone to stay home until road crews could get on top of the situation. The storm affected the entire region, and a state of emergency was declared by the Governors of Kansas and Missouri.

Even though I was still in a holding pattern for CAMEX, I decided to get up to speed just in case. While reading through the program agenda I discovered Simon T. Bailey was scheduled to speak for a Thought Leader Session on Friday morning. His session was titled: Unleash Your Brilliance. Simon is one of the top speakers in NSA, and he also happens to be a friend of mine so I sent him a text, “Noticed you’re speaking for CAMEX on Friday. Safe travels and hope to see you while you’re in town!”  A few minutes later he text me back, “OMG I need to talk to you!” In the phone call that followed I learned Simon had a speaking engagement in LA on Wednesday so he couldn’t take an earlier flight to Kansas City. He was at the LA airport and I was at my computer trying to find an alternate form of transportation for him including Amtrack, snowmobile and sled dog….with no luck. Thanks to the storm this would be the first time in his career that Simon wasn’t able to make a speaking engagement.

The official call came at 5:45pm Thursday night, and I was asked to take Simon’s place for his Thought Leader session at 8:30 Friday morning. Typically conference organizers have weeks to research speakers to make sure they’re the right fit for their event. In this situation, CAMEX had a few minutes to check out my website and take Simon’s word that my program would be an ideal replacement for his.  When I speak at a conference I’m booked months in advance, and have plenty of time to research and customize a talk specifically for my client’s needs, not hours. This was truly a crazy situation for all involved! It was my choice to seize the opportunity and figure out a way to make it work.

I had three goals to accomplish in the next 12 hours:

  1. Overcome my own mindset about the idea of stepping in for Simon
  2. Deal with the weather and any other obstacles that presented themselves
  3. Do my absolute best to deliver on the referral Stacey had given me

After a few OMG’s, reality hit me that I was really stepping in for THE Simon T. Bailey.

I sent Simon a text that evening, “It’s going to be hard to fill your shoes.” His reply, “You are not filling my shoes. You are stepping into the moment to be your brilliant self. They will love you. This was supposed to happen. They were supposed to experience YOU.” Just like Cher slapping Nicolas Cage in the movie Moonstruck and saying “snap out of it”, Simon had text me a loving slap to shift my mindset.

Even though I speak professionally, having little time to prepare made me anxious so thoughts about the program swirled in my head all night long. With just a few hours sleep, I arrived at the convention center only to be greeted by a rumbling noise in the ceiling above. Before every program I pray for the insight the audience needs to hear. In this situation I prayed for insight AND noise reduction. The rumbling came and went the entire time I spoke. Due to the storm there were just over 100 in attendance instead of the 300 expected. On the fly I shifted my program to be much more interactive than usual. The audience took the noise in stride and had a blast. Later I learned that the tunnel where the trade show booths were being wheeled in was above us.

Ultimately the CAMEX organizers were thrilled that I was willing to jump in last minute to help them. As a past-president for the Kansas City Chapter of the National Speakers Association, I helped organized events and know how stressful it can be. No matter if it’s a keynote, half-day workshop or private coaching session, I partner with my clients to ensure they’re getting the results they desire. The initial audience evaluations were great, and that reflected well on the conference organizers, including Stacey who initially referred me.

Think back to the last time you were presented with an opportunity that seemed just a little out of reach for where you are in your business. Did you jump at the chance or find an excuse to pass it up? What could you do to help you prepare for future opportunities? Remember, circumstances aren’t always ideal. The key is shifting your mindset to be open and flexible no matter what’s thrown at you. And finally……just take the leap!