by Melinda Gallo

Where I've been

While I write this post, I am on an airplane to Paris from Boston and by the time I post it, Iíll be in the CDG airport. I left for a business trip in the US at the end of September. During my flight from Florence to Paris, the sun was a bright red while it was setting to the West. I spent the night at an airport hotel and woke up early for a flight to San Francisco. I went to my French companyís office in San Jose for a week in preparation for a conference we were having in Boston. I was asked to go a few months ago and was very excited. My company has been holding these conferences for many years, and I used to attend them as a web/database developer. The last time was four years ago in Memphis.

When I was initially told that I was going to the conference, I knew that I would have to work it by possibly giving a session on the product Iím documenting. In the end, the session idea was abandoned, but I was asked to be the MC for the three-day main conference and on day for our second conference. Initially, I was flattered, but soon I realized how scared I was to stand up in front of 200-300 people. If my company had asked me last year, I wouldíve just said no, but I somehow felt I was ready for this challenge.

I think I have only given one oral presentation in my entire academic career, and I hated it. Since then, I have avoided at all cost speaking in front of an audience. When my boss asked me, I surprised myself by not hesitating in saying yes. It wasnít until later that evening that some fear set in. I worked through many of my fears around public speaking prior to leaving for the US, so by the time I was on the plane for San Francisco I felt ready.

During that first week in the US, I was busy working on a few projects and preparing myself emotionally for the conference. When we arrived in Boston, I felt ready and not too fearful, but I was a little nervous. Nothing was going to stop me, but I really wanted to do a good job for my company and my boss who trusted me with this job.

Last Wednesday, a week after my birthday, I walked on stage in front of 200 people including my colleagues and superiors. I welcomed people to the conference and introduced each person that was presenting.

Even though I had butterflies in my stomach at the beginning, I felt more comfortable on stage each time I got up. By the end of our first conference, I was feeling positive about being the MC. Our second conference was held on Saturday and with an additional 100 people in the crowd, I felt a twinge of nervousness ripple through me.

In the end, I did it and my colleagues said that I looked comfortable and spoke well. I enjoyed being the MC; however, I think that I need to improve my public speaking skills a bit more. As a writer, I found the experience interesting: it was another way for me to use my voice. I usually only use my voice through writing, so I felt as if my voice somehow expanded when I had to project it to a large crowd.

Our conference was in Boston, but I only visited the city upon my arrival last Sunday. I walked around, took a city tour bus, and visited the harbor by boat. I was especially lucky because it was warm and sunny. A couple of days last week, I didnít even go outside.

Running every day in the gym was how I kept my stress levels low. I wanted to write in my blog, but I knew that all I was thinking about was my public speaking. I was working a lot, preparing myself, and connecting with people at the conference. Even though I wrote for myself these past two weeks, I just wasnít in the mood to write for my blog. Besides that, I didnít have anything to say about Florence.

I was missing my husband, family, and friends in my beloved city. Every day, I looked fondly at the backsplash of my computer is a photo I took of the Ponte Vecchio. It wasnít until Saturday night when people were asking me about Florence that I pulled out one of my photos of Florence on my iPhone. It was a photo I took from the Iris Garden. The sun was piercing through a dark grey sky and the colors of the city were bright. In the picture, I could see the entire city with my favorite sights: the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Duomo. I couldnít believe that I had been away over two weeks and it felt as if I hadnít seen it in months. I couldnít recollect the sights, sounds, and smells of my beloved city. Suddenly, I felt a longing that I hadnít allowed myself to feel in a long time.

In a few hours, I will be back in Florence. All I can think of is walking around when I arrive. I want to reconnect with my beloved city. Even if I know that I will be jet lagged, I am determined to see as much of my beloved city as possible. I canít believe that I havenít looked out at the Arno in weeks to see it change throughout the day.

Iím so happy about my trip to the US, what I achieved, and all the connections I made with old friends and colleagues. I donít think the personal and professional results of this trip will sink in for a few more days. Even though I used to avoid public speaking before, I am looking forward to doing it again someday.

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