More Than a Safety Pin

Sep 11, 2023

It was 6:30am on Thursday morning when I finally felt ready for my presentation. I had woken up extra-early, rehearsed one more time in my hotel room, worked out, and was ready to shower, get dressed, and head to the venue early.

I have done enough keynote speeches to know how to plan in advance. Between practicing, getting in a workout, and having packed the right clothes, I felt pretty confident I was ready.

I had certainly packed the proper outfit: black pants, a fun blouse, and my lucky high heels. Pants (not a dress) were necessary to be able to easily clip in the battery pack for my lavalier (microphone) securely. I packed my lucky high heels in my purse, and put on my comfy flip flops for the half-mile walk to the conference center.

Jessica, my business partner, was attending the day-long workshop with me. She knows I get nervous before a speech, and messaged me in my room at 6:45am to ask if I wanted to head out early.

I did.

I took one last opportunity before leaving my room to brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, and head to the lobby to meet Jessica.

I wasn’t rushing. In fact, I felt pretty calm and in control. But as I went to zip and button my black pants, I heard a small clinking noise. I looked down at the tile floor in my bathroom and saw a small metal object.

It was the zipper for my pants. The whole zipping mechanism had just broken off and fallen to the floor. What? These were brand new! 

I glanced down at where the zipper was supposed to be but it was gone. All I had was a wide open gap where my pants should have been securely fastened. Before panicking, I thought, "if I button them, I might be okay."

So I buttoned them. But the gaping hole was still there. I went over to the full-length mirror and checked. Luckily, my blouse covered the gap. But only if I kept my arms down and didn’t sway from side to side too much.

This was a wardrobe malfunction with no backup plan. Prior to this moment, I was proud to have packed light for my trip. This outfit was the only thing in my suitcase. No extra pants. No first aid kit to try to perform an emergency sewing job. This was it.

Jessica met me in the lobby and I shared my dilemma. We went right to the concierge counter. Thank goodness the concierge happened to have a huge box of safety pins in his top drawer. (Was my issue so common that a hotel would have a box of assorted safety pin readily available?)

I found two extra-large safety pins that looked like they’d be perfect to secure an old-fashioned cloth diaper. I excused myself, went to the lobby bathroom, and secured one pin from the inside, and one pin from the outside— doubling my chances of that gap not opening anytime soon. I felt secure enough to leave the hotel and walk to the meeting room.

My presentation wasn’t until 10am. I sat and listened to the speakers before me. I had some breakfast. I drank a bottle of water.

Then, of course, I had to go to the bathroom again.

I went into the stall, unfastened both pins, went to the bathroom, then attempted to re-fasten them. They were a little askew, but I managed to get them back into their places, one on the inside, one on the outside.

It was my turn to take the stage.

My speech was 45 minutes long. I must have been 10 minutes into it when I heard a little snap. The outside safety pin had come undone. I could see it poking through my pants and right through my blouse. Certainly, no one else could see it, right? That's what I told myself as I continued.

And I made sure to curb my enthusiasm, use fewer hand gestures, and try to stay relatively contained to center stage.

As I was sharing the final story of my talk, I heard the second pop. The internally-positioned safety pin had come undone. At this point, anytime I turned slightly to the left or to the right to address my audience, the inside pin gently poked me smack in the middle of my stomach. Over and over and over.

With one pin periodically poking me, and one pin sticking through my shirt, I mustered up the confidence to end my talk, field some questions, and exit the stage.

As the next speaker began presenting, I scooted to the bathroom (aka panic room) to remove both pins. By this time, they were so bent, they didn’t stand a chance of staying fastened. I tossed them both in the trash, carried my purse in front of me for safety, and took my seat. 

Have you ever had a moment of panic before an important presentation or event? Whether it was a wardrobe malfunction, a technology snafu, or something going totally unexpectedly? And of course, it would have been reasonable that you would have been thrown off your game

What did you do? Panic? Sweat? Cry? Summon some help?

And once you MacGyvered a solution, did your plan ultimately work out? Did you give your talk, present to your client with no technology, or figure out a work-around for your issue?

These things happen. Sometimes the plan is not the plan. And panicking is a totally valid response.

Panic first. But then let deep breathing be your next move.

When we are panicked or anxious, our "fight or flight" system — known as the sympathetic nervous system — is activated. This makes our heart race, our breathing fast and shallow, and can lead to an overall feeling of unease or dread.

I know you know the feeling I'm describing.

Deep breathing exercises help activate our parasympathetic nervous system. This system counteracts the "fight or flight" system, calms things down, and returns our body to a state of equilibrium.

When you take slow, deep breaths:

  • Oxygen supply to your brain increases, which can help with clarity and focus.

  • Heart rate slows down, reducing feelings of anxiety.

  • Blood pressure decreases, helping your body feel more at ease.

  • Muscle tension releases, further relaxing your body.

  • You redirect your focus from the source of panic to your breathing, which can act as a distraction and give your body a chance to settle.

In essence, deep breathing acts as a kind of "reset button," signaling to your body that the threat has passed and it's okay to calm down.

Five minutes before my talk, I actually did this while sitting in my seat. No one knew what I was doing. In fact, I looked like I was closely listening to the speaker, but really I was working to reduce my stress, pray my safety pins would do their job, and that my talk would go smoothly. For one minute, I did my deep breathing exercise.

The talk was a success. No credit to the safety pins. The deep breathing totally did the trick.

Next time you’re in a stressful situation, prepping for a big test, presenting to an important client, give deep breathing a try. Even for 60 seconds. I promise, it will calm you down. 

Because we all now know that when you’re in a stressful situation, sometimes you need more than a safety pin to help get it together.

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