by Maribel Quezada Smith
In this personal essay, Maribel Quezada Smith shares her thoughts while attending and presenting at Podcast Movement for the first time.
I landed in Orlando after feeling terribly sick only a week before. If I’m being completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t committed to speaking at the event. You see it was way too late to cancel without causing chaos to all the people who worked so hard to organize Podcast Movement 2019 (PM19).
Eve of PM19
I welcomed the thick humid air as I arrived at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel. This was my first time in Florida since moving to Arizona eight months ago and my skin was very glad to feel the moisture again. Emotionally, however, I was kind of a mess. I was apprehensive to be at such a large conference without anyone to cling to for moral support. I didn’t know who I would talk to or meet. I felt like hiding in my hotel room which would be easier than conversing with strangers.
The first night I stayed up late rearranging my presentation, which, by the way, was only two days away. I didn’t like what I had crafted, and I was still figuring out how to make it more engaging. Call it a perfectionist-mindset or just plain fear, but I worried about two things happening when I hit the stage:
- No one would show up to my session, or
- I would be too nervous, completely off my game and everyone would hate me. That is, if (see number 1).
Late-night panicking meant very little sleep that night. Nevertheless, the next morning (Day One) I perked up for the first session of the day. Luckily, pastries and coffee in the speakers’ lounge made the three hour time change much more bearable.
PM19 Day One
During the second session of the day, I sat between two lovely people in the front row. That’s right, I’m now one of those “weird” people who unapologetically sits right next to you even though there are plenty of open seats in the room. I’m sure I made someone uncomfortable because I was uncomfortable. I haven’t always been this daring.
From the school bus in my teenage years to the DC metro in my twenties, and every other public location I’ve been in up until this August, I had always been a strict follower of the unspoken rule of seating arrangements: “When empty seats are available, take the one that best limits your contact with other human beings.” Once or twice in my early twenties, I dared to break this rule and received enough of a staredown that I never thought to try it again unless I found myself in a place where seating was at capacity, in which case it is public knowledge that the unspoken rule of seating arrangements can be broken. It’s an unspoken rule so I can’t quote the origin, but believe me, it’s real.
To be honest, I might not have broken this rule if there were more spaces available, but there was only one empty seat in the front row and I was determined to be up there and push through my discomfort, which ironically was the theme of my talk which I delivered a day later.
So there I was, proudly sitting in the front row of the room, listening to the panelists introduce themselves when suddenly… “WAAA!! WAAA!! WAAA!!” The fire alarm went off. The entire conference center emptied out into the courtyard and once again I found myself wondering around without a buddy. I began talking to those standing closest to me. Five minutes later I had remembered that talking to strangers was not so hard, and I felt a bit more at ease.
Thankfully, the session continued after the fire alarm was silenced and my first few hours at Podcast Movement 2019 gave me a taste of what a conference experience should be, an opportunity to learn and grow, in spite of our discomfort.
Once I accepted this mission, I continued pushing my boundaries of comfort throughout every moment of the day. During an afternoon session, I sat in the front row again and actively participated in the Q&A session, another thing I normally wouldn’t have done. This small act of bravery led to several people approaching me after the session to continue the discussion. I even made new friends because of that question!
By happy hour I was completely in the zone, no longer feeling uncomfortable about talking to new people. The company Simplecast sponsored that happy hour for people of color in podcasting, and I’m not sure if it was the wine or the vibe, but I felt like I was surrounded by individuals who were equally invested in creating meaningful content, just as I am.
The best part about Podcast Movement 19, (besides my session of course) was that no matter what area of the resort you found yourself in, you could always spot someone wearing that colorful PM badge which meant they were also there for the same reason. It was a great way to break the ice. Walking through the hotel foyer, having a drink at one of the many bars, or ordering takeout at a restaurant, you couldn’t get away from Podcast Movement. The feeling of camaraderie and collaboration kept me engaged and open to talking to people I had never met.
I skipped the party that night so I could go back to my room and rehearse my presentation. Hoping the nerves would subside through practice, I plugged my laptop into the hotel’s TV and pretended like I was actually on stage. I even used my presentation remote, so I could make sure the timing of the slides was on point.
PM19 Day Two
DAY TWO arrived with a blink of an eye. I ordered my breakfast the night before because I am not a morning person. The 7:15 am knock on the door aligned perfectly with my alarm. This small step helped me shift into a better headspace, I meditated and enjoyed breakfast in bed. Afterward, I ran through my presentation again, showered, dressed and off I went. Again, I can’t stress enough that this part of my day really set me up for success, I felt refreshed and confident.
I arrived for my session 25 minutes early to allow time for unexpected technical issues. Call me a pessimist, but as a producer, I have learned that there’s always something that has to be fixed or adjusted, so I plan accordingly. My session started at 10:15 a.m., and the best part was that neither of my fears came to reality! People did show up, and I did not make a fool of myself! Yes! I was still a little nervous, but I turned that feeling into energy and focused on the intention of my session, which was about getting out of our comfort zones to create meaningful content.
My favorite part of the day was the Q&A, after my session. I was able to see how my presentation made people feel and what they learned from it. I was there to provide value to my audience, and the Q&A session proved that I accomplished my task. I spent part of the afternoon walking through the expo, meeting more people, discussing podcast business trends, and enjoyed a delicious latte in the Spotify lounge area.
That night I was so exhausted that I couldn’t make it to the evening party. Instead, I relaxed by the pool and soaked in the hot tub before bed. I think half the reason I go to conferences is to experience the location and host hotel. I prefer it when everything is in the same vicinity, as it was during Podcast Movement 2019. I never had to leave the resort which was super convenient because I didn’t need to rent a car.
PM19 Day Three
By day three, I had plenty of people to talk to and hang out with in-between sessions and I continued to sit in the front rows and kept asking questions.
Overall, I felt a sense of accomplishment and growth in a short period of time. After the closing keynotes with Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods from Ear Hustle, followed by Guy Raz and Reza Aslan, I said goodbye to my new friends and Orlando, but not before I made a quick stop by the giant microphone for a picture.
What’s my biggest takeaway from the conference?
My biggest lesson from Podcast Movement 2019 is to continue allowing myself to be uncomfortable, not just at conferences, but in life. Through discomfort, I’m not only able to grow but I also connect with people on a much more meaningful level. The initial discomfort I felt made my Podcast Movement experience totally worth it.
Tips for Podcast Movement
- Start by talking to those sitting or standing closest to you.
- Actively participate in Q&A sessions, you may make new friends because of it.
- If you’re speaking, get to your session early to allow time for unexpected technical issues.
- Lastly, through discomfort you can grow and connect with people on a much more meaningful level.
If you missed Maribel’s session, watch her full session and all the others at Podcast Movement 2019 here.
As an immigrant to the United States, Maribel spent the majority of her life confused about her cultural identity. Since moving away from her native country of Mexico, she felt like she had to “pick a cultural side” to be accepted, yet she could never fit in any ethnic molds. These experiences led Maribel to create the hashtag #LiveDiferente to inspire others to forgo societal expectations and live more purposeful authentic lives with an open heart to new experiences and ideas. Maribel’s mission with every episode of Diferente is to have conversations that are thought-inspiring and sometimes make people a little uncomfortable, in order to drive listeners to question their own biases and explore their potential for learning and growth.