It’s hard to describe faith. For me, it’s an inner calming sensation that pushes me to create new realities. That’s how I was last year — full of faith and naiveté, as I submitted my first-ever speaker proposal for the NRPA Annual Conference. I had been with Broward County Parks and Recreation for only six months, working as a Public Communications Specialist. And get this: I had never spoken in public before. Still, I was excited and ready to make my mark by sharing my message with Broward County Parks and the national parks and recreation community.
I remember rubbing the leaves of oak and beech trees as a preschooler at Captain Tilly Park in Queens, New York, and climbing the banyan tree after school at Gilchrest Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. My passion for parks continued to grow along with me as I became an adult — a wife and a mother — and I saw how the birds, bees, trees and other wildlife encouraged critical thinking in my children and myself.
It was around this time last year when my co-presenter and co-worker, Dr. John Pipoly, and I sat down and crafted “Living STEAM Laboratories: Adapting and Mitigating Climate Change,” a 90-minute session on how environmental education initiatives in parks can help make communities more resilient in the face of climate change. A few months later, to our surprise (and that of our whole department), we were selected to present at the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference in Baltimore.
I was shocked. I was surprised. I was elated. The feeling was comparable to getting a promotion or your parents telling you they’re proud of you — the kind of feeling that just can’t happen often enough.
So, for months, I prepared, coordinated meetings, gathered research, etc., to bring the presentation to life. We spent hours practicing, exchanging research, adjusting slides and more. When September 2019 came around, I wasn’t nervous or scared at all. The presentation had become a part of me, and I could do it with my eyes closed. My life experiences, professional experience, and faith allowed me to be where I am today, writing this blog encouraging YOU to submit your proposal.
A few minutes before Dr. John and I were set to present, I took a deep breath and had the last few months replay in my mind. I couldn’t believe how I went from rookie to expert in such a short time. In my heart, I always knew that I could speak publicly and that I was passionate about the environment and parks, but now everyone would know. I was happy that I persevered and had faith in myself to complete this mission for my agency and my family.
Throughout the process, I learned a few tips that I would like to share with any first-time speakers. Aside from believing in yourself, it’s important to solicit and accept input from others. Presenting with Dr. John was comforting, as he had presented hundreds of times at national and international conferences. He gave me tips on how to stand, how to move my hands, and how to summon up stage presence. Knowing he was on my team helped to keep me calm.
Having the support of my boss, co-workers and other agency members also really helped to keep me focused. While Dr. John and I were away presenting, our agency organized a watch party. It felt really good to know that our friends and family were rooting for us even though they couldn’t attend.
The 2019 NRPA Annual Conference is one that I will never forget. My first conference, my first public-speaking event and my first time visiting Baltimore. I met droves of people who are as passionate about parks as I am.
Ever since I was a preschooler rubbing those leaves at Captain Tilly Park, I have always said I wanted to change the world. After speaking at the NRPA Annual Conference, I believe I can. The opportunity strengthened me, gave life to my career and made my family proud. To new speakers, I wholeheartedly encourage you to ask yourself: Do you believe you can do it? Do you have faith in yourself? If the answer is yes, then I’ll see you in 2020 in Orlando.
NRPA accepted education session proposals for the 2020 NRPA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida until November 29, 2019.
Attiyya Atkins is Public Communications Specialist for Broward County Parks and Recreation.