Wednesday, August 7, 2013

NABJ 13: Lessons Learned, Skills Acquired, Confidence Raised

So how do put NABJ 13 into words? The annual convention for the National Association of Black Journalists was incredible, inspiring and worth every dime spent. Last year's experience was eye-opening and felt like a goldfish swimming in a bigger tank. This year, I knew what to expect and my plan was stronger.

I asked more questions at panels and took chances to put myself out there. First panel was understanding the business of yourself and how to promote who you are. I signed up to give a 60-second pitch and even though I was nervous, I stood up, handled my business and got some great feedback.

As a bonus? I met a few folks from Los Angeles in the panel, including moderator Mark Luckie from Twitter. I also ran into a friend from last year who ended up becoming one of my closest partners in crime this year (what up Jasmine!). But that symbolized my convention - taking chances and seeing what you can learn from it.

Some more tidbits.
Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" might have been the theme song of the convention. Every reception or party I went saw the dance floor get hyped to it and I may or may not have seen the electric slide done to it.

The Sports Task Force Jam. This year I got to stay til the end and it was worth every minute. Worked up a good sweat and I'm glad my peers did too. Hands down, still the best party of the weekend.

The Talking Heads 2.0 panel (above) with Michael Smith, Jemele Hill, Gerrick Kennedy (my dude from the LA Times) and Arienne Thompson (USA Today) was one of the most relaxed panels I've been to. And by relaxed, I meant folks were comfortable to be themselves. That's all I'll say.

Jemele was also a gracious host during the convention. As a former sports columnist in Orlando, she was front and center at most of the events. I had the chance to meet her several times after one of my mentors, Michael Tillery, introduced us on Twitter and I was very happy to pick her brain/feel welcomed.

Seeing Disney World? Nice but honestly, having grown on Disneyland, it was just a bigger version of the same thing. Hollywood Studios was nice though as we had our opening reception there. Oh, and I met some royalty. Jealous?

The heat/humidity wasn't so bad. Maybe it's because I stayed indoors most of the time and dealt with rooms with full on AC. But when I did step outside, it was sauna-esque. Made me regret not having any shorts, a lesson that one of my mentors, Mike Terry, imparted on me the minute I got there.

The Gaylord Palms Resort might be the most beautiful hotel I've ever seen. I was in awe of the waterfalls, the gator area and the beautiful patio. But the flipside? You couldn't just walk anywhere and the taxi prices to places were ridiculous. So when there wasn't free food at a panel - and it's a must you seek it out anywhere you can - I had to fork over a lot of money for food.

(Photo by Evan Barnes)
That said? Wrecker's Sports Bar was the spot. As much as it cost, it was well portioned. I ate at least 3 meals there and used it for pow-wows with folks like Jonathan Abrams (Grantland). Abrams, one of my favorite writers, was gracious enough to have lunch with me before his panel and I picked his brain on writing features and how to gather info/when to interview.

Speaking of which, best advice I got? Hard to say because I got so many nuggets. Here's a sample
- "Focus on covering sports from a Los Angeles angle" Marc Spears, Yahoo
- "Make your videos 2-4 minutes at most" (Perhaps the most crucial)
- "Get to the point in your videos and use it to direct folks to your written work" Dr. Tim Tooten
- "Get better at being you", "Hit a few points well instead of many points good," "Screw up and learn from it" Michael Smith, ESPN
- For videos, "Slow down, make eye contact because video amplifies when you don't" JA Adande, ESPN
- "What have you got to lose not doing the same old stuff?" Bomani Jones, ESPN.

And that's just a sample. The NABJ Convention is like a gold mine where all you have to do is dig. It's what you make of it. Last year, I got some great advice and this year I built on that by stepping out more to find more gold. It's a place where famous faces become just faces and people you see as peers who can help you because they once needed it themselves.

Morgan Campbell from the Toronto Star is just one example of the down-to-Earthness of NABJ.
There's a lot more I could say about the trip. But I'll end with the thing I gained most: Confidence to build on what I already had. I put myself out there to meet people, ask for what I needed and I came back feeling better about my future.  I also met great young journalists that I look forward to building with down the road.

I took chances asking more questions in panels and the job fair and I was rewarded. I got several job leads, an interview on the spot at one booth that went really well and thanks to the Sports Task Force, I met several folks who will probably become better mentors down the road.

That mentality even paid off on the last day. I went to Disney World solo and I ended up hanging with NBC10 Philadelphia social media editor Sarah Glover and social media/travel guru Kiratiana Freelon, who I've followed for three years on Twitter and got help for a story I did on the 2010 Winter Games on Black Olympic medalists.

People asked me if I missed Florida and I said no because now the real work begins. There will be some changes made to the EB Sports Report and I'm committed to making my videos look better than they did last year. I'm letting go of more fear and relying on faith and preparation to do all I can, even if it's out of my comfort zone.

But seriously, this place was too beautiful. (Photo by Evan Barnes)
The work to apply what I learned and use the new resources/connections to recharge my job hunt and refocus I've already put in motion. The fun at NABJ was just a bonus to the goodness that I look forward to in Boston next year.

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