What Does It Feel Like to Be a Voice of the Year? 3 Past Presenters Share Their Answers
We are so happy, so excited to see your submissions for Voices of the Year (VOTY) and Photos of the Year (PhOTY) come rolling in. Seeing you submit your own work or the work of your fellow bloggers is inspiring. But I know how big and scary it can feel to submit your own work -- or to learn your work has been submitted by someone else. Maybe you don't even know what to expect from the process. Maybe you're just scared to raise your hand and say, "Yes, I'd like to be up on that stage, too." It's okay to feel that way, but I thought I'd help out just a little bit!
I figured who best to speak about the Voices of the Year process -- and the thoughts and fears and the awesome surrounding it -- than previous VOTY presenters. They've submitted their work or been submitted. They've been surprised by their win. They've stood on stage and stared out at an audience. And they've lived to tell about it!
This week we are featuring three previous VOTY winners from the years 2009, 2011, and 2013. (Next week, we'll feature three presenters from the even years!) Melissa Ford of Stirrup Queens (@stirrupqueen) presented in 2009 with her post, Updating the Donation Room Porn. Jenni Chiu of Mommy Nani Boo Boo presented in the humor category in 2011 with her post, I'm Pretty Sure AT&T Is Responsible for Many Deaths. Casey Carey-Brown of Life with Roozle presented in I Got Saved at Jesus Camp.
I asked each speaker the same (four?) questions about their VOTY experience so you can see the varied and individual experience -- and the threads of similarity that weave through their stories. Sometimes they couldn't remember or didn't have an answer, and I like that even more as it speaks to that individual experience of what really sticks out to each honoree!
First up, I asked them if they presented their own work or if someone else submitted. I asked this because I know people struggle with submitting their own pieces. Neither way is the right way!
Melissa: I really don't remember. I may have submitted it. Someone else may have. I really can't remember what happened.
Jenni: I submitted my own post for VOTY. I was fairly new to the BlogHer community at that time, and I think I had only been blogging a year and a half. I don't think anyone else in the community was even reading my blog, much less submitting any of my work. It was one of the best things I've ever done for myself.
Casey: Alexandra from Good Day, Regular People submitted my post for me.
Next I asked what they felt when they learned they were going to be presenting at the conference. VOTY announcement day is a big day, with hub-bub on twitter as everyone awaits the post to go live on BlogHer.com.
Melissa: I was blown away and a little bit nervous. I used to be a lecturer at a college, so I was accustomed to speaking to a 400-person lecture hall. And really, several thousand vs. several hundred, it all sort of feels the same when you're on the stage. So it wasn't that. I guess I was nervous about stepping into the event and becoming part of its history. It felt weighty to be part of the group. I knew that for years to come, my voice, my words, would be part of this community project.
Jenni: I thought maybe I was sleepy and didn't read the email correctly... after I read it the fifth time, I became beyond thrilled and peed my pants a little. I was seven months pregnant at the time, though - I had a pantyliner on.
I then asked them the question everyone wants to know about being a Voice of the Year: How did you feel during the presentation?
Melissa: I knew that I was wearing the garters from the story, and my plan was to slide my skirt up a bit to reveal them when I got to that part in the piece. All I was doing was showing my leg, but I'm a fairly modest person, and once I was in the moment, I started asking myself, "what were you thinking?" And yet I went with it. And I'm glad I did because it was funny, and it made me feel bonded to everyone in that room. Like we were all now part of that story.
Jenni: It was my first conference so the whole weekend was kind of electric and hazy. I actually felt total panic about five minutes before I was about to go up. When I actually did step out on that stage though, I immediately felt at home. The Voices of the Year audience is the best audience in the world. I looked out at those faces and it wasn't me presenting to them - it was absolute give and take. Bloggers like words - reading them and hearing them. It was thrilling and comforting at the same time.
Casey: My piece was about four minutes long. I don't know what I've ever thought so much in four minutes in my life. Why is my knee shaking? I still have two minutes left. I need my knee to stop shaking. OMG Queen Latifah is listening to me read this right now. Oh no. I'm about to drop the F word. Have I ever said the F word to thousands of people before? Oh. I've never said any words to thousands of people before. I can't see anyone. I'm so glad I can't see anyone. Am I going too fast? I need to slow down. I always need to slow down. This rules. Omg this is terrifying. But it rules.
Lastly, I asked these three awesome women about the after. I watch our presenters every year at the reception and party after the Community Keynote, and people flock to them. They handle it so well!
Melissa: I already try to meet as many people at the conference as possible each year, plopping down next to people and starting up a conversation. So that year wasn't different per se. But people definitely recognized me and came up to me. So it was less of the organic, we-happen-to-be-sitting-next-to-each-other questions and more seeking out each other. I really loved being backstage and talking with the other presenters.
Jenni: I don't know if this happens every year backstage, but in 2011 every speaker lined up backstage and smothered whomever had just finished reading with hugs. It was a receiving line of sorts -- one by one every speaker who was done squeezed you, praised you, and pretty much cried because they had just experienced the same amazing moment minutes before. I remember every single one of the honorees that were backstage with me and I read their words often online. There were a couple lasting friendships made... but I have lasting adoration for all of them.
That experience totally juiced me for the following year of blogging and impressed upon me the power of sharing our words. Years later, I've met people who were in that audience and remember my piece. It blows me away.
I've vowed never to miss a VOTY keynote if I'm attending the conference... I haven't yet!
Casey: I walked off stage and immediately looked at my phone. The first thing I saw was a DM from Momo that said "FUCK YEAH." That was my favorite. Because my piece was about the Christian church kicking me out after I came out as gay, I spent the rest of the conference talking with people of all different faith backgrounds. They told me their stories. They apologized on behalf of the church. This experience was in some ways so much more powerful than the reading itself. With blogging, there are more people who love and support than those who hate. The haters are just sometimes louder. This time, the love was so much louder. The church still has a lot of work to do, but for the first time, I had hope. Change is coming. Change is here. At one point, with @phdinparenting's help, I started asking for the business card of everyone who approached me to talk about my piece so I could connect with them later. I am now friends with many of them and have spent the past year getting to know them and their stories. It rules.
I want to thank these three past Voices of the Year for their time, for sharing their experiences with us. And then I want YOU to go submit something -- your own post or photo or someone else's -- for Voices of the Year or Photos of the Year. Right now. You got this.
See you next week with more!