Sidestepping the Leap-Frog: Interview with Karen Thomas

“Don’t ever intentionally dim your light.” – Karen Thomas

Karen Thomas, certified broadcast meteorologist, has had over 30 years of experience working with companies like NBC 10 and Fox 29 in the Philadelphia and Harrisburg area. She is currently the business owner of Presentations Now, LLC, where she coaches students and young professionals on how to find their own voice. In this interview, she discusses her journey breaking into the television industry after her undergraduate years and how that sparked the creation of her own consulting firm. 

Q: Can you give us an overview of your background?

“In 1990, I graduated my undergrad as a radio and TV film major, as well as a minor in journalism, but I knew from the age of seven that I was going to pursue a career in television news broadcasts. Despite not having a meteorology degree, I started out doing weather at a small NJ cable station, and if I didn’t have to report anything, I was writing for other reporters. 

My ultimate goal was to get into the Philadelphia market, which is when I entered Fox and decided to pursue weather again–anchoring forecasts on the news during the weekends and weather reports out in the field. After my third daughter was born, I deceived to leave full-time and work part-time. That’s when I joined NBC 10 since they had an opening that was more flexible to work around with on the weekends. Since then, I have been at QVC and the Shopping Choice in Canada with an exclusive vendor.

On the side, I started my own consulting firm 8 years ago called Presentations Now, LLC. Throughout the years I’m seeing how crucial critical presenting is as a hard skill, and also teaching young audiences that their voice not only has value but needs to be heard. This work inspired me to pursue a master’s in organizational and strategic leadership, which is where I’ve tapped into my qualitative research with students in the younger demographic. These findings are what I still bring with me to my career today especially as digital environments permeate more and more into our everyday living.”

Q: Any tips on gaining confidence and finding your own voice?

“The first idea that any of us would have is practice, but don’t forget–when we’re trying to build confidence, you need the right mindsight. The minute a person embraces, understands, and accepts that being a strong presenter is a practiced skill is when they figure out it’s just like a math equation. You realize, ‘oh! [confidence] isn’t a god-given Whitney Houston voice…I can learn this’. It’s a learned skill, and being able to rely on that is extremely powerful.

After that recognition, it’s important to be willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable. It’s not something everybody thinks about when we’re speaking to an audience, especially a live audience where there’s no edits, no cutting, no stopping, no redos. Oftentimes, the vulnerability chip is what overloads the nervous system and gets people really scared. The key there is to learn to be aware that you’re vulnerable. Whether it’s sweaty palms, sweat beads on the upper lip, shaky knee–don’t suppress it, don’t hide it, don’t rage against it while you’re in the presentation. 

Instead, you release it and become aware of it, which is major because what you’re doing now is overcompensating: an overreacted nervous system in the moment you need it. By being aware, vulnerable, and comfortable with these extra senses, you can control it a bit better and gain confidence over time.”

Q: Can you explain the leap-frog effect?

“Imagine you’re sitting in a classroom. The professor is lecturing and asks a follow-up question to make sure everybody’s still on target. The class starts thinking, and the person who sat in the back in the room knows the answer, perhaps crafting a brilliant response. However, there’s somebody in the classroom that is behind them. They’re competitive–they just want to be first–and they raise their hand. This is a room full of people where the professor is pressing for an answer: the task at hand is really to stand up and give this dissertation immediately. However, it’s the person who is behind the first student–who is just confident enough–that gives an answer (not near as brilliant). The student with the brilliant response could have changed and affected that entire moment, and most importantly for himself or herself, but chose to stay quiet. 

Confidence is not a soft skill–it can be lifechanging. We get leapfrogged, not by having the better answer, but by the person who could find their voice. I believe leapfrogging is unnecessary. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from the student who is more confident in delivery, but I never ever want that other person left out in silence by their own fear, kept quiet because they didn’t or got leapfrogged. Every voice deserves to be heard.”

Q: What is the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“I was so eager as I just recently graduated senior in my undergrad that I was so ambitious. This wasn’t a bad thing especially in broadcasts, where I thought I was doing myself a service by casting a broad net and talking with as many people in the business that I could possibly talk to. One time, I spoke with a news director who was also a hiring agent in television broadcast and she told me ‘Don’t glam it up for the interviews or for your demo reel. Try to bring it down a notch and tone down the glamour. Don’t come across too smart. Really play their game.’ I think it was meant to give me a leg up maybe 31 years ago, which was the time of Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer when women dressed like the male anchors in dark suits, but it is really misconstrued just to play their game and diminish your own independent voice.”

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d like to leave readers with?

“Don’t ever intentionally dim your light. That’s why I love the work I do because we can find the voice in each and every person and bring that light out. If you like glamour, go glamour. If you enjoy heavy duty rhetorical reading, it’s a part of who you are. Be your authentic self. Don’t try to change any part of a core of the nucleus of who you are because it’s that authenticity that is going to make it right for your journey. The life that we all have is as unique as a thumbprint. You have to let it shine and brighten it as best you can. Show up with all your gifts.”

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