From Stage Fright to Center Stage – Making the Most of Membership

By Tom Christensen, Communications Specialist, County of San Diego

When I first encountered CAPIO, I was nearly 10 years into the California portion of my career. I don’t even remember exactly how I got involved or who told me about CAPIO.

I had spent numerous years in Minnesota as a radio host, newspaper reporter and government communicator before I moved to San Diego. I had never been involved in any professional organizations like CAPIO.

Even after all those years in communications, I still had a profound fear of public speaking. I much preferred putting other people in the spotlight. If you talk to someone outside of communications, they would probably be surprised that many communicators are introverts.

But if you think about it, it makes sense to a degree. We are the ones that put leaders in front of audiences and make sure they are in the spotlight and help them deliver important messages to our communities. We often stay in the background.

So, when someone first suggested I do a presentation at a CAPIO conference, I was petrified. I wasn’t yet a CAPIO member and as I mentioned, I wasn’t one to volunteer to speak in front of a group of people.

I had no idea what to expect, but I let myself get talked into it. I needed to conquer my fears and just do it. As I stepped up to the podium for my first conference presentation, I was shaking and thought I was going to pass out.

But I got through it. I even returned to the next conference to present again. Even today, after doing more than 100 presentations, I still am not completely over my fears, but I am confident enough that I can get through it.

Through my CAPIO journey, I went from presenting to 40-50 people in that first session to speaking to over 500 people at our recent conferences.

Without CAPIO, that would not have been possible.

After a couple of conference presentations, CAPIO legends like Krista Noonan, Christine Brainerd and Kristeen Farlow approached me and asked if I would serve on the conference committee and be in charge of the speaker and program committee. I was honored to be asked.

Eventually, I was convinced to run for the Board of Directors and now I’m President-Elect/Treasurer of this great organization.

Your experience with CAPIO can be whatever you make it. There are literally no limits on how beneficial your involvement is both professionally and personally.

Something as simple as posting and replying in the CAPIO member forums (on Facebook or our website) can help you make connections or establish yourself as an expert on a particular topic. Fellow members will appreciate your insights and willingness to help.

You can join a conference committee and help put on our legendary annual conferences. It’s a little bit of a time commitment but only for a few months of the year. You can help select the theme for the conference, plan fun social activities for conference-goers, or pick the sessions and keynote speakers.

We also have a Communications Committee. These members help develop educational articles for our bi-monthly newsletter, the Communicator.

If you have an area of expertise or have done a great campaign or event, you can share that with your fellow CAPIO members by presenting a webinar, being a presenter at one of our events like the Leadership Academy or Emergency Communications Academy or writing an article for our newsletter.

One of the cornerstones and biggest benefits of CAPIO is being able to network with colleagues. Attending things like a media tour, mixer or professional development offering is also a great way to get involved.

CAPIO also has a mentorship program. Depending on where you are in your career, becoming a mentee or agreeing to be a mentor is a rewarding experience.

CAPIOspeak is a new offering that has a primary focus on developing public speaking skills – another great way to network with fellow members while honing your skills in impromptu speaking, media interviews or presentations.

I guarantee however you choose to get involved, you will be welcomed warmly. And the skills, experience and networking opportunities you will experience with this community are unmatched in our industry.

It may sound cliché, but CAPIO truly is a family. Even as we’ve grown to 1,000-plus members we’ve been able to retain that close-knit community that has been a hallmark of this organization.

As one of your family members, I’m telling you that you won’t regret getting more involved with CAPIO.

To get more involved with a CAPIO committee, please email

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