Mary Ann Marzano is not your traditional speaker! Lots of talks, lots of interests, and lots to say about women in business, learning from mistakes, and her orphanage in Haiti. (Take the Mic podcast interview transcript.)
This is a transcript of my Take the Mic podcast interview with Mary Ann Marzano. Click to listen to the interview on iTunes (Ep. 6)
Note to readers: I'm experimenting with posting the transcripts of interviews from my podcast, Teke the Mic. Please forgive the imperfect formatting.
Cathy Welcome to episode number six of Take the Mic podcast. Take the mic is the podcast that highlights women who use their voice to change the world. You can now listen to us on iTunes and Stitcher and you could learn more about us at WomenSpeak Up.org .
A few years ago I ran into Mary Ann Marzano at a women's business networking meeting and she was being honored as (WBOA)businesswoman of the year, which is just a tiny reflection of how active she is in the community. But the coolest thing was that Mary Ann and I had gone to high school together. Although our high school class had million kids in it, so we didn't know each other so well, but it’s been great to reconnect. Mary Ann is a business owner and mentor to women, but she's also an impassioned speaker, and we even had the chance to give our TEDx talks together last fall. She is a speaker who talks about a lot of different topics - creating and funding and running an orphanage in Haiti and her work in Haiti, helping to support women, to name a few. Mary Ann is also going to talk about what she does in challenging speaking situations when she has to work with a translator and she's going to teach us a new word. So Mary Ann, welcome and tell us about yourself.
Mary Ann: Well, I'd say I'm pretty stereotypical: a married mother, grandmother. I've owned a small hair salon for many years. I have your typical hobbies, hiking or crochet, etc. I love to read. So all that is very traditional. But my other side (of being interested in so many different things) is something that I've struggled with but I have come to realize it's okay. One thing that helped was seeing a Ted talk about people who are “multipotentialites” who are people, who, once we learn about something or master something, lose interest in it. And I found that to be so true for me. For instance when I started my business, my hair salon, it's a struggle. You're working hard every minute to build your business. And I did it! But once we had some workers and it was buzzing along, I started to lose interest. But I knew I couldn’t stop my business. I've got this clientele. And so I found that I cut back my hours a little bit and I started doing things on the side, things I can learn about and master on the side and have a change without losing my income. So it gave me a very interesting life and actually even my customers like it because they'll come in and ask, “What are you doing now,” or “What are you interested in now?” “Where are you traveling to?” And I've learned a lot because I put myself in a lot of challenging situations.
Cathy So you call yourself a very average person, but I'm not sure are very traditional person. You've had a really successful business for many years, but you're always looking for something else. And can you tell us this word again that describes what you feel you are?
Mary Ann It’s really interesting, and if anybody's struggling with this they can find some validation in this talk. A multipotentialite is someone who is very interested and excited about something and once they start it they want to learn all about it. Another example is that when I learned how to ski, I was super excited about it, and once I became a really good skier, it started to be not so fun anymore. I had to go onto something else, so then I was really into working out which was great. But then just working out got boring. So I wanted to do something else. And through a long series of events I became a running coach, the leukemia society because they were putting on marathons and, and that was awesome. I got trained and I learned everything about running and nutrition and I did that for six, seven years and then I got tired of it. Once I master something, once I become successful at it, I tend to lose interest. It's more about the journey and learning and struggling that is attractive to us multipotentialites, but once it's easy, it's just not interesting anymore.
Cathy So how does this all relate to speaking?
Mary Ann First of all, I can never imagine not loving speaking because I do enjoy it so much. But I’m not really a traditional speaker. I've taken speaking courses and where you're told to have a target audience and then you get a reputation and you're asked to be a keynote speaker. So you are supposed to have those two, three, four keynote talks that you always give depending on if it's a woman's group or mixed group or any group. And that is what most successful speakers do. But that doesn't work for me because I have too many interests and my two or three talks that I've memorized after I've given them a couple times, I've got to shake them up because they start feeling dead to me, and I'm not as passionate about it, and I don't even want the same audience. So I love being in front of business women; I enjoy encouraging them and teaching them things I've learned through my business life. I've also spoken in mentoring groups in college. I loved the young kids and to encourage them with the story of my struggles. I made so many mistakes as a young person. I can't even begin to tell you, but I've had to dig my way through it and, but it didn't define me and I'm able, I'm still successful
And then I also speak regularly at the homeless shelter and I love my peeps at the homeless shelter. I'm there very regularly and try to help them understand they're not defined by their circumstances: they could still have dreams and goals. So I'm all over the place, but personally I have to be all over the place or I would sink into that literally almost a depression. And I know that sounds I'm being dramatic, but that's just what it is.
Cathy So you need variety in both your audience and your topic and it sounds like you want a little bit of challenge. You don't want to get to that point where you're so good at delivering the talk, you could do it in your sleep.
Mary Ann Right, and I actually enjoy the challenge of putting a talk together. Figuring out your main message, and how to really grab the audience. Then, how do I keep them interested and entertained, and how do you close it nice and tight and almost to the point where they still want a little more? It's a challenge to do all that and I love that challenge.
Cathy It seems to me you really love so much about speaking. Do you feel it was the thing to do that you were waiting for all your life?
Mary Ann Well it’s funny but I forgot about this until I was getting ready for this interview. I remembered how when I went to college, I took two semesters of speech and I loved it. I got A's, and I did a great job, but it never dawned on me back then to pursue it.
Mary Ann Of course I was so dysfunctional back then that I didn't even realize, hey, you can have a career where you do this kind of stuff. So then fast forward, many years ago, my friend's brother died. He was living in Florida and she didn't have a lot of immediate family here, so she was struggling with putting together a memorial service for him. I said I'll help. And I facilitated it. So I was talking about him and inviting other people to talk and everybody came up to me afterwards and said, wow, you did a great job, are you professional? And I was sorry that this was a sad, sad event, but yet I loved the speaking! And that's was part of my thinking that I Ioved this and I noticed that I come alive in front of people.
I began to wonder “How can I do this more?” And because I felt in my core I really want to speak more, and I put it out there on an almost spiritual level, just getting connected with that thing you can't see and saying I really want to speak more. And literally in two months when I really put out that initial ask, I was at the homeless shelter to support one of my friends because she was asked to do something and she was really nervous. I went to help her and something just kept drawing me back to the shelter, and I was asked to speak and next thing, I've been speaking there at least three times a month for years now. And I just love it.
So. And then that got me going, that gave me more confidence and then I start saying, wait a minute, I can speak in other areas too. And then I was part of a woman's business group and I thought: Oh hey, I can give a talk about woman in business. And then once they saw I did a good job, they asked me to speak at other things. It just start spreading like that.
Cathy It sounds you skipped the part about being freaked out or nervous about speaking and you came from a position of confidence. Is that right?
Mary AnnYes, and it would be hard for me to give nervous speakers encouragement because I don't even know what to say. Why can you be nervous? You don't want to talk? I'll talk for you!
Cathy Let me ask you, because I'm sure that every talk doesn't always go over perfectly. So that means that if a talk doesn't go well or some line doesn't go over, you're not obsessed or preoccupied with failure. You move on?
Mary Ann Yes. Because I haven't had a very long, career and I haven’t come to the point where I've made a huge mistake or my mind went totally blank. But I know that if I do make a mistake or mispronounce a word, I’ll just keep going and most people will forget it. And I have tried to do that because the second you start concentrating on that mistake, your mind just goes and you lose your momentum. And because I do feel comfortable so far, again, I haven't been overly challenged yet, I feel so comfortable that if I'd made a huge mistake, I would just joke about it and say, okay, let's move on. I hope I never get to the point where I beat myself up about it.
Cathy Moving on, that is great because for so many people who are nervous about speaking, they tend to really exaggerate or expand any mistake. They inflate the importance of small errors and think the audience notices everything. But what have you noticed about audiences? Do they notice your failures? No, right?
Mary Ann No, first of all, because the people are there to hear you talk. They want to. You're not forcing them. And people are kinder to us than we are to ourselves. Even if we made a big mistake.
Cathy Marianne you said you come alive when you're speaking to a group. Can you say more about why or what's happening in you that feel so enlivening?
Mary Ann I really can't say because that's the only way I can explain it. I stand up in front of people and I start talking and it's almost being an actor, I just want to pour out onto them. I just want to express my feelings and deliver my message. I think it’s a fate thing, or a faith thing, it’s a gift I was given that I'm meant to share. I also have a gift for finding a lesson in the littlest of things , so I can put together a talk about that or give somebody a metaphor about this lesson that I learned and I feel it's just a gift and it's meant to share.
And it’s like someone who is a musician, somebody who can play an instrument or sing. They weren't meant to just keep it in their living room. They were meant to share it, to bring beauty to the world. And so I feel I'm stepping into my destiny as I stand out there.
Cathy And I've seen you speak at least a couple of times and one was at a Tedx talk that we both did. And it was so wonderful talk. So you talked at homeless shelters, you talked to women in business entrepreneurs. Do you do any other talks?
Mary Ann I taught at colleges for mentoring programs and then another incredible experience I had was to go to Haiti and speak to women down there. Right after the earthquake, a year after the earthquake, which is about eight years now or so, I was just curious about what was happening down there. A church group was going down to Haiti and Haiti was in the news a lot because of the earthquake. They call it a third world country. So I was wondering, what is that all about? I need to check that out. If I hear about something and I’m interested, I just dive in without even thinking about it.
So I signed up with group headed on down there, and I was absolutely horrified. And plus I didn't like what we were doing. We were passing out food randomly and giving away stuff randomly and it just felt wrong. I wanted to support them in business or other ways. But, the things I saw, the inhumane living conditions, people regularly go without eating, naked children. I came home, and I was a mess and I said, I am never going back.
And I was in my room getting ready for work crying and again, I put it out there. I said, I am never going back unless I'm specifically called to do something. There's nothing I can do, but if there's a calling on my life, I will answer that calling. But thinking really, there will be no calling on my life. Just Mother Teresa's or Martin Luther King calling their life. Not Little Old Mary Ann, folks. But anyway, one day, about three months later, I get this feeling I can't explain pressing over me. “Go back to Haiti in the fall” and I was thinking, “what?” It came over me three times, and I said that I would. And again, a fate thing, whatever you want to call it.
Within a couple of weeks I went to this leadership training. I had been invited to meet a man who goes regularly to Haiti because he supports pastors down there. Pastors are the ones down there that are starting schools and feeding program. So the Haitian pastors need training and support. This man goes down several times a year and helps with leadership training and business training. They just support. Anyways, so I met him and I told him about this calling. I felt. He said, “well come on down. I'll get a hold of all the pastors. They'll get women together and you can give them talk.” So it's fabulous. So I did. And that was quite an experience, a humbling learning experience.
Cathy So these are women from pretty poor backgrounds, right? They are trying to maybe start enterprises or support others who are starting them or provide services to others. Is that what they're doing?
Mary Ann Well, the way you put it sounds very American! They don't really provide services because there is no providing services. Everybody is getting up everyday, scrounging out a living, whether they got together some bananas and they're selling them on the side of the road or whatever else they can do. They don't have supermarkets or CVS; they're slowly getting some medical clinics around, but many times people don't have the money to pay for that. I mean every day's a struggle and I just wanted to go down there in my American mind, say at the homeless shelter, we try to change people's mindset from that poverty to victory or defeat to victory. So I thought I could do that down there. Again, I say it's humbling because I made so many mistakes.
How dare I go down there and tell a woman who scraped together a living, hoping to feed their children at least once a day? I'm going to go down there and tell them what to do. But the real reason I was called down there became clear to me later. When I spoke, I needed an interpreter and I met a woman named Dada. She had been praying to get in front of other women to talk about sexual health. She called it sexual purity. We would call it safe sex, but there's no really safe sex there because condoms again, there's no CVS to go buy condoms.
It’s an urban legend that birth control is bad for you. So you have all these women, most of them single, who will have four, five, six kids and even married people who have all these kids, but then they die so frequently. Accidents and diarrhea can kill somebody there, so many times a woman might be married, with four or five kids, her husband just got a coconut fall on his head and he's dead, and now they're starving. There are no social services. So anyway, Dada had been wanting to get in front of these women to talk about birth control and also protecting yourself from AIDS and STDS which are rampant. So she wanted to talk to them about it and how to avoid it and how to take care of themselves. But the culture doesn't respect women so women might not listen to another Haitian woman. So they needed an American down there to get the women together, so she could get in front of them.
Cathy So in a way you, you were called to Haiti to speak, but really it was about helping someone else speak because they wouldn't have been there for her, but they'd gather for you. So you mentored another speaker?
Mary Ann Well she just spoke, but I gave her that opportunity. She was my interpreter officially but then she spoke too.
Cathy Tell us about this challenge of needing an interpreter because sometimes your audience does not speak the same language as you. Right. Which is a really scary thing
Mary Ann So again, again, I'm going to call it a coincidence. But, a couple of weeks before I was going to Haiti, I went to the homeless shelter and I just happened to be standing at the door. Men were pouring in and I could tell they were mostly Latino. I just sensed in my spirit that none of them
knew how to speak English, so I knew I was going to need an interpreter. So I went in the room, sat down, and when the, the man who facilitates these meetings started talking, somebody raised their hand and said, do you me to interpret it?
Mary Ann And so when I got up to give my talk, he interpreted for me and I realized it was so different from having a regular talk in your own language. When I do my talks I have my outline and I know the points I want to make and then I just go with it and I have my train of thought just carries me through it all now. So when I did that, it was very different because I had to say in a sentence, stop and let the interpreter say it. One mistake people make first of all is just to talk, just to keep talking and let the other person interpret. So I learned a that I couldn't just go with my train of thought, I had clear short, concise sentences and a very, very lateral talk. You couldn't jump around or follow a new train of thought. And then sometimes Americanisms sneak in that you don't realize.
Mary Ann So Dada and I and I did project in Haiti a few times just because you end up meeting people and they have projects, but then again I said I am never going back. I cannot help these people. So I stayed away for a couple of years but I stayed in contact with Dada. She had gotten a nursing degree and I had helped her with it, because I really trusted her and knew her heart.
Then she reached out to me. She had been taking in older kids that were aging out of orphanages and had really no other option but to live on the streets. She had met some that were scared so she took them in. But in going to the orphanage to pick up one of these girls, there was a mother out there with two little babies. er husband had died. They were starving, but the orphanage wouldn't take the babies because they were too sick, the mother was out there and as Dada was leaving, the mother ended up passing out and leaving these two babies, so Dada took them, which sounds crazy here because you'd be arrested in the US for that, but there everybody's got everybody else's kids. It's a different culture.
So she took the two kids home to nurse them back to health and when people heard that they started bringing her other sick children and so she reached out to me to help because now she couldn't be working as a nurse as much and because she had all these babies and girls to take care of it and would I help feed them? And so I said sure. And a couple of family members and friends also contributed and so we kind of limped along and I said, I can't just be sending money now. I don't know what's going on.
And when I went down there, oh man, there's people living in for tiny rooms. No running water, no electricity, sleeping on the floor. It was crazy. And again, I talked about all this in my TedX talk just about how I just stood there thought, “I can walk away and say sorry or I can just take this on.” I was about to turn sixty then and for the whole year leading up to that, I told myself, turning sixty is not getting old; it is a new beginning. It is a new time. I want something really life changing. I want to be involved in something that lets me be real change agent. I don't know what it's going to be. And so I was doing the speaking, I was doing blogging, I was doing youtube videos, I was doing all these new things? I didn’t really know where the orphanage was all coming from.
And again, that cosmic thing comes around, said Mary Ann, you wanted something life changing, you want it to be a change agent, do you want to change the lives of these kids? And so I said yes. And started a nonprofit and all these adorable kids that I just love so much. And
Cathy And what's the name of the nonprofit or the name of the orphanage?
Mary Ann The name of the nonprofit is Organic Change for Haiti, and the web site is Organic Change for Haiti.org. There is a donatebutton on if anybody's interested. And then I also have a Facebook page where I post photos and videos up and that's Organic Change for Haiti on Facebook.
Cathy What do you see the future for this orphanage? Do you want to keep doing it? Do you want to make it bigger? Do you want to get more or do you just want to handle the kids you have? Where do you see your future in terms of orphanage? And then I want to ask you about your future in terms of speaking.
Mary Ann Well, the orphanage, the kids are a lot of work Half of them are toddlers, so it's a lot of work for Dada. So not only do I have to raise money for food but, and the rent, but it's also to hire helpers and my big thing now is to get a couple more helpers. And also you have to pay for school there. So there's a lot. And so just even to get just these kids in a really good place where they have all the health and the food and all that is a big challenge. So it's still in the baby stages. One thing that Dada wants to do (because there's an orphanage on every corner in Haiti because of this lack of birth control) is to go around speaking to women as a nurse and telling them that birth control is good and it's okay and how to use it, how not to use it. And so she's asked me to help her do that. So once I think we get over the initial hump of getting enough help at the orphanage, that we can start a little speaking thing down there and start helping the woman so that they don’t have to have so many children.
Cathy Well I hope people will check out Organic Change for Haiti. Do you have other speaking dreams here in the United States?
Mary Ann I think because I dive in well and I'm not saying it's right all the time because I've made a lot of mistakes, but that's okay. Mistakes are good though and I've definitely learned from them. I see other people think too much about what they want to do. They want a change in their life and they want to advance in some way, but they're doing too much thinking, not enough doing. And I would just to encourage people and share the tools that have helped me learn through experience, and also lots of training and classes. I have this wealth of information and just to encourage and empower people because we need more change makers out. So I would really like to get more speaking done here, but , because I'm torn between the orphanage and doing what I need to do for speaking and then also still running my hair salon. So. But I am still passionate about that and I know it's all going to work out together. I really trust that.
Cathy That is amazing. So Mary Ann, it was so great to have you on Take the Mic today. I loved hearing about your average, but not average, traditional, but not traditional life, and I love what you said, especially learning about multipotentialites. Too much thinking and not enough doing. I love that.
Thank you so much, Cathy. It's been an honor