How I Turned a Layoff Lemons Into Lemon… Souffle

People have often asked me how I went from being a public school educator to an internationally-recognized expert, speaker and (legitimate) best-selling author. Here’s the long tale of what happened and what I did about it.


 lemons Layoff Career Savvy Networking layoffs


The Postman Only Rang Once

When USPS rang our doorbell to deliver the layoff notices from San Francisco Unified School District, Griggs RoAne said, “Susan, I predict this is going to be the best thing to happen to you.” The best thing for him is that I had no sharp weapons nearby because I was, as most of our 1200 teachers colleagues who also received these expensively delivered pink slips were, really upset.

George Bernard Shaw-Shanks Teachers

It wasn’t helpful that George Bernard Shaw said “Those who can…do and those who can’t…teach.” Many of us bought into that damning assessment as did others in the work world. After several friends called me for my advice and support, I realized that my reassurances were meaningless. We all needed to go through a process to assess our skills and learn to what jobs or careers they would transfer.

I designed a day-long career change workshop for teachers with the help of Anne Miller of New York (now a sales and presentation coach) who had written a book on the process. This is BEFORE the days of google so we used libraries, phone books and, wait for this…telephones. (Perhaps this was 1,000 years ago but who can count after 999 years)???


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Worth noting: I designed this workshop, not to start or create a seven figure business that would “crush” or “kill” the competition, “sell a seven series video program that will “make you a millionaire” but to help my colleagues; fellow teachers who were also scared of their futures. Today we’d call that a higher purpose.

Networking: My Way of Life

After the lay-off letters arrived, I attended a program in downtown San Francisco that I had read about in the Business Calendar of the San Francisco Chronicle on this subject: networking. Hmmmm. It sounded fascinating and relevant to all of us soon to be jobless. (I would have said “class-less” for the purpose of a pun but writing that could be so misinterpreted). The speaker, Sally Livingston, was talking about the way I lived my life. I had NO idea they called it ‘networking’!  I added a section on this process called  “networking” to the career change workshop and hired Sally to teach it to the teachers.

The three day-long workshops were full to capacity because of an article in San Francisco Examiner written by Bea Pixa, a journalist, who had been a guest speaker in my middle school 6th/7th grade class. She said she remembered me when I called to tell about the impending layoffs and my workshops because: “After eight years of being a guest speaker in SFUSD classes, Susan, yours was the first class where every student sent me a thank-you note.”

Layoff Susan RoAne Career layoffs teacher speajer


In a million years, I never could have guessed this result from a part of my curriculum which included why, how and when to send a hand-written thank-you note would have on my life. Each student HAD to send one to every guest speaker. Or else! Yes, I was a tough teacher.

Radio Days

After doing a guest radio spot on a local show talking about this new phenom…massive teacher layoffs and the workshop I created, the editor of the San Francisco Examiner Business section called me because he tuned in the last 15 minutes. He asked if I thought we could create a weekly local careers series. My stomach felt like it dropped to my feet. I took a deep breath and, from somewhere that, to this day, I cannot identify, heard myself say, “Of course we can do it. That’s a great idea!”

Say YES When You Want To Say NO

I said “yes” with no idea of what I was getting myself into. (Do forgive the ending preposition). Before I met with the biz section editor, I did my due diligence and had a list of 20-25 topics we could address in this area of “careers’. Sad to say, I knew I had to bring a man with me to assuage the editor who wanted t a man’s opinion to be included. Dick Wolfe, who was in the training department at a big bank, was a wonderful sounding board for me. He was supportive and came to every editorial meeting and wrote several of the articles. It was interesting to watch the editor direct his comments to Dick as if I wasn’t in the room. But our little ploy worked.

A Three Year Byline

It took a year to launch the Careers Series that ran every Monday night for three years on the front page of the business section of a respected Hearst newspaper. Our logo was an attaché case. I invited colleagues to write guest columns whose subjects would benefit the business readers. But I wrote many of the columns. Bonus: Those columns were “repurposed” into my first three books.

The upshot of those three years of my byline—which we now call “third party endorsement” is that my speaking career blossomed.

When the workshop series ended we had served 300 people throughout the Bay Area and I had 100 people on a waiting list. Sally had become my dear “femtor” (a term she coined) and said to me, “My dear girl, with a 100 people on the waiting list, YOU HAVE A BUSINESS. You must come with me Monday night to Women Entrepreneurs to hear this fantastic speaker; Patricia Fripp.” So I did.

A Confluence of Circumstances

As a result of my byline adn, I was invited to speak to a monthly meeting of a small-ish association on this topic of networking for “bupkes”. The program chair, Ann Peterson, of Northern California’s MPI chapter just so happened to attend. After my presentation, she approached me and invited me to address that august group at a special event.

Ann Peterson advised me that I needed a strong, male-sounding title or the mostly male MPI members wouldn’t attend. “Susan, networking is not something men think relates to them; they think it’s something for women.” Yep, “networking” was a gender-biased term of which men were dismissive and they dismissed those of us who spoke about it.   I was stressed at the thought of having to create a Male-sounding keynote title.

Later that week, an old political pal saw me at a biz event and said, “Susan if you ever run for office, I want to run your campaign. You know how to do what most candidates don’t: You can really work a room!”


BINGO…I had the title of my talk, of my book (thanks to Judith Briles) and, after three decades of very hard and constant work, I had what we now call, my BRAND.

That is why I’ve updated How To Work a Room® four times and keep my books, content, coaching and speaking visible and relevant; in print, online, on podcasts and in the media. Shoutout to my online journalists,  my podcast pals and the media! Muchas Gracias.


Susan RoAne

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About Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne leads a double life as a sought-after professional keynote speaker and a bestselling author. Known as The Mingling Maven®, she gives diverse audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. The San Francisco Chronicle says she has a “dynamite sense of humor.” To hire Susan to speak for your company, association or college, 1.415.461.3915