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Twenty community leaders who have enjoyed career success, blazed trails for others, overcome adversity and worked tirelessly to make their community a better place had a chance to take a bow Thursday in Billings.

Those honored during the second annual 20 Exceptional Women luncheon are a diverse group. Some are grandmothers. Others are just entering their prime working years. But all have contributed to the community either by working in the public eye or behind the scenes.

Michael Gulledge, Billings Gazette publisher, said that choosing 20 women from among hundreds of nominees was a daunting process. But all of those selected represented the kind of qualities that Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook Inc., expressed when she said:

“Leadership is not bullying. Leadership is not aggression. Leadership is about the expectation to use your voice for good, that you can make the world a better place.”

“Our intention in honoring 20 exceptional women was to celebrate the power of feminine leadership. Look around you and see the influence of connections, the power of leadership. Whether it’s through friends, family, business, volunteering or passionately living a life to help others through their struggle,” said Evelyn Noennig, executive assistant to the publisher and public relations manager for The Billings Gazette. “These women are empowering, inspiring and exceptional.”

Thursday’s event, sponsored by The Billings Gazette and Billings Business, Underriner Motors, Billings Clinic, Gainan’s and Big Horn Resort, drew 450 attendees.

Keynote speaker Katie Goodman, an actress, singer, comedian and part-time Bozeman resident, explained how the skills learned by doing improvisational comedy can transfer to everyday life, your workplace, your family, even your friendships.

“What all these women have in common is that you are all really wanting to make the world a better place,” Goodman said. “Working for change requires authenticity, finding your voice, courage, and risk taking," she said.

Ten years ago, while her son was 3 years old, Goodman wrote a monologue about the challenges she faced as a parent.

“At the time I hated parenting,” she said, acknowledging that the monologue represented a huge risk, because it expressed feelings that most parents would be reluctant to share.

A nervous Goodman opted to have another comedian deliver the skit, and as show time approached, she broke into a cold sweat.

“I was afraid somebody was going to call social services,” she said.

The audience erupted into hysterics after the comedian delivered the punch line: “I just wish I could get away for a few years,” she said, then added: “Oh, did I say years? I meant days.”

“I was just washed in relief that I had said something incredibly authentic,” Goodman recalled. “At the time it felt very risky. All of my friends were loving parenting, or so they said."

In her quest for authenticity, Goodman strives to shed pretenses.

“What’s really gratifying to me is when somebody’s authentic self just leaps out at you,”  she said.

Her tips for harnessing the skills of improvisational comedy into everyday life include:

Stay present. Don't get distracted or bogged down in minutia.

Be flexible.

Take risks.

Give up on perfectionism.

Surrender attachments. Ancient sailors relied on the North Star to get where they were going, but that doesn't mean they intended to sail to the North Star.

Trust yourself.