Hello! Happy New Year!
Before we rush headlong into 2019, I want to tell you about a brilliant event I attended back in November - Work Like a Woman Day, hosted by the Business & IP Centre at the British Library in London.
In conjunction with the launch of Mary Portas’ new book and manifesto by the same name, I found out about the event courtesy of one of the speakers, and one of my lovely online friends - Eminé Rushton - when she shared about it on Instagram. Now of course the fact that it was free was a great incentive, except for the cost of my train and tube getting into London, but it also came at a particularly handy time and let me be out of the house and away from the chaos of building work to replace our kitchen!
Now more often than not my response to invitations to events like this comes in two parts - first there’s the interest and excitement and ‘I’d really love to go to that!’, swiftly followed by all the arguments against it like the hassle of travel, the long day, not knowing anyone else who was going, and the myriad of other things that could even remotely possibly go wrong.
That voice usually wins.
Not this time though!
As the line goes, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided that going to London on my own to something that would more than likely be amazing was the lesser of two evils when compared to noise and mess and strangers in the house and not being able to concentrate or get anything done.
And I’m so glad I went - I had the most inspiring time, came away with a notebook half full of scribbles, a head full of ideas, and a heart swelled by the incredibly positive energy of the day.
The format was five lecture-style presentations from women entrepreneurs in different areas of the creative world, with time at the end of each for questions, plus breaks for food and drink and mingling (I hesitate to call it networking, the word kind of makes me shudder, but it was really just a chance to chat to other attendees and discuss our own creative work and what we thought of the talks).
First of the morning was Melissa Addey, a Historical Novelist and Business Expert, who spoke about The Storytelling Business and how the storytelling format can help us in not only creating a vision of our businesses for ourselves, but more especially in how we share it with others.
Melissa reminded us how stories have always been and can be used to improve how we recollect information, can foster a sense of involvement and community, and can provide motivation and enthusiasm for learning more.
The dual aspect element of this theory really fascinated me - that we can use a story framework to flesh out the vision we hold ourselves of what we want our business to become by making it a tale that is as spellbindingly inspiring as it is specifically detailed, while also sharing that story, or different parts of it, with customers or other people who we want to invest in us by piquing curiosity and then revealing the answers to engage people in our services or products.
She also offered us a few cautionary tales and pitfalls to avoid, as well as suggesting as a tool the Sacred Bundle technique. Based in historical storytelling cultures, the bundle (physical or metaphorical) contains items that reflect the values, history, important people and magical moments of the community, and can serve as a ritual object to remind you of your focus as well as a tool that provides the basis for content that you can share with potential customers.
Melissa’s book The Storytelling Entrepreneur goes into more detail about this.
Next up was Amy Tez - The Radical Entrepreneur - with a discussion about her work on coaching people towards Leadership via Listening. Again there was a dual focus - on listening to yourself and what you want in any given situation, as well as why you want it so that you can be committed to the message you want to share; and on listening to your audience in order to forge relationships and inform your responses.
Amy discussed how so much of the time, so many of us only listen in order to respond with our own anecdotes or opinions, rather than listening in order to learn and understand without judgement. The power in this kind of listening lies in paying attention to the nuances, discerning more than just what the other person says with words, or with silence, and therefore being able to respond from a place of respect and compromise when engaging in constructive dialogue.
She shared other qualities she believes are key to good leadership, from her own experience in the acting and theatre worlds as well as from working with high level entrepreneurs and business people, and how these can be cultivated to help us as small business owners to put our attention on our customers and serve them better.
The third speaker of the day was Anis Qizilbash, a Mindful Selling, Mindfulness and Resilience Coach (and speaker) on how applying mindfulness techniques to business, and especially selling (the part all us introverts dread, right?), can help us create space to watch what’s really going on, to look for the opportunities, and to reduce the stress and negative emotional burdens we often carry.
She talked about the need to teach the mind to focus on the good using the analogy of typing a search in Google - you find what you look for, which if you’re unfocused or in a negative headspace can be overwhelming, but you can change it so that the dominant evidence - the top search results - show you something more positive.
Much of the theory in Anis’ presentation was familiar to me from other reading I’ve done on mindfulness, but it was interesting to come at it from the angle of entrepreneurship - that overthinking and simply reacting actually renders us unproductive when the mind runs away with itself, whereas if we can shut off that part of our brain and create space to watch and listen, we open up our intuition, creativity and inspiration.
Just as we were hitting that post-lunch, could possibly nod off stage, the charismatic and funny Kimberly Davis took to the floor - albeit a little tentatively on crutches following foot surgery. This American whirlwind (and previous Apprentice contestant, I later discovered) drew us all in with her upbeat and passionate delivery, and moments of audience participation (yes, exactly as cheesy as it sounds, but we were all willing to get in the spirit!)
Kimberly led us through seven Heroines of Hollywood and the business lessons we can learn from them - each star given a brief biography, a few snippets of ‘I bet you didn’t know that’ and an insight into their business nous in the cutthroat world of the movie business. We heard about Mae West’s communication skills, Hedy Lamarr’s head for innovation, Lucille Ball’s adaptability, Gypsy Rose Lee’s penchant for thinking and being different, Elizabeth Taylor’s resourcefulness, Barbra Streisand’s obsessiveness (and inability to actually read music!), and Patty Jenkins’ and Gal Gadot’s (Wonder Woman 2017) confidence in what makes them great.
This presentation really was a rallying cry for female entrepreneurs to step up and speak up in a world of work that still doesn’t offer genuine equality, and a lesson in overcoming setbacks, supporting other women (even when they don’t support you) and knowing your worth and believing it. If ever there was a talk to give a confidence boost, this was it, and I can’t wait to hear what Kimberly gets up to next.
Finally, and by no means least, it was Eminé Rushton’s turn to share with us her personal journey towards a Purposeful Career. I was familiar with Eminé’s current work as Wellbeing Director-at-large for Psychologies magazine, as well as having connected with her via Instagram, but it was wonderful to hear her story from the beginning, how her upbringing and experiences in early jobs have shaped her desires and beliefs and led her towards building a life and career that feels truly aligned with what she values.
Some of the anecdotes Eminé shared sounded familiar to my own experiences, and to those of many others in the room, and she voiced what we’ve all learned - that determination can be as powerful as skill or talent, but determination alone can never mask a lack of passion, and that’s the point that I, and so many of us, have had to reach before we can acknowledge that something isn’t working for us. When you seek to be something you’re not, everyone knows it, and the message won’t resonate - it’s only by getting clear on what matters and what you won’t stand for that you can find that aligned pace that feels right.
Eminé’s talk prompted the most discussion and questions, and she was generous in her wisdom and advice based on how she now runs her own businesses alongside her writing work and family life - tips such as establishing clear boundaries with clients and customers so that everyone understands when you will and won’t be available, and what your priorities are in case of emergency, as well as assessing what time you really have available, and living in a way that is sustainable given your belongings and budget.
I’m immensely grateful that I got to experience this day, and so inspired by what I learned - about myself more than anything in reflecting on the various discussions. The day had been really well planned, and despite the different speakers and the different subject matter, there was still a thread that ran through all of it making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
If you’re interested to hear any of the talks, the Business & IP Centre filmed all the presentations and have now uploaded them to their YouTube channel so you can watch them all from the comfort of your own home - and without the expedition into London that I had. I’d really recommend watching them if you can and are interested - and I’d love to hear what you take from if you want to continue the conversation in the comments here or by sending me a message.
(Image Credit: Unsplash via Squarespace integration)