Attending Conferences: I'm Just Here for the Food

Imagine being surrounded by Black Girl Magic in its literal form: electrifying energy, innovative ideas, a strong sense of community and excellence.

Now, imagine someone declaring “I’m just here for the food”. That’s basically what you are saying if you attend a conference and don’t engage with the other attendees.

I’ve attended conferences alone. I felt awkward. It can be intimidating when it seems like everyone else has a ‘person’ but you. I left without meeting a soul. Money, time and energy wasted. Yeah, I was that girl.

Don’t be that girl.

Here are 3 ways that I was able to overcome the awkwardness and meet my business BFF:

 Be Social

In the months and weeks prior to the event, you should follow the conference pages on social media. In addition to providing information about the conference, the social media pages are a great way to pre-network!

 Are you traveling to the conference from out of state? Find and follow locals that are attending.  Ask for their recommendations to non-touristy restaurants, or where to find the best spas or boutiques. Common interests are another great way to build relationships. Go ahead, click on the profile of someone that has commented on the event page. You may find that you graduated from the same school as one attendee, work in the same field as another or share a love for traveling with yet another. Don’t be afraid to show some love or send a DM to introduce yourself. It’s great to see familiar faces in the crowd, especially if you plan to attend alone. If you are an introvert, this pre-introduction will relieve the anxiety of introducing yourself to strangers and help build the confidence to build even more relationships in person.

Be a Connector

Don’t be the girl that’s always looking for a plug. Be the plug. As you meet people, listen for opportunities to lend yourself as a resource. It could be as simple as recommending a graphic designer that you’ve worked with to a business owner that’s looking to re-launch her website. If you’ve met individuals that work in the same field or live in the same city and don’t know each other, introduce them! Make the most out of your investment (time, energy, money) by positioning yourself as a connector of people, resources and opportunities. Be intentional about how you connect with people.

Be Bold

Stand out! Try a bold lipstick, wear a funky piece of jewelry or steal a page from Issa Rae’s Insecure wardrobe and rock a shirt or bag with a positive quote or funny saying. Make a statement. Women love to compliment each other and connect on all things beauty/fashion related. Giving another woman a sincere compliment is an easy way to begin a conversation with someone you’ve just met. I’ve had conversations that began with “You are ROCKING those faux locs girl!” and ended with “Let me introduce you to my colleague that’s looking to invest.”

 

Most importantly, be YOU….and who knows, you may meet your business BFF at the next conference that you attend!

Stop Chasing Your Goals

Chasing goals has become #goals. I look at success (achieving goals) as being incremental and not as a singular event. Every action, ounce of energy and small win that lead to monumental accomplishments should be celebrated. There are times that I’ve been so laser focused on a particular goal, that I discounted the value of the journey to get there. Often, the biggest lessons learned happen during the journey and not at the destination. Realizing this, I’ve changed my approach to goal setting.

As a journalist, contributor, content creator and public speaker, I’ve bucketed the way that I spend my time when working toward a goal into four categories: teach, learn, consult and develop. I’m able to celebrate key accomplishments in each category as well as ‘stay ready’ so that I don’t have to get ready if an opportunity presents itself in the meantime. As an example, one of my short term goals is to land a paid speaking engagement. Completing activities in each of these categories (teach, learn, consult and publish) will not only help me better position myself to be selected for a speaking gig but can uncover (or create) opportunities that I hadn’t thought about.

|Teach|

The most successful people are teachers in some way. Think of teaching outside of the literal sense. It could be sharing knowledge with colleagues or fellow entrepreneurs. Recently, I heard someone say that we assume that everyone else is good at the things that we are naturally good at (or something like that). Basically, we take our innate abilities for granted. I have always been really good at interviewing. I volunteer with Goodwill by teaching an interviewing skills class. Not only am I sharing my knowledge, I gain insight from the participants. If you have a colleague that’s struggling with Excel, show him/her a few tricks. Remember, when you are teaching, you are also sharpening your skills in that area.

|Learn|

There’s no excuse not to learn something everyday. At minimum, use your smart phone to get smart (sorry, I had to do it). I have hundreds of books downloaded to my Kindle app on my phone. If I arrive to a meeting early, am in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or anywhere else that I have downtime, I read. Read blogs, articles, ebooks…anything that you come across. There are also lots of free resources to learn new skills. As a content creator, I’ve become interested in photography. As a proud member of #teamiPhone, I found out that the Apple store offers FREE iPhone photography classes. There are so many resources that you can take advantage of to learn new skills. Local libraries offer free classes and sites like Udemy offer thousands of courses on topics from project management to public relations.

|Consult|

On the corporate side, as a learning & development consultant, I provide training solutions to organizations. As an entrepreneur, I consult with my peers (bloggers, writers, content creators, speakers). Consulting is lending yourself as a thought partner by asking guiding questions, providing expert advice and helping someone solve a problem. Consulting requires that you think outside of the box, explore new ideas and is a great growth activity for all parties involved. Find opportunities to use your expertise to help someone solve a problem.

|Publish|

You want to be a writer, but what have you written? I used to say that I’d wait until someone hired me to write a guest post or share an article, but how would I get paid if I didn’t have samples of my work? I started publishing the type of content that I wanted to be hired to create on my blog. We get caught up in waiting for someone else to give us an opportunity, but you have to just do it. If you are an aspiring makeup artist, start by doing friends/family faces and posting (publishing) on social media. If you are a business coach, start coaching and sharing testimonials from your clients. Whatever ‘publishing’ means for you, just get your work out there!

Each month, I am intentional in making sure that I am involving myself in activities that allow me to teach, learn, consult and publish. I celebrate each of those opportunities as I know that the skills and experience that I gain will help as I continue the journey to the larger goals.

Hope this was helpful!

Unfinished Cliff’s Notes: Entrepreneurship

I was the girl that said I'd never leave corporate America. Entrepreneurship wasn't for me, y'all can have that, I'd say. I like my benefits, my cushy office and fancy title.

Then I had an Issa moment. The moment began with a feeling that I ignored for a few years. Well, I didn't exactly ignore it, I started job hopping. I wasn't being fulfilled and blamed it on whatever role I was in at the time. Five jobs (I was a contractor so save your judgement) later, I realized that it wasn't the roles, it was me. I had come to a place where I wanted more. Not more money or more responsibility but to do work that aligned with my passion and purpose...whatever that meant. And just like that, I walked smooth out of corporate America.

Taking a step outside of my comfort zone and jumping into the world of entrepreneurship, here are a couple of lessons learned so far….

No Coupons

Don't discount yourself because you are new to entrepreneurship or entering a new industry. You aren't 'new' to the transferable skills that you bring to the table. If you have worked in project management for 5 years, you don't need to do projects for free to "gain experience". You have the expertise, you can consult and take on PM projects for clients. This is not to discourage you from taking projects for free to gain additional experience, gain exposure to potential clients or to build an important relationship. Articulate your experience confidently, share how you can solve problems for potential clients and compile a list of key accomplishments, testimonials and references. Bottom Line: Know and communicate your worth. 

When the cat's away...

…the mice will play! Early in my career, when my supervisor was out of the office…#StraightChillMode. As an entrepreneur, you are the cat AND the mouse. It's easy to procrastinate, get distracted or sit in one spot on Instagram for two hours doing "research" when you are managing yourself. With that new freedom comes new responsibility. Your reputation is at risk each time you fail to deliver a quality product or service on time. As the sole representation of your personal brand, you don’t always have the luxury of having set office hours. If you aren’t naturally disciplined, you need to put a plan in place to help you stay organized. I tend to procrastinate (a lot) and stress myself out trying to throw things together last minute. Here’s what I do:

  • Divide my work into sprints (google agile product development). A sprint is a set period of time in which specific work must be completed. For example, when writing a post, I’ll say “I’ll complete (write, edit and review) a paragraph in a half hour.” After each sprint, I’ll take a break to refocus or switch to another task to keep my day interesting.

  •  Find accountability partners. Personally, I’ll waste my own time but never miss a deadline when I am accountable to someone else. For that reason, I’ll ask a friend or colleague to edit or review a piece that I’m writing by a certain date. Knowing that I am accountable to someone who has taken time out to review my work, I finish my work on time…sometimes even ahead of schedule.

Everyday I’m learning, growing and experiencing new things in my journey as a freelance writer. I wish I had the cheat code to running a successful business, building a powerful brand and securing what will become generational wealth. In the meantime….I’ll continue to develop Cliff’s Notes that hopefully will help us all.

What have you learned as an entrepreneur?

Get It. Got It. Good.

“We’d like to offer you the position!” Ahhh, the sweet sound of a new job or a promotion is music to my ears…:cues The Carter V:

As a consultant, with each new project, I have the opportunity to “start a new job”. It doesn’t matter if the goal is to prepare for the next promotion, gain skills (and a network) to pursue entrepreneurial goals or retire from the company, I always hit the ground running.

Here are 3 ways that I jump in and make an immediate impression on my peers and leaders:

Question Everything

“Nakisha’s here”. I sat on a 90-minute conference call and those were the only two words that I said. Two words. I took great notes tho. It was my first week in a new role, what was I supposed to say?!

Being new in a role or company is exactly the time speak up! Although you may not have input on the project or task being discussed, it is expected that you ask questions. Asking questions shows that you are curious, interested in the work and have an understanding of your new role. Think about questions that will help you communicate effectively in the organization such as asking for clarification on unfamiliar acronyms or terminology and learning how your business group interacts with other groups. If you are engaged during onboarding, you will naturally have questions as new information is presented. However, here are a couple of smart questions to have in your back pocket:

  • What processes need to be developed or improved to help the team operate more efficiently? Use your skills/experience to help create an efficient process for the team. This is a quick way to jump right in and make an immediate impact on the team.

  • Who should I meet this week? Relationships within and outside of your team are important. Being proactive in scheduling time with key stakeholders to understand and define how you will work together early on is important.

Have a Point of View

In the first weeks in a new role, there is a lot of new information to digest. Typically, I job shadow different roles as well as conduct informational interviews with stakeholders. My job is to develop training solutions. In my seat at the (project team) table, I speak from the point of view of the end user….the employees who will attend the training sessions. In order to do that, I must understand the intricacies of their roles to present relevant training solutions. In your role, what population or groups (internal or external) should you be able to articulate their needs, obstacles and frustrations to your peers? For example, if you work in insurance, can you help solve problems that healthcare providers may face?

Haven’t had time to learn the business? No worries! As a new employee you can provide a fresh eye to existing materials or programs. If you work in banking for instance, you can give feedback on a new credit card program from the perspective of a customer.

Add Value Immediately

Can you spot a grammatical error from a mile away? Do you create unfuckwithable PowerPoint presentations? Are you tech savvy?

Share those skills with your team, especially in the first days and weeks in a new role when you have free time. Sometimes we play the “I’m new” card and forget that we were hired for our current skillset and experience. Use what you got (current skills) to get what you want (promotions, etc). #Ronniehoequote

You will gain points early on by providing input to help your teams’ projects.

How I’ve added value in the first 14 days in a new role:

  • Trained team members on a software the company recently purchased (I used the software in a former role)

  • Downloaded a free trial and created a document using a software that my team was considering purchasing. I described my experience and provided feedback to decision makers.

  • Created a worksheet to streamline a process that previously had not been documented

Ready? Set? Go make an immediate impact in your new role!

Overcoming Fear: You Don't Have Haters

Listen, if you heard how hard I rapped along with Hov “…what would you do, you knew you couldn’t fail, I have no fear of anything, do everything well…” you would believe that I meant that deep in my soul, you hear me? You’d believe that I’d already planned and facilitated the series of classes that I developed earlier this year, submitted my pitches to O magazine, Essence and Forbes AND submitted the transcript for my book to a publisher. But, nope, I’ve not done any of those things. Not because I don’t have the talent, ambition or know-how…it’s because…well…#Fear. The fear of looking stupid. The fear of failing. The fear of (insert whatever you tell yourself here).

Confront What You Are Actually Afraid Of

I made myself believe that I was afraid to start this blog. It wasn’t that I was afraid to set up a Squarespace account or even write the blog posts and hit publish. I was afraid that I’d create something that I felt was important and no one else would find value in it. I feared rejection. I feared public humiliation*. I needed validation. That conclusion led me on a journey of self awareness. I needed to understand why I was seeking external approval even when something felt ‘right’ internally. That’s another post. The point is, it’s not until you ask yourself questions to get to the root of what you are actually afraid of will you be able to confront (and overcome) your fear. Trust me, it’s not that you are afraid of applying for the promotion, starting the business or pursuing the relationship…it’s deeper than that. It’s up to you to figure out what you’re really afraid of.

*We let our egos make us think that everyone is watching…and waiting for us to fail. In reality, we are all too busy getting our own shit together to be sitting around watching and waiting on the next person to fail….or do anything else for that matter. #YouDontHaveHaters

Visualize Success

What does winning and living your best life look like to YOU? Not to social media. Not to your best friend. Not to your family. For me, success is creating opportunities to do what I love, which is writing, telling stories, encouraging others, speaking and creating. I feel accomplished each time I create a blog post, send a pitch to work with a publication or am tapped on the shoulder for a collaboration. Success will look differently as I continue to progress and will include writing a book, working with Oprah and being published in global publications. Whether you create a vision board, journal or say it aloud…define and visualize what success looks like. When your eye is on the prize, fear won’t play as big of a role as it once did.

Take Action

“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” Easier said than done, right?

Doing it doesn't have to mean jumping out of the building. It could mean taking the first step of entering the building so that eventually you can jump out of it. When you take action, you never lose. Even if the outcome isn’t what you intended for it to be, you will always win when you put in work. You will learn something (maybe you learn what NOT to do), build confidence, make a new connection, gain exposure…..you get it. Personal and professional development doesn’t happen without growth. You grow by doing, experiencing and learning. You can read as many books, blog posts and quotes as you want but until you take some type of action, you will remain stagnant.

Let’s toast to identifying and confronting our actual fears and defining and pursuing success!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Nelson Mandela

Until next time……