Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs – The Diary of a Networker!
Now in-person events are back in business, I thought I’d share my adventures across the North East and beyond. The venues, food, speakers, lessons, and of course the networking.
I’m going to kick start with VentureFest 2022: hosted on 31st March at the amazing Boiler Shop in Newcastle, the full-day event brought together a great mix of businesses, investors, start-ups, SME’s, and innovators. Ran by the Innovation SuperNetwork it was great to see VentureFest back in-person after being forced online last year. The venue was split into two with the main exhibition area on one side that had an electric atmosphere all day, and the other half was the main stage which welcomed a fantastic line-up of speakers and panellists throughout the day. I was asked to come along and facilitate a networking session so after a quick 10 min talk on the power of network diversity (I couldn’t help myself, it’s one of my favourite topics!), I got delegates to put themselves into groups of three and each take turns telling the others why they’d come along to VentureFest that day. What were they hoping to learn, or who were they hoping to meet, or what problem were they looking to solve. The rules were you had 2 minutes to talk while the others listened, then you had to turn your back to them while they had 2 minutes to give you feedback or suggestions. It was a fun, informal way of practicing listening, problem solving, knowledge transfer, and of course networking.
After that I had the absolute joy of exploring the Innovation Showcase that had been set up during lunch (which was delicious by the way – the vegan option was lush!). Within the showcase were the 15 finalist for the Innovation Awards which were announced at the end of the day. Mic’d-up and followed by a camera man we did live-stream interviews with all the finalists – it was the first time I’ve done anything like that and I really enjoyed it! I’d given everyone warning I was coming, none of us swore or anything!
Following the awards the event ended with a dance flash-mob which was simply wonderful – I’m all about that life! The music was brilliant and the dancers blew everyone away (after the initial shock wore off). It was a great day and just so good to see and hear everyone connecting in-person again.
Another recent event was the launch of Celebrate Difference, a North East based Social Enterprise supporting people with ADHD. Neurodiversity is something more and more people are talking about, and rightly so, this was a great event for me to learn more about neurodiversity in general with the aim of being able to better support people within the world of networking. Also to better understand the barriers to networking for those with ADHD so I can best advice networking hosts how events can be made more inclusive and welcoming. I learnt a LOT at that event, but the thing that blew me away most was the sense of community that was already so apparent even though this was the first event they’d held. Founded by the incredible Nicola, I’d recommend connecting with her if this is an area you’d like support in, or want to learn more about.
Last week I attended my first People & Culture Forum event hosted by the incredible Becca Brighty! We’ve known each other for a while now, and weirdly have had really similar lives (grew up in Carlisle, lived in Fiji, got married the same time, had first child the same time!) so it was great to finally get along and experience one of her sessions: it was totally worth the wait. This event was focussed on impostor syndrome, something I hear about frequently as it impacts people’s ability to network confidently and effectively, so was excited to learn more about it from an actual expert. Becca shared her own experience with it as well as giving great insight into the causes and effects on people. Not only that, but we got to play with Lego! You read that right – the event included a session from Kat Sykes, Managing Director of Stalemate who facilitated some serious play to help open up conversations, create metaphors, and just have a great time I mean who doesn’t love Lego?!
It was a brilliant event and one that ticked so many boxes – networking, education, training, creativity, play. Oh and there was fresh fruit as well as pastries which I loved!
Then yesterday I went to a Chamber of Commerce Stand Up and Be Counted event in Sunderland at what has to be one of the most beautiful venues in the region – the Sunderland Empire Theatre. I turned up half an hour late thinking I was early (awkward), but was still in time to hear everyone deliver their elevator pitches, network, and get to hear a brilliant talk on the history of the theatre whilst sitting in the upper circle. I could have stayed there listening and asking questions all day – it was so fascinating hearing about everything the theatre has gone through over the years – did you know it was one of the first buildings in the UK to get a fire exit? And that they used to employ sailors to do all the back-stage stuff because they knew how to handle ropes (they drank and swore too much so didn’t keep that up!), oh AND that the theatre has not one but three ghosts?! Love all that stuff.
Anyway, it was another fab networking event that again made a real impression on me, not just because of the networking but because of all of it – the experience of it. That’s what you can’t get online, logging onto Zoom from home. Building Lego with people you’ve just met, or hearing about ghosts whilst sitting in an Edwardian theatre. My goodness I’m glad in-person is back.
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