The Power of the U: Reflections from our Inaugural Choice Summit
I had this vision in my head of what I wanted. When I walked into the room the day of our very first Choice Summit, it wasn’t arranged the way I had pictured.
“We can’t make it fit.”
“It won’t work that way.”
“It will make more sense this way.”
No. I knew none of those things were true. I knew that arranging our attendees in a U shape around the “stage” would bring life to the room. Connection would ensue. Our goal for the Summit is to build a community where collaboration is the norm, where we stand as allies NOT competitors, where we are making each other stronger and better. The U would be one small element, setting the tone for that work together to begin. And, it did.
The room was abuzz with attendees bustling around, introducing themselves, grabbing cups of coffee, snapping shots and video for Instagram. I stood in the dead center of all the activity to take it in. After a year’s worth of effort, I was in the midst of a dream being realized and didn’t want the moment to pass by without really absorbing it.
As the Summit began, I positioned myself on the end of one side of the U, next to our emcee Michele Cushatt. I wanted to be able to see the attendees, their reactions, their engagement. We seated each person next to their respective Summit Ally. Again something that I had envisioned: people walking away with was a relationship that they could pursue away from the Choice Summit. We paired each attendee with another and encouraged them to have lunch and specific, intentional conversation (we provided questions and prompts) to dive deeper. After all, we want to help each other – across the table.
So there I sat, intently watching our Summit attendees physically leaning forward, furiously writing notes during every speaker, session and panel – completely engaged. The U – the U was working. Speakers could easily interact with all of the guests. It was a little more informal, but it felt right.
I learned so much in that U last Friday. We were grateful to provide thought leaders and experts in a variety of categories who have all shaped and transformed (benefited in some way) Choice and me personally. So, we brought all of them together to help my dear friends who showed up that day. With each session came clarity, challenges and affirmation.
Some key takeaways:
JJ Peterson: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
- Your customer is the hero and you are the guide
Dawn Burns (@thenashvillemom), Ashley Houston (@nashvillewifestyles), Chloe Wen (@bychloewen) – Influencer Panel: Building Community and Growing Your Brand Through Influencer Relationships
- Focus heavily on building trust with your audience
- Attend local events to build community and future opportunity
Elizabeth Evans: Podcasting 101
- Starting a podcast? You need:
Dee Ann Turner: Win With Who
- Instead of hiring people, select talent
- When selecting talent, look for
- People decisions are the most important decisions you will make
- The character of your team is the sum total of your culture
Crosby Noricks: Pitch, Please – Treat Yourself Like the Client
Liza Graves (StyleBlueprint), Robin Hommel (The View), Belinda Luscombe (TIME), Sarah Smith (Prevention): Media Panel Q&A
- Elements of a great pitch
- Use short sentences and paragraphs with relevant content to that specific outlet
- Be clear about who the source/expert is
- If mailing, make the presentation unique
- Make it personal; know the media outlet and contact
- Don’t say “Quick Question”
Ashley LeMieux: Born to Shine
- Your greatest asset is YOU
- Put blinders on to create your own lane
- What is your intention?
- What can you let go of?
- Breathe deeply (exhale twice as long as you inhale)
To me, there was something bigger than just the great content that was shared. I watched women (and one man!) link arms with colleagues across industries who may otherwise be considered competitors. The way they each stepped forward and said YES to us – believing that we would deliver something of value to them – that will never be lost on me.
PR firms in completely different cities, with completely different kinds of clients are now having quarterly team brainstorm sessions to help each other be successful. Companies are sharing their vision for a new product and others are saying, “let us promote that to our audience for you.” Seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads are taking the best next steps with discernment that came as a result of the Summit. A colleague is pitching their own personal media relationships to help another firm’s client. College students (Oh yes! Did I mention that we provided scholarships for four future communication professionals?) are connecting with mentors and even potential employers.
Listen, a few months ago, I didn’t even know if anyone would show up. I was scared and nervous that Choice (and me) would be embarrassed and we’d have to cancel the Summit last-minute for lack of response. I was spending a ton of money and working our team to the bone in faith that I really knew a felt need for someone like me.
You may have this little idea that has been burning you up inside because you know it needs to be a reality. You are likely afraid or worried sick about what it will take to make that come to life. Me too, y’all! Me too. Step into the fear. Focus intently on what your desired outcome is and take every single step toward that goal, laser-focused on the result you intend to deliver.
This week I have been overwhelmed with calls, texts, emails and Instagram posts about the Choice Summit. Friends and colleagues sharing the significant impact that our little conference had on them, their business, their team. I received this message Tuesday, “From tactical to soulful – you and your team had it all covered. I honestly can say I have never been to a workshop or conference of any type that was as relevant and spoke to me as much as the CHOICE Summit.” THIS…this is exactly why you have to listen to what you’ve been called to. That email alone was the affirmation we needed to know that our work makes a difference. And yours will too. As Ashley LeMeiux says, “Your greatest asset is YOU!” Now go build your U.