Review – the first Networking Women Conference

OK I’ll come clean straight away. I’m not really a big fan of women-only networking. I go to Networking Women now and then, but only really because I do their website and like to keep in touch. Lisa and Sue, the brains behind Networking Women, held their first ever conference today and I had a ticket – but I have to admit I wasn’t relishing the thought of spending the whole day with a bunch of women!

How wrong could I be? It was a blast!

The day started early for me as we were celebrating four years of the Faringdon 4Networking group and as group leader I kind of thought I ought to be there, so I was off doing my group leading from 7.30, and then rushed into Oxford shortly after 10am for the conference. It meant that I missed the introduction and the corporate sponsor, Sarah Steel, which was a shame, especially as I know Sarah from my Community Times/In The Vale magazine days. Ah well, not to worry. I arrived in time to hear the other sponsor, from Natwest Bank, talk about how important women entrepreneurs are for the economy, all good stirring inspiring stuff.

Then it was time for coffee and some networking before the four Time to Change sessions began. I caught up with a couple of people I knew and also met someone who I’ll be meeting again, as they need a low cost e-commerce site and I reckon I can build them just the thing! Happy days!

Everyone had the chance to book onto four sessions and my first one was called Making Money Funky. I think that’s probably Mission Impossible, unless you’re actually going to throw around loads of bank notes, but it was an interesting talk which made me realise that I really ought to sort out my business insurance and think about protecting my income in case I fall ill. Two more things to add to the “to do” list, sigh!!

The second session I’d chosen was about Work/Life balance. Being a single parent with two teenagers who is also trying to run a business, my work/life balance feels completely screwed at times, so this was a session that I found really helpful. I came away feeling far less guilty about daring to make time for myself ever, and I’m looking forward to using some of the tools on offer.

Then followed a lovely buffet lunch, though I seemed to spend more of the lunch break chatting than eating! I had a lovely chat with someone who has teens the same age as mine, and who has a spare drum kit gathering dust in her bedroom. It would be perfect for Dan, who really needs to get some extra practice in if he’s going to pass Grade 3 early next year, so if I can find a spare couple of hundred pounds I’ll be helping her declutter!

There was also an exhibition area in the lunch area – people selling lovely jewellery and accessories and shoes and cake and all sorts of other bits and bobs, well worth a look.

The first session of the afternoon was with Cathy Dean, who I know from both Networking Women and 4Networking. I’ve seen Cathy do a short presentation before, and though I’d enjoyed it I was a little bit cynical about her “colours of life” ideology. However, I was looking forward to seeing her talk for a longer spell, and it was absolutely fabulous, my favourite session of the day. Threaded through the presentation were parts of a story that really resonated with me, and Cathy made her presentation really interactive too. There were plenty of activities to take part in; for example, we had to recall childhood memories, tell our story to the person sitting next to us and talk about our greatest achievement. All good fun, and also thought provoking, especially as I realised that the particular childhood memory I selected has probably had a far greater influence on my life than I’d thought.

Cathy then asked for a volunteer to help her with the next part and I was as surprised as anyone when my hand shot up ….Anyone who knows me will know that I HATE being in the limelight, but I think something in the presentation had touched me, and I was keen to be more involved. Standing up there in front of 40 or so women, Cathy asked me to tell her a little bit about who I was, and I said something like, “I’m Alison, I’m a single mum with two fabulous kids, and I also run my own business.” Then Cathy asked me some questions to find out more about who I was (rather than what I was), and it went something like this ….. all very revealing ….

What colour is your life?
Well, I’d like it to be purple – rich and calm – but I think it’s more bright red at the moment. Why? Because it’s so frantic and frenetic.

What flavour does your life have?
Hmm …. Goat’s Cheese, because it’s nice and creamy (comforting), and it has a tang to it (adventure) but there’s also an underlying earthiness, goatiness (eg my life is lovely but has an underlying scent of crap!)

What texture does your life have?
Corrugated cardboard – because it’s so up down up down. And cardboard, not metal, because it’s malleable, it can be punched through, someone else can dent it quite easily.

What scent does your life have?
Sweat! (Ewwwww!) My sweat, because I’m constantly on the go.

What sound does your life have?
Like an untuned radio – you know, where you pick up a bit of music, then some white noise, then some foreign radio? Because I feel like I’ve got so many people saying different things to me and trying to pull me in different directions.

Hmm. So from initially saying my life was lovely, yada yada yada, it turns out that deep down I’m not as happy with it as I make out! And all this was off the top of my head …. fascinating!

Anyway, suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed Cathy’s session, so much so that I’ve actually signed up to have a coaching session with her – because I think the time is right for me to put all the crap of the past behind me and  start fulfilling my potential!

The final session of the day was on networking skills with Gail Gibson. I’d originally signed up for the market research session but that was full. Nothing against this one, because I know Gail and know she is excellent at what she does, but I suppose I feel I’m a bit of an old hand at networking! So I probably didn’t get as much out of this as the other sessions, but I still picked up a few tips and it was very well presented and enjoyable.

During the afternoon sessions I also chatted with some lovely people who had fabulolus stories of their own to tell, and I hope I can keep in touch with them.

After another short coffee break three of the coaches who’d run the sessions presented plans for an advanced coaching package they are putting together. Sounds very exciting – a bit out of my price range at present but who knows what the future will bring! And then Lisa ad Sue thanked everyone, mentioned that this will most probably not be the last NW conference … and that was the end of the day.

So I not only survived a whole day with women, I enjoyed it! I came away with two potential clients, new friends, hopefully a new coach and a fantastic future ahead of me. Not bad going for a Thursday!

Well done to Lisa, Sue and everyone involved in putting the conference together. You’ve finally won me over as a fan of women-only networking!


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