It was Leaderex time again. Touted as South Africa's largest gathering of business leaders, it is a three day summit that showcases numerous exhibitors that “can help you to achieve your leadership, career and business goals”, or so the marketing blurb says. There are also 100s of speakers and plenty of opportunities to network and connect.
Chantal wanted to attend the HR Summit, the second of the three days, specifically to hear some of the speakers and attend some panel interviews. With Tristan and Cailyn in tow, we set off.
“It will be a good experience for you,” Chantal told them, in the run up to the event.
On arrival, Chantal set off with Cailyn to listen to a panel discussion titled “Designing transformative learning experiences”. The room was full to overflowing. Chantal and Cailyn were stuck in the entrance craning their necks to listen to what was being said. It was not clear if the new presentation had started or if this one was a runover from the last. The discussion was difficult to follow and very focused on the corporate environment.
“This is confusing and boring, shall we go?” asked Chantal, pulling a face.
“Okay”, shrugged Cailyn and together they set off to check out the exhibitors.
Strike up a conversation
While Chantal seemed to know what she wanted, the others weren’t quite sure what they were doing there. They had been dragged along in her wake and now stood in the hall at a bit of a loss. Exhibitors lined the people-filled passageways. A large contingent of psychometric assessment offerings, HR, payroll and training services, all of the big business schools and a smattering of other services were present.
There didn’t seem to be much that was of interest to small (read: tiny) businesses. No-one on our team was in the market for an executive, leadership or short course and, really, none of us needed a psychometric test.
“Let’s go speak to people,” said Matthew, trying to drum up some enthusiasm.
“But what do I say to them?” asked Tristan, feeling a tiny bit out of his comfort zone. “I’m not really a potential client of theirs.”
Tristan does website development and graphic design for 5th Place and other small businesses.
“That doesn’t matter. You never know who you will meet and what it may lead to,” said Matthew. “Just be curious, ask questions.”
Watch and learn was the unspoken instruction, as he walked up to the closest stand and struck up a conversation with a smartly-dressed young man with an open face and an eager smile.
Matthew asked about what the company did, what the young man did and how the expo had been going for them. Invariably the conversation would turn to what we were doing there. An opportunity to share. Over the next couple of hours several fascinating contacts were made.
Nothing heralds Spring quite like the abundance of clivias, plants native to South Africa and named after 19th-century British aristocrat Lady Charlotte Clive.
Reflecting on learnings
As we travelled back home, there was time for reflection on our encounters and connections.
“How was that for you?” asked Matthew looking at the two in the back.
“I was wondering what I could do in a space like that. I didn’t see where what I do connected with those that were there,” commented Cailyn, “Then I realised, almost everyone there was probably a parent and a potential client!”
Cailyn runs a small start up called Foundation First where the focus is to empower parents and teachers with the tools and skills necessary to provide support to children in their development and education.
“Yes, for me I can see that it is important to just start a conversation with somebody and take it from there,” added Tristan, “And I realise that you don’t need to garner the business or get something out of it in that conversation. It is good enough just to connect as a way of practising for the next one.”
We harvested the last of our garden peas, deliciously fresh and crunchy!
Networking made natural
The four of us are all involved in small businesses, where it can be tempting to work in the business not on the business. Marketing, and the required sales, risk taking a back seat in the drive to build websites, curate content and manage the day to day administration requirements.
We know that networking is important but don’t always get the opportunity to do it. Plus not all of us are good at it. At 5th Place, Matthew is our maker of friends. He has a knack for connecting with others. He makes friends wherever he goes. People like him and he likes people.
For the rest of us, networking does not come naturally. Luckily it is a skill that can be learnt. With all new skills it requires practice, planning and putting ourselves in the path of meeting opportunities.
It’s about developing the mindset to remember to pack the business cards (yes, there still is a use for those!), tuck a few choice questions under our arm and approach everyone we meet, and all businesses, as potential prospects. It’s marketing one-o-one. And yet.
We’re all a little wiser after our Leaderex expedition.
We all have an impact
Fear, lack of practice, concern at getting it wrong, feeling foolish in the face of big, established businesses peopled with barrel chested, boomingly busy executives all get in the way of doing it.
If we summon the courage to take that first small step and then reflect on the outcome with grace and humour, not only is there the possibility of improving our pitch and gaining new clients, there is also the opportunity to make our circle of influence bigger.
We all have an impact. When we come with a desire to connect based on making the world a better place, we shine a light on the world. Now, more than ever, there is a call to more of us to bring the light, to energise, with love, our work, our relationships and our environment. For some of us that step to connect may require the courage of an explorer traversing new land. In taking the step, however, we all will be better off.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
We offer Emotional Fitness Classes and courses that help individuals, from children to adults, build emotional resilience and well-being. For our younger audience, we've created the Vibarealm, a vibrant universe that encourages a healthier interaction with emotions.
Join us on this journey to emotional fitness and let's make the world a better place together.