The first thing the 2019 W.A.C.E. Conference did for me was take me down a peg.
I know that doesn’t seem helpful, but it was probably one of the most supportive things to happen to me in a while—and it was definitely the best way to begin a 3-day learning experience.
Initially, I was kind of “tricked” into attending this conference. I happened to pick up the phone one day to a lovely Heather Rawlings of the Corona Chamber of Commerce who asked me if our organization, the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce, was doing anything to support entrepreneurs in our area. Naturally, I said “Yes!” and proceeded to talk her ear off with much-too-much information in a much-too-small time period. I elaborated on our collaborative coworking space, LAX Coworking, our Lunch N Learn workshops, our resource libraries, our listing sites, and so on and so forth. Her response? “Great! Would you like to speak at the 2019 W.A.C.E. Conference?”
Well, who was I to turn down an opportunity to talk about myself? I mean, to talk about the programs I’m passionate about? I happily said yes and volunteered myself and our President/CEO, Christina Davis, to present. Which is when Christina tells me, “You know that if you present that means you have to attend the conference, right?”
And let me tell you, for an Analytical-Driver* attending a 3-day conference where collaboration was the entire point did not seem like a wonderful time. (Paired with the fact that I would have to take 3 days off from designing our 2019 LAX Coastal Magazine & Business Guide one week before it was supposed to go to the printer… Oh man, this conference was going to be the worst).
So when I took my seat in a room of hundreds and listened to Doug Lipp, Disney keynote speaker, tell me that it’s okay to have an ego (I do) but it’s not okay to be above learning from others… I heard that. To be honest, I felt that. It was like a thud in my bones telling me that I was looking at everything entirely the wrong way. This conference was not an obligation. It wasn’t a stage to tout how awesome our organization is (we are!). It was an opportunity.
But only if I gave it a chance.
I took a moment of reflection—tinged with the tiniest amount of shame—and changed my perspective. I circled Doug’s quote, I told my boss that I heard it and was going to take it to heart, and when we separated for our first session of the day (I was heading to “New Spins on Old Concepts, Ideas, and Programs” and Christina was attending “Executive Leadership: Governance, Board Management, and Team Building”) I walked into the room, took my seat and… Crossed my arms and talked to nobody.
Yes. You see the problem immediately, right? I didn’t. I sat there for about 5 minutes before I realized that I was doing exactly what I swore I wasn’t going to do literally 5 minutes ago. I tried to argue with myself (with that horrible inner voice that speaker Dr. Rebecca Heiss during “Blind Spots to Breakthroughs” told me was absolutely not to be trusted or listened to) before I realized I needed to be my own truth teller (another brilliant insight from Doug Lipp). To learn you need to talk to people. I was in a room of hundreds of brilliant minds that each have something to say that was worth listening to. Their stories will inspire me, influence my ideas, and encourage me to grow—and I was sitting there, rejecting free advice.
And so I talked. But most importantly, I listened.
I listened to speakers who taught me things I didn’t know and elaborated on the ones I did. I listened to members of the audience ask enlightened questions that sparked healthy debates and an organic sharing of ideas. I listened to other Chambers who are facing the same problems we are and heard a million different answers on how to overcome our obstacles. I listened to personal and professional stories, both heartbreaking and humorous, that told me not just who each chamber of commerce was, but who the people behind them are. I listened to the melodious voices of people I didn’t expect to become such fast friends and fierce allies.
And I listened to myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I also did my own fair share of talking. I asked multiple questions during “How to Execute the 3 C’s/Branding,” contributed my own ideas to “Communicating Your Chamber’s Value,” sparked a debate in “Chamber Brain Trust,” presented on “Entrepreneurship Programs,” and collected handfuls of business cards from people who want to use our chamber’s ideas, events, and programs as an effective template (if you want them too, a lot of them are listed here!).
But in between all of this, I listened to me. To the part of me that said while I am pretty gosh darn amazing (seriously, so amazing), these people can make me better. And you know what? They did.
By myself, sometimes I can fly. But at the 2019 W.A.C.E. Conference—together—all us could soar.
A special thank you to Dave Kilby and the W.A.C.E. Team for hosting an amazing event! And of course, hello and hugs to all of the many, many friends I made at the conference. If I don’t talk to you in the meantime (which I’d better, so please don’t forget me) I will see you again next year in Portland, Oregon for #WACE2020.