How do you wow people who are professional conference goers? How do you engage them, so they walk away feeling renewed, refreshed, uplifted and ready to try a new approach to their relationships? We might have found the secret sauce of a successful leadership event. Here we go…
Three words come to mind: “surprise and delight”. They are not mine. Doug Jensen, of The Estee Lauder Companies, said them to me during a preparation call for the event where he was one of the featured executives. And that might be the secret sauce of the Red Shoe Movement Annual Leadership Event.
I didn’t know that’s what we had been doing since the inception of our Red Shoe Movement Signature Event 12 years ago but when Doug uttered those words in relation to the red lipsticks his company gifted all attendees at the event, I realized they described our secret sauce to a T.
The 11th Annual Red Shoe Movement Signature Event at MetLife this year brought together a record number of participants. Our host and lead sponsor for the 9th year in a row, MetLife was joined by Colgate-Palmolive, Morgan Stanley, Granite Construction and DreamWalkers Shoes as our main sponsors.
The Secret Sauce of a Successful Leadership Event Unpacked
There are so many moving parts that go into creating an experiential event that offers:
- Actionable insights
- Opportunities to network with professionals from a broad spectrum of companies and industries
- A psychologically safe space that enables everyone to express themselves openly
- A joyfulness and a lightness that fosters participation
This year’s event raised the bar above last year’s which had already been an incredible event. We had some unbelievably powerful conversations about complex issues discussed in ways seldom addressed at our workplaces — a clear function of the set-up and the two-way-street approach we imbue throughout the event.
From the early morning interactive Q&A with two leaders: Mark Bryan, robotics engineer turned fashion model, and Ileana Musa, Managing Director, Head of International Banking and Lending at Morgan Stanley, who helped us talk about “Being a courageous inclusion influencer in today’s complex world,” to the more intimate conversations facilitated by senior executives trained in our methodology, to the afternoon Executive Circle that tackled the topic of: “Embracing the Workplace Transformation.” At all different touchpoints the interaction took place in a leveled playing field where every one had a chance to teach and to learn something. What does that look like?
We implement our Mutual Mentoring Methodology from the get go. We not only ask questions of the leaders on stage, but they ask questions of the audience. They ask questions of each other. And of course, the audience gets their turn to ask questions as well. This easy back and forth creates approachability and relatedness. It gives everyone a chance to feel they have something to teach and something to learn from others regardless of where they are in their careers. That in itself is an unusual power dynamic that most participants seldom if ever experienced.
Paired with joy, which we design for, these leveled interactions make up the underlying water in which we swim during the entire day. A common medium where everyone feels welcomed and comfortable enough to share their thoughts, opinions, doubts, and difficulties. It’s what allows all of us to feel safe enough to drop our protective gear and ask for help, support and understanding.
As a matter of fact, I was the first to do this in my welcoming remarks. I shared that I had a very hard time the month leading to the event. I asked that given the current political and social climate we should strive to be kind to each other as nobody knew what the other person was going through. My voice broke as I said these words without being too specific, but in the back of my mind and very present with me at that moment, was the fact that my life-partner, an Israeli, had arrived in Israel the day of the Hamas massacre, and that his son, who is active in the reserves, had been immediately deployed to his army base in the north. As a result, my partner couldn’t be with me at the event and he had no return date because he wanted to stay in Israel to support his country and his son.
I’m sure that my being honest at the very beginning of the event helped set the tone. It gave everyone permission to be open and express their feelings. People were visibly moved in the smaller sessions and many commented on how comfortable they felt sharing their vulnerabilities.
In the end, it’s our humanity that brings us together not only at difficult times but in good times as well, so we can enjoy each other’s successes and we can cheer for each other.
Obviously, the passion of the incomparable group that puts our annual conference together comes through at every turn.
It’s a group of committed people who dedicate months of their lives to create this experience. They bring ideas, expertise, and curiosity to the table. Every year we are joined by a number of new faces who start off as strangers and end up being part of a close-knit community that help us continue to innovate. And here I must also credit Gustavo Carvajal, the #IDEAcatalyst, and my partner in crime when it comes to ideating our event and initiatives.
More Ingredients to Make the Perfect Secret Sauce of a Successful Leadership Event
We are constantly looking for the right touches that make the experience palpably light. When you focus on such a complex issue as inclusion, we have found that lightness makes it easier for everyone to feel invited to the table. Thus the red shoes and accessories; the chocolate shoes by Li-Lac Chocolates as gifts for our Executives, the official Shoe Partner at every event, the special afternoon treats (hot chocolate and Madeleines) by our partner Angelina Paris NY. Every well-thought-out item adds to this very important dimension: joyfulness and fun.
After all, what makes a conference memorable is not only the insights you gain but the emotions it elicits, and the quality of the connections you make with all participants. And I don’t mean the chance to connect with senior executives. I mean the quality of the bond you form with each individual which will nurture your spirit as much as your career beyond this particular event. That feeling that you will carry with you in future interactions and that will bring positive outcomes to your personal and professional life. Now that’s something worth aiming for.