I flew to Boston, Massachusetts to meet up with my bestie, Crystal, and together we attended The Massachusetts Conference for Women–the largest annual women’s gathering in the country. The conference was themed “the power of us,” but for me the take away was more specifically, the power of giving.
For the late morning session we parted ways. Crystal chose a break-out session on using body language to influence human behavior and enhance one’s presence. An intriguing topic to be sure, but not the top of my list as I had you–my readers–in mind, most of whom work as I do on an almost entirely virtual basis. I failed to see how body language could improve our presence when those we do business with rarely see us face to face.
I headed to the second floor to hear the indomitable Cathie Black speak candidly about the forces preventing women from getting where they want in the corporate/entrepreneurial realm (spoiler alert: The primary force according to Ms. Black is a tendency amongst women to wait passively for what they desire and feel they deserve in their careers whereas men more often than women feel deserving of what they want and ask for it unabashedly).
After the session ended, I found my way back to the first floor and waited outside the conference room for Crystal’s session to let out. When the session broke and hundreds of women shuffled through the double doors I was astonished to see that almost every woman exiting the session had been crying: their faces were tear-stained, eyes red and bleary, their countenances stunned and pondering.
What did I just miss? I wondered to myself. When I finally located Crystal in the crowd I asked her, but she just smiled and said, “It was amazing.”
And though I’d found Ms. Black’s no-nonsense paradigm of creating (not waiting) for the fulfillment of our career aspirations as women challenging and inspiring, I began to think I had chosen the wrong session to attend that morning. This thought only intensified as I sat down at lunch and overheard women gushing about the body language session.
They were using words like powerful, hysterically funny, and heart-warming. Then I heard the woman to my left announce that she was going to attend the 3 o’clock session to see what all the hype was about. I quickly vowed to do the same.
I showed up early and reserved my seat, waiting anxiously to hear the message that had resonated so deeply with so many women. At the session’s end I, too, had laughed to near convulsions and fought back tears till my eyes burned hot. And yet, I still wasn’t sure I understood what I had experienced.
The presenter, Janine Driver, was by all accounts, an extraordinary public speaker. Furthermore, it turns out I was mistaken in my assumption that body language fails to transfer virtually (she made a compelling case that it does–stay tuned: a blog, inspired by Ms. Driver, on the power of body language will be forthcoming), and yet I didn’t believe that the relevance of her message was so far superior to the other sessions (which on the whole, were incredibly inspired and insightful) to explain the audience reaction.
She peppered her talk with warm and relatable anecdotes, laughed at herself and got us laughing at ourselves too, and punctuated her speech with audience participation and comical sound effects. And in the end she shared the inspiring and heart-rending account of her mother’s recent death after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.
After some reflection, I decided the real clincher of Ms. Driver’s talk was something ethereal. Something mostly unspoken, but very much felt. The power of her presence was that she approached her audience as a supplicant, compelled by a genuine desire to give and a conviction that what she had to offer would make a difference in the lives of others. Her power was the power of giving.
There seemed to be a clear delineation–both amongst presenters and exhibitors–between those who resonated with the 10,000 women in attendance and those who didn’t.
Certain booths generated a steady hum of activity, with women lining up likes ants who’ve found bounty for the mound, circulating word of the find energetically, as if by osmosis, drawing an ever-growing crowd. Others stood nearly vacant, with the occasional passer-by hovering momentarily and passing on.
Likewise there were sessions, like the break-out on body language and the keynote speaker, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who spoke a bit reluctantly but fervently about her efforts as a principal in an inner city high school devastated by violence, where you could feel a palpable buzz of energetic possibility, of the spontaneous synergistic response of 10,000 women in what felt like a collective “Hell, yes!”
Ultimately, everyone presenting or exhibiting at the conference was selling her brand–either her wares or her self as a motivator. In theory, everyone was offering something and everyone was asking for something.
And yet, I believe those who distinguished themselves did so because they came to the conference with an overwhelming compulsion to give something–something personal and poignant, something they believed in–to the thousands of women attendees and to the broader global circle they linked to.
In a certain market economy sense, the question, “What do I have to give?” isn’t so far removed from the question, “What can I get out of this?” And yet, energetically the two approaches were stark polarities. The irony is that those who came to the conference bearing the conviction of giving were those who paradoxically got the most out of it.
The lesson here is so salient to each of us as women entrepreneurs, that I falter to write this post, assailed by thoughts that I am not saying it well enough, clear enough, powerfully enough. Do you hear me? Can you feel the power of this message? Because for me, the power of this was so strong as to catapult my entrepreneurial vision into a whole new existential realm.
How do we grow and succeed as entrepreneurs? As mothers? As women? As human beings? How do we do business in a way that is not transactional, but revolutionary?
How do we make our hobby-scale ventures, our underwhelming sales or acquisitions, take flight and become the movement we tell ourselves we believe they can be? How do we stop playing at business and become moguls, in the truest sense, in the empire-building sense of the word?
I don’t have clear answers to these questions, but I have a still-fuzzy concept forming in my mind. I think it has everything to do with an intention–no, scratch that, a conviction–to give. To clarify what it is that we bring to the table. To show up each day because we possess something unique and invaluable that will uplift and empower and transform the lives of others.
We must know it, it must throb in our being, an urgency to kneel in service, in supplication, and offer up the opus of our lives. Our best ideas, our best selves.
Not because of a bottom line, or a need to prove something. Not in pursuit of patronage, or praise, or growth, or fame. But in an effort to transform.
As entrepreneurs, we see in our lives-and in the lives of those we love-problems, brokenness, heartache, shortfall, inefficiency, frustration, and unmet needs. Something deep within our collective human spirit calls to us — to dedicate ourselves to becoming part of the solution.
Not only is this approach honest and socially responsible, but it makes good business sense. And I suspect that somewhere in the essence of giving, the secret of business success is harbored.
What do you have to give? Have you experienced the power of giving in your business? Tell us in the comments.