Motivating (Work)force

Posted on May 1, 2010 :: Networking
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Leaderfest brings New North's young professionals together

People connect in different ways. That’s the lesson that one presenter was striving to illustrate during Leaderfest ’10 at Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan last month. When I arrived, Steve Proudman, owner of The Proudman Group Inc., was telling the 75 or so young professionals to gather together based on hair color (I felt bad for the lone redhead in the room). Then it was favorite music genre. And finally zodiac sign.

The goal, Proudman says, is to demonstrate the different ways people connect – it might be profession, hometown or whether they have an iPhone or Blackberry.
“Communication and connecting is a complex business,” says Proudman, who also works with the Kohler Experimental Learning Center.

His presentation on networking and playing on purpose definitely kept everyone on the move and that was the goal when putting together Leaderfest, which brought together all the young professional organizations from throughout the New North, says Leaderfest chair Meg Roman.
“We didn’t want it to be an event where you just sat. We wanted you to not only learn something, but also be interactive,” she says.

This year’s event – the fourth time young professionals from throughout the New North have gathered – attracted about 200 people. The day featured a variety of seminars, breakout sessions, a keynote presentation by restaurateur Dave Anderson of Famous Dave’s of America and plenty of time for networking.

“We just didn’t want talking heads. We wanted people to walk away feeling motivated,” Roman says.

That’s how Caitlin Brotz, owner of Olivu 426, a natural bath and beauty store in downtown Sheboygan, felt.

“It’s great to come in and feed off the energy here,” says Brotz. “We also hope this creates positive energy in the community and draws more interest to our downtown.”
Leaderfest started four years ago as the brainchild of Stacy Shedivy, a member of Fond du Lac’s young professional network. “I thought it was important that as a region young professionals come together. To me, it seemed silly that we had a young professionals group in Fond du Lac and up the road 15 minutes there was one in Oshkosh and we really didn’t connect,” she says. “This is the perfect way to do that and break down the barriers between the communities in the New North. This generation – these young professionals who will be our future leaders – can help us break down those barriers.”

The breakout sessions and seminars covered wide topics, from Proudman’s focus on networking and playing on purpose to a session led by Andres’ Tapia, chief diversity officer and emerging workforce solutions leader for Hewitt Associates. Each focused on how using the right communication style can help you become a leader with influence.

“There are four different kinds of communicators and once you identify what kind you are and understand how your audience – for example your boss – communicates, you can tailor your presentation to gain a positive result,” Tapia says.

He had participants fill out a survey that helped them identify if they were facilitators, advocates, analytical or controller and then put them in groups to help pitch an idea to another group of communicators. The results were eye-opening.

“Once you understand people communicate differently, you can use certain words or phrases to really get across your message and gain positive feedback,” Tapia says.

Molly Foley of Next Generation Consulting led a breakout session focusing on how emerging leaders can pull up their “seat at the table.” She says it’s essential for young professionals to be involved in activities and discussions with business and community leaders, but it can be a challenge to establish credibility that will make sure their voice is being heard.

Shedivy has left all Leaderfest events energized, and this year’s event was no different.
“It’s all about connecting and an event like this brings everyone together and helps us to connect in person rather than just virtually. So much is made of social media, but knowing someone in person will do a lot more for you than just following them on Twitter or ‘friending’ them on Facebook,” she says. “Events like this remind us of the importance of that personal connection.”
Although Roman was working hard to keep the event running smoothly, she kept popping in on the different sessions. “I’m here to learn too. There’s so much knowledge here that we can incorporate into our own leadership styles,” she says.