By Vanessa Pennoyer, MBA, member of NAWBO-Kentucky and business development executive with HJI Supply Chain Solutions in Louisville
We hopefully all remember our first time…attending the National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO. Did your mind wander off a bit thinking about your first-born child, first time driving a car, first time on a rollercoaster? First time experiences can be super scary, exciting and full of anxiety and stress all wrapped up at once. Sure, it’s a learning opportunity to challenge and grow, but it is often easier said than done.
For me, I’m a typically cool and calm, go-with-the-flow kind of gal. However, I was nervous about attending the Columbus conference. I only joined my local Kentucky NAWBO chapter back in March. Six months in and I’m attending the WBC. I immediately wanted to become involved and so I began to complete the New Member Program. Everyone was welcoming, but we all know the feeling of being the new girl in the room. (Gosh, it even sounds intimidating writing the words.) So when I registered to attend the conference in Columbus, I had no idea if anyone from my chapter would be there. Fortunately, there were nine of us altogether from Kentucky. More about that shortly.
So I leave my house in Kentucky on a Sunday afternoon for a 3-and-a-half hour drive to Columbus. I arrive, get to my room, review my printed agenda and realize that I’ve missed the 4 p.m. cut-off for conference check-in. Dang! I tidied up with some make-up, threw on a cocktail party hat and headed downstairs to find the happy hour party.
The Kentucky team members (I was only familiar with a few) were freshening up and would be down shortly. Now what? Do I get a drink and walk around with no badge and no reference to anyone? And then, someone broke the ice and complimented my hat. Whew! I mean, how do you stand out in a crowd of a thousand women without a fashionable party hat? Ms. Lynn from Iowa asked if I was in the right place (no badge yet) and I said, “Hope so.” She introduced me to the ladies at her table: Buffie, Marnie and a few Marys from Minnesota. The ladies noticed no badge, which meant no bracelet for the reception. Not a problem! They sprung into action and rounded up an extra bracelet so that I wouldn’t miss the reception. Now, that’s a first impression! I could now breathe, relax and enjoy myself.
I have a unique situation as a representative of an MWBE company. That doesn’t matter. I have an abundance of experience attending more than six major conferences a year. Sometimes, a conference attendee may feel that their vision is blurred and out-of-focus, hearing blah, blah, blah. The NAWBO conference was and is different. The speakers were meaningful. The events were exciting. The workshops were interactive. The relationships are priceless. I was even pulled in to volunteer at the social media photo booth for a few hours.
I’ve submitted a self-nomination to serve on the local NAWBO chapter board for the 2017-2018 term. I’m passionate about making a difference and putting my best self forward. For me, the question, “So what do you do?” is irrelevant to ask because I can do anything. But if you want to build character and be yourself, I say “Go for it” and get involved. It just feels good!