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WWPR’s Annual Speed Mentoring event was unique opportunity for attendees to hear from high-level women mentors in the D.C.-area, who all shared their best advice, success stories, and memorable missteps culminated throughout their careers.

To kick off the event, Debra Silimeo welcome the group on behalf of host Hager Sharp with an impassioned speech about helping women get a place at the table and her definition of success. Then attendees broke off to experience each of the 20-minute rotating breakout sessions covering topics of importance to WWPR members.

Here’s what the mentors had to say on goal setting, leadership and becoming your best:

Go for the Goal

The mentors during this session focused on setting and achieving goals were Sam Kruse (Levick), Debra Silimeo (Hager Sharp), and Danielle Veira (American Diabetes Association) who started the conversation their best bit of advice for smart goal strategies.

Silimeo, who described goal setting as a way of taking control of your life, said success is about finding your joy and strategically doing things that are meaningful to you. To do this, she suggested making a committed plan to figuring out where you want to be and how to get there.

Fellow Panel Member Veira – a self-proclaimed planning newbie – had a suggestion on where to start: Passion Planner (resounded by many participants in the room). She cited this specific type of planner as how she found her goal setting stride, which helps her visually map out her short-term and long-term goals in manageable weekly and monthly plans.

All three panelists also emphasized the importance of having a network and described how it can aid you in your goal setting:

  • Kruse cited her open relationship with her supervisor and mentor as a key reason for her success in helping her set achievable goals supported by constant communication. She has also found success in networking with her alumni group, emphasizing that keeping in touch with everyone you meet could result in a key work contact and maybe even a lifelong career mentor.
  • Veira also identified finding supportive co-workers as important to achieving your goals, while Silimeo pointed out that it is equally important to have a network outside the workplace to help keep you grounded and on-track with your goals.
  • Kruse also pointed out how multi-faceted goal setting can be for PR professionals, since many times we must set and meet goals for clients in addition to our individual professional goals.

The panel’s parting recommendation was to use goal setting in all aspects of life. They suggested not being afraid of setting personal goals – such as physical or mental health-related goals – in addition to professionals to ensure a good work/life balance.

Leadership Lessons to Live By

Stephanie Fu (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion), Maggie Moore (Georgetown University), and Pattie Yu (The Yu Crew, LLC) led the session by sharing their personal philosophies on leadership.

When it comes to leadership lessons, Yu stressed the importance of finding a mentor early and building your relationships, attributing her success in part to her mentor. Specifically, she recommends finding a champion who values and appreciates you as you move up the ladder.

Fu’s advice for young professionals boiled down to staying true to yourself and what drives you. She encourages women to figure out what they want and to stand their ground on their journey, while Moore emphasized the intangibles such as work ethic and maturity.

When asked how to be a good advisor, Yu suggested future mentors put themselves in other people’s shoes, treat people with respect and remember why mentorship is important. She recommends thinking back to when you were the mentee and finding a good balance between confidence and humility.

Moore expressed her concern that people (mentors and mentees alike) don’t talk about failure enough – and emphasized how important it was that her mentor was open and honest with her about her own. She appreciated that it gave her the chance to learn from her mentor’s mistakes and believes more people could learn from failure.

Fu also encouraged women to find their voice and make themselves heard. Especially in the private sector, when it’s expected that you’re decisive even when working on a team.

Best Practices for Becoming Your Best

During this breakout session, mentors Caryn Alagno (Finch Computing), Isabel Lara (NPR), and Barbara Martin (BrandLinkDC) shared some advice on becoming your best, even in high-stress situations that come with working in PR.

Alagno had a few tips for conveying confidence, which occasionally can be a struggle for professional women. She recommends having an arsenal of confident-sounding phrases to build credibility, such as ‘in my professional opinion…’ She says the same applies for when you disagree with someone, such as ‘I agree on X, but disagree on Y,’ then explain your reasoning.

Lara also had a key piece of advice for women: stop saying ‘I think…’ when sharing your opinion. She said it implies doubt, which does not inspire confidence or credibility. Martin added that we should add ‘just’ to that list, too.

As the topic of the night, the panelists shared their stories of how they found their mentors. Martin’s strategy was to be bold and don’t take no for an answer. Alagno took a direct approach, simply asking outright, and outlining why she’d be a good fit for the person she wanted to emulate. She also recommended framing the mentor ask as a compliment, rather than a favor.

Martin also suggested that peer mentors can also be helpful and reminded the group that asking for advice from anyone will more than likely elicit a positive response.

Article by Melinda Tolliver, a digital communications specialist who has worked in a variety of settings throughout her career. She loves the thrill of stringing together powerful, eloquent messages in under 140 characters, and creating thoughtful visuals to go with it. Her current position is with the Association of American Law Schools as a digitally-focused communications coordinator. Follow her tweets and ‘grams at @mmptolliver.

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