They used to say never mix business with pleasure, but that doesn’t resonate with us friendly Yorkshire folk who not only have the best accents but manage to merge the two as we collaborate together more than ever – from my first public speaking gig since Lockdown at Elland Road for Leeds Digital Festival (LDF) to report on the Real Women fashion show at The Royal Armouries. From facilitating mindfulness workshops at the creative business hub inside The Ridings Shopping Centre and reviewing shows at Leeds Grand Theatre and Leeds Playhouse. I’ve been lucky enough to not only immerse myself back into some form of normality but reacquaint myself with my love of ‘doing business’ in God’s Own County.
In fragmented uncertain times in work and life for many of us, I too was extremely nervous about emerging out of my comfort zone of a home office where I have spent almost two years nervously logging on to Zoom meetings, typing away at the lonely blue screen and leading workshops and delivering speeches with a jacket thrown on, clutching at my out-of-shot pencil pot filled with ‘video make up,’ as I awkwardly apply it to allay “you look poorly” comments from humans who knew this lass in the flesh.
Luckily my accent is strong, my smile beams, and apparently despite my sweating brow thanks to computer ‘updates,’ I look energetic and composed on the video call.
I have tried to use this time to form some semblance of community online such as refreshing a community-run accessibility blog Yorkshire Families and creating Sparkle Up North business magazine after sponsorship from Leeds City Region’s AD: Venture programme for start-ups – both are hubs to share unheard stories from northern families and the other businesses across the region.
So as soon as ‘live events’ invite me to speak, review and attend, I seize the opportunity.
Until I realise that I need to fully dress, present myself as unphased by this lapse in work and confidence, a pivoting time in business, but I haven’t celebrated the new opportunities due to feeling stifled by solitary confinement.
I feel anxious and emotional at the thought of attending events where I hope to pretend that I exude professionalism and clarity.
But despite wearing a mask, when I arrive at familiar regional venues, my eyes give it away because I don’t even have my smile or muffled accent to cover it up.
Luckily instead of awkward sympathy as I ‘network,’ or lead sessions, others share their stories and journeys of arriving here at this professional outing.
The diverse throng of humans in the flesh I have met so far tend to be more authentic than ever and at ease with not ‘faking it’ in favour of a perceived professional stereotype.
Theatres are staffed by the most welcoming of staff who wait in anticipation to give us the warmest welcome possible. The behind-the-scenes crew at events breathe deeply as they navigate running a smooth event, despite more admin and organisation than ever before, not to mention the pressure to deliver instructions to guests and anticipate challenges.
When speaking about YouTube for brands at Elland Rd for Digital Knowledge Exchange as part of LDF, I radiate off the live human faces behind the SMEs across the region rather than relying on performance adrenaline alone. The other speakers also have a spring in their step too after an energetic back-to-reality day.
No more Wifi lapses, just purposeful verbal pauses, as speakers’ have the pleasure of sharing their business stories and skills as well as interweaving their life experiences. Conversations and contributions are more heartfelt than ever before as we experience the pleasure of ‘doing business’ and life again with that Yorkshire grit but most of all friendly openness as we support one another to thrive.
That same week I brush off a dress to report on the Met Gala-style real women fashion show in which Leeds lasses strutted down the catwalk in an empowering evening attended by many female-run brands in Yorkshire. Again, I am able to openly chat to brands bossing it on social media who I am able to meet in human for the first time. And as the organiser Carron Cummings who runs Simple Ladies business community is so honest about juggling motherhood and work, I felt able to invite my eldest daughter as my plus one for the first time at an event such as this.
I am by no means digitally adverse but as we entrepreneurs pivot to serve our communities and inspire our own teams, I know there’s only one county I want to be restarting my enterprising journey in.
Now, I feel ready to enjoy and embrace the new synergy of working from home and across Yorkshire.
Read more from Sophie Mei Lan and other entrepreneurial humans at https://sparkleupnorth.com, https://yorkshirefamilies.co.uk and https://mamamei.co.uk