**this article was originally published by The Carolinian Newspaper
“It was life changing, I’ve never been to a conference that felt like it was developed just for me.” These are the words of Emmanuel, an entrepreneur and CEO and one of the attendees of The ASCEND Conference – a leadership development conference held in Charlotte, at the Microsoft Corporation campus. The sold out event developed and hosted by the Alchemist Agency and sponsored by Terrell Headen of the Microsoft Corporation’s FastTrack Center featured expert presenters from the Charlotte area and Washington, DC, Virginia, and New York. Despite the geographic differences, Janae, another attendee and a manager of a team of more than 20 people expressed, “this was the most cohesive conference I’ve ever been to.”
The opening speaker, Latricia Davis, was the first black woman appointed as Executive Director for the Commission on the Status of Women in Erie County, New York. She is a CEO and entrepreneur, and gave the formula for owning your space, finding your voice, and standing in your own power. Latricia used her personal experience to show how important it is to accept and move in authority without minimizing or disrespecting others but protecting self-value and self-worth.
Co-founders of the Shift-Ed Network, Lindsay Beyak and Annie Wickham, charged the attendees to act rather than stagnate in the planning stage when working toward goals. Their session included a decision-making exercise that helped the leaders in the room identify an action (a forcing function) that would push them to the point of no return. Their research on positive and successful professional transitions stemmed from their highly successful podcast, highlighting stories of transitions of executives and professionals.
Each person in the room was treated to Chef Barbara Giglio’s incredible “Cylk Cozart’s Maple Pecan Bourbon Cookie” while the chef shared her journey from retail business owner to celebrity private baker and designer of Barb’s Bars. Of Chef “Mama G’s” presentation, one Microsoft Senior Manager said, “she was so transparent and vulnerable, it reminded me that my own dreams are not out of reality or out of reach.”
Keynote presenter, Karima Mariama-Arthur, is an attorney and CEO of a highly successful consulting firm. Nominated for a NAACP image award for her book, Poised for Excellence, she had everyone in the room on their feet at the conclusion of her session on executive presence. Karima’s session challenged each leader to consider how they present themselves professionally with respect to character, communication, and charisma.
The mentorship and networking training session by CEO John Sporing gave specific insight and behaviors men should adopt when serving as sponsors for women. John is an ally and advocate of women in executive positions, and his session was clearly aimed at helping women network with results beyond collecting business cards and men to sponsor them up the corporate ladder.
Graphic designer and third-generation publisher Adria Jervay of The Carolinian riled the audience with a reminder that truth is the beginning of freedom. Her session on building and maintaining partnerships was filled with humor and personality, which helped balance the sharp truths and focused criticisms of the way business is often conducted as it grows. Jervay challenged entrepreneurs to rethink the way they build business, reminding them that sustaining partnerships and relationships is the way to financial freedom.
Freedom was also a theme in the final session presented by licensed therapist Charryse Johnson. Charryse’s session focused on the need for self-care and mental/social/emotional wellness and breaking through old barriers to a place of freedom that allows leaders to grow their teams and businesses. Challenging the attendees to consider the source of their blockers and the true impetus of their reactions, Johnson helped attendees release their old habits and commit to finding time to reflect on the reasons they fail to self-care.
In a post-event survey 100% of respondents said they would attend again. Over 95% said they would attend and bring a friend. It seems the Alchemist Agency and the ASCEND Conference have found a formula for addressing the challenges of leadership, presence, and communication. There is certainly a need for events that share actionable advice and practical strategies – and the conference did just that. 10 out of 10 people agree, the conference left them Positioned. Higher.