Editor’s note: Morgan Saltz is a new editor at Smart Meetings who will be working with the Smart Woman VIP Club to build the community of empowered women who met at Smart Woman Summit in Nashville in August. Following are her observations of the power of bringing female leaders together.
The golden Nashville sunset reflected from the downtown skyrises, bounced playfully across Honkytonk Row and landed in a glittering shimmer across the water of the Grand Hyatt Nashville pool as the guests attending Smart Woman Summit gathered on Aug. 26, 2022. The welcome reception embraced women from across the country—rising stars, entrepreneurs, stellar performers, industry leaders, innovators and visionaries—all established, accomplished and excited for the conference.
As a new employee in charge of greeting and registering guests, I was admittedly nervous and not sure what to expect. What I was privileged enough to experience at Smart Woman Summit 2022 was an environment of altruistic support, an eagerness to promote camaraderie and a unified commitment to empowerment.
The poolside mixer was alive with excitement and energy. Attendees arrived with positive energy, ready to network with fellow guests to share ideas.
Full disclosure—I am not a social butterfly.
Yet in the face of these incredibly honest, open and real conversations, I felt accepted. Although my role was to work the registration desk, these accomplished professionals made me feel included.
This was especially true with Princess Sarah Culberson, the keynote speaker for Smart Women in Meetings Awards Gala. I had previously researched her humanitarian work in education and gender issues and was starstruck. I finally gathered the courage to introduce myself.
She greeted me with a down-to-earth and welcoming vibe and we discussed educational inequality, women’s issues in education, her work in Sierra Leone and both of our journeys that have somehow converged to talking on that patio in Nashville. Princess Sarah’s kindness and approachability on the first night of the Smart Woman Summit gave me insight and understanding into what this event was all about—we are all here for each other.
The common challenges facing Smart Woman Summit attendees were literally laid on the table at the next morning’s breakfast as I watched guests sit and passionately discuss the state of mentorship, innovation and entrepreneurship. Ideas from each table were written out on neon post-it notes and slapped on to the table’s poster board to light up the breakfast space.
As the women filed into the ballroom for the first speaker, I had the chance to browse over the various ideas written on colorful stationary. It was so impressive to see collaboration visualized. Even though most attendees had never met, it was evident that a common goal of support and empowerment was the thread throughout each poster board. They may be in different parts of the country, work in different parts of the industry and have different perspectives, yet the challenges outlined applied almost universally.
“What’s working? What has been a struggle? What have been some solutions that have worked? What can we do next? How can we make things better?”
The speakers were all passionate and had their own unique approaches with distinct voices. I saw the guests pour out of the ballroom, energized and thoughtful. One speaker was so powerful, her talk brought one of my co-workers to tears (but I won’t name names).
The day ended with a formal gala, a talk from Princess Sarah and award celebration. It was a beautiful evening and a perfect way to end after so much work to create a significant event.
Any anxiety from the previous days melted away as I stood in the middle of the sparkly ballroom surrounded by men in tuxedos and women dressed to reflect their status as winners. I forgot about my hurting feet, my long to-do list or any other personal thought. Everyone was smiling, hugging, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I realized something in that moment.
I have a support system. I’m one of these women. They want to see me win just as I want to see them win. And for someone who has tended to be somewhat of a loner in the past, I could not be more excited to support this powerful Smart Woman VIP Club and build a strong sense of community of support for these dynamic leaders.