The fabulous Shelly Horton was guest speaker at our latest Women in drinks NSW Chapter event yesterday, discussing “Vulnerability and the confidence to be your true self.”
More than 90 people attended the sold-out event, held in Diageo's "HarBar" in North Sydney, to hear Shelly discuss everything from her amazing media career to tips for boosting your confidence, how to make small talk when networking, and the value of goal setting and mentoring.
Horton's high school guidance counsellor once told her she was too opinionated. She ignored him and turned what he regarded as a weakness into a successful career. She has become one of Australia's leading lifestyle and pop culture commentators across all forms of media: print, online, television and radio.
Horton runs her own video production company called ShellShocked Media, appears on Channel Nine three times a week with regular segments on TODAY, TODAY EXTRA and Weekend TODAY; and is an ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, World AIDS Day and The Community Brave Foundation.
Her thoughts on empowerment to be your true self in the pursuit of professional success were truly inspiring.
Horton discussed some of the challenges she has faced in her career, including "faking it til you make it" by pretending she had experience reading news bulletins when a producer asked to step in at the last minute and read a sports report on UK TV.
She was also removed as an on-air presenter in Australia after a producer said she was "too fat for TV" at size 12, plus her short, dark hair meant she "wasn't sexy enough" for male views. Horton admitted the incident damaged her confidence, with it taking many years before she felt brave enough to get back into TV presenting.
Nailing public speaking
Horton kicked off the event by discussing ways to prepare for speaking publicly in front of large groups. She revealed the various tricks she uses to relax her mouth and jaw so she appears relaxed and confident.
They included massaging her jaw, poking her tongue out, doing a few raspberries and repeating the tongue twister "red leather, yellow leather" over and over.
"You need to get your tongue into relaxed mode to perform at your best," she counselled.
The importance of goal setting
Horton emphasised the importace of goal setting to achieve career milestones, which she said was key to overcoming the setback her confidence had received when she was taken off camera.
"I went to a goal setting course that changed my whole life and career," she said.
The course involved writing a letter to herself on what the best career day of her life would look like. It made her examine what she really wanted and deal with the embarrassment that comes from having to "you yourself out there".
Horton decided her goal was to have her own TV show, called "The Shelly Show".
She then dissected the letter and turned it into yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.
Her monthly goal was to get a show reel and send it out to producers. Her weekly goal was to tell at least one person that she wanted to be on TV. And her daily goal was to dress for the job she wanted so she was always camera ready.
Within six weeks a producer that she'd told about her goal to be on TV recommended her for a new show George Negus was launching and she scored the gig.
The lesson she shared from the experience was that "you never know who might be watching or who you might be impressing."
How to make great small talk
After attending more than 1500 functions as a gossip columnist for Fairfax Media, Horton says she "could small talk for Australia."
She encouraged attendees to "be someone who introduces well" and give other people a conversation topic they may have in common to get them talking.
She also suggests drawing a person out by complimenting them on their shoes or a necklace they are wearing, as there may be a story behind the item that they will share with you.
To avoid being caught out for not remembering you've met someone before, she offered a tip from actress Julia Morris: "Say 'great to see you', which could mean for the first time or the fifth time."
Horton suggested avoiding direct personal questions as they could often backfire if the person has been through a troubling experience, for example, asking how their job is going when they may have just been retrenched.
Instead, ask "what's keeping you busy?"
Horton emphasised the importance of extracting yourself from conversations with grace.
"Give people a bit of warning that you're wrapping them up," she said.
She suggested saying "I need" to do something or be somewhere, as it's hard to argue with a need.
If the person has been, for example, discussing a holiday they've been on, thank them for their tips as you step away. This will leave the person feeling positive about the experience despite you moving on.
Horton is an advocate of the value of mentoring, which she does both informally and in a professional capacity. She has a group of women that she meets up with every three months for a walking/talking session.
"It always starts with 'what is the worst thing that's happened in the last three months?' and then 'what is the best thing that's happened in the last three months'"
The women then workshop how to improve the worst thing.
"Ten minds all help each other as a team to come up with solutions," she explained.
One of the women in the mentoring group has since become her boss at Channel 9!
Her advice for making the most of mentoring was that "you have to be able to take constructive criticism."
She also advised Gen Y employees to "be humble and earn your place."
Embrace your vulnerability
Horton told the women and men in the room that "you don't have to be perfect all the time."
She believes showing your vulnerability also shows your strength.
"It's OK not to be OK straight away when something unexpected happens," she added. "Allow yourself time to deal with it and get it out of your system."
Horton later shared on Instagram: "Never met a microphone I didin’t love. Fun afternoon sharing stories with #womenindrinks and only dropped the “F-Bomb” a few times. Now that’s authentic me! #womensupportingwomen."
Here are some social photos from the event: