By Haley Wilson
Since 2004, Illinois Women in Leadership (IWIL) has promoted its mission through education, mentoring, networking, participation and community involvement. IWIL celebrated this program with the fifth annual IWIL symposium at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Springfield on Sept. 7. Each year, the symposium brings together professionals from across the state, ranging from interns to executive directors. “Influence” was the theme resonating through the entire program. Symposium co-chair Emily Becker stated that “for the past several years, we’ve selected one powerful word as our theme to focus our programming and brand the event for our attendees. We selected ‘influence’ because it is such a well-rounded concept that has positive effects for every aspect of one’s life.”
Numerous booths lined the walls of the entire ballroom for the opening exhibit event. Exhibitors were equally enthusiastic about the concept of influence – each showcase related to female empowerment and development in some way. Wiley Office Furniture even offered a recharge and relax station to help attendees loosen up and unwind. Other participants included Alice Campbell Staffing, Inner Health Spa, Susan G. Komen and Premier Designs.
As guests took their seats, Becker reflected that for her, this was the most powerful part of the event, “when the day hasn’t quite started and there are 300 attendees all in one room. There is so much energy.”
The theme of influence was further emphasized by keynote speaker Stacey Hanke, author of the book Influence Redefined and co-author of the book Yes You Can! “We had our eye on her for a while,” Becker said, “and her message of ‘influence’ fit perfectly with our theme this year.” The event began with Hanke addressing a room of hundreds of women with encouraging words on leadership, communication and powerful skills to enhance one’s influence in the workplace. She kept the crowd engaged with humorous yet relatable stories on how to communicate effectively.
Upon the conclusion of Hanke’s speech, attendees moved on to a full day of various breakout sessions throughout the conference area. Session topics included retirement planning (Anna Sohm), mindfulness practices for busy women (Juliet Slack), how to be anti-fragile (Mary Furrie) and many more.
Springfield resident Steve Thomas shared his 30 years of leadership expertise as part of a standing-room-only parallel session entitled “Losing Your Influence? Go from ‘Stuck’ to ‘On’.” Thomas wowed the crowd with hs uncanny sense of humor along with a powerful message. He emphasized the power of improving your quality of life in order to achieve true leadership with yourself and in your work environment.
A common theme for nonprofit organizations across the nation this year was “resiliency” – defined as a human’s ability to recover quickly from disruptive change or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways. Wendi Willis El-Amin held a session called “The Science of Stress and Resiliency in Women.” During this session, El-Amin examined the important role that women have on their families and community. She also helped participants build a personal plan of stability and develop the tools needed to build resiliency.
Professor Karen Dean of Illinois College made a presentation on the popular subject of “Influencing How You Want to be Defined.” This session applied the key principles of Illinois College’s leadership program to the wildly popular musical, Hamilton. Illinois College is the first college in the United States to lay the groundwork to incorporate Hamilton into their curriculum as a first-year “reading.” The session served as a tool to help participants on their journey towards effective leadership, along with defining what leadership goals are necessary for a particular journey.
“Let’s Talk About Death – It Won’t Kill You” was the title of a more unconventional but still essential session. Although death is a topic people tend to avoid, Diane Newell discussed the importance of actually living, expressing the notion that remaining mindful in the presence of illness or unexpected situations can help a person rediscover the art of living. She encouraged the audience to have tough conversations with their loved ones on the topic.
As the day drew to an end, attendees filled the grand ballroom to hear Hanke make her final encouraging remarks. “The air was buzzing with all the takeaways from the great sessions,” Becker said.
The event concluded with a light, hour-long networking reception. “It’s great to join everyone and hear how all of our hard work paid off,” according to Becker. IWIL announced it had achieved record-breaking attendance this year, with the symposium filled to capacity.
Haley Wilson is a freelance writer in Springfield.
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