Last week I had the privilege of attending Inspirefest; a two day arts, design, science and technology conference where some of the world’s most inspiring, intelligent and successful people shared their stories, knowledge and advice with attendees. Much of the discussion centred around the shift from STEM to STEAM: the ‘A’ referring to the important inclusion of the arts. The conference took place at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre; a venue I am only familiar with as a theatre, not a conference space, but it worked extremely well considering the nature of the event.

Before you scroll any further be warned: the word inspired will be used repeatedly throughout the post!

Inspirefest also holds fringe events in the evening, which kicked off with a networking event hosted by Accenture at The Dock. The inimitable Kelly Hoey along with Lorna Ross (she is so cool, I want to be her friend) and Accenture’s Vicky Godolphin led the session titled ‘Building Your Personal Brand’, which reinforced the importance of reputation, networking and knowing your own perspective; how this can add value and be a key differentiator. One of the main points I reflected on after this session was that every social interaction really is networking, and that while hard work will always pay off, networking by being considerate of others’ time, and being deliberate will help you to get ahead. Kelly Hoey has the most incredible energy and a brilliant smile, so much so that I left feeling empowered and inspired, before Inspirefest had even begun!

Over the course of the two days we heard from many different speakers, 75% of whom were female (#girlpower), all of whom introduced me to new ideas, theories, thoughts and topics. I had no knowledge of gaming, having never owned a playstation or gameboy growing up (the furthest I ever got was playing tennis on the Wii), but now, having listened to Eimear Noone and Rhianna Pratchett speak, I know that you don’t have to be a tech whizz to work in gaming, you can use your musical talents to compose for games, or your writing skills to create the characters and plots.

I must admit the discussions surrounding robotics and how realistic robots can be is mildly terrifying, especially as the world becomes more dependent on them each day. Scary or not, it is impossible not to be intrigued when Ms Ana Matronic (yes, of the Scissor Sisters fame, I was massively girl crushing) is pouring her enthusiasm and excitement on the topic all over the stage. Her personality is so electric that she has served to both increase my irrational fear of robots taking over the world (it began with seeing the movie iRobot – I was traumatised!), but also piqued my interest.

So many of these men and women left attendees feeling empowered and ready to take action. The incredible Anita Sands left us all with the challenge to be fearless, having told us that ‘learning to shush the roommate in your mind is the key to accepting change and moving forward’, something I certainly have struggled to do in the past. There’s always that voice in your head telling you the reasons not to move forward! She also reminded us that it is ‘not enough for women to have a seat at the table, we have to lean in and speak up’! And of course she is right; if we get that seat at the table then we are obliged to offer our opinions and expertise; only then will more seats become available.
I’m certainly at a juncture where I’m attempting to combine my passion for the arts and the drinks industry with my business masters into a sustainable creative career. Moving from theatre to business was a massive change for me, and it was extremely reassuring to be hear the stories of many of the speakers who had changed career path, or more poetically, changed perspective. I found I could relate immediately to the lovely Keri Kukral, who moved from ballet into science and technology; for her, the world of art was her home and she had to find a new one. Which she did, with great success. Another speaker who has had many shifts in career is the phenomenal Arlan Hamilton who has overcome so many obstacles to achieve her goals. We need more role models like Arlan, she truly is inspiring. Follow her on twitter @ArlanWasHere

The importance of elocution and speaking well in public was instilled in me from a young age by both my mother and my grandmother, and the high calibre of speakers at Inspirefest was truly astonishing. Unfortunately this meant that the couple who read from notes and failed to inject personality into their presentations stood out for the wrong reason. The most impressive, polished and eloquent of all was Arlene O’Neill, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Trinity College, who didn’t stumble or say ‘ehm’ once, and looked so comfortable standing in front of us all. Her work supporting teenage students in STEM through the Trinity Walton Club is phenomenal, and I wish I had been given access to a club like that growing up. She also had great shoes!

Many of these speakers told us their personal stories; not just of their path to success, but the reasons they found themselves on such a path. Everyone in the auditorium was moved by both Dr Sue Black and Monica Parker who laid bare their history and are proof that you can rebuild your life with the greatest effort and will. Their strength is admirable, their stories inspiring and they are so lovely on stage that you just want to make friends with them. Dr Sue Black has the most impressive pink hair I have ever seen, and I am insanely jealous of it, especially as my family and friends have firmly suggested that I should not attempt doing this to my hair again. I can’t pull it off in the same way! Monica Parker reminded us that we must ‘hatch or go bad’, and left us all feeling quite emotional as we reflected on the Japanese tradition of kintsugi; repairing something that is broken with precious minerals or stones. Michelle Cullen put it beautifully on Twitter “inspirefest is Kintsugi for the soul’.

As I am a keen fashion follower, it would be remiss of me to write a post like this and not mention the style that was seen on the Bord Gais stage. Highlights included Arlene O’Neill’s Louboutins, Anne O’Dea’s tunic top on day one and jewellery on day two, Kelly Hoey’s affinity for sequins, but most of all, the gorgeous Nilofer Merchant who wore a stunning sparkling Gucci skirt that I need to have in my wardrobe (apologies for the very blurred photo below)!

Izzy wheels, for those of you who don’t know, are an Irish business set up by two sisters to provide colourful wheel covers to wheelchair users. The girls are bubbly and bright, and bring so much personality and colour with them. Check them out on Instagram here to see just how colourful, creative and artistic wheels can be.

Inspirefest is partnered with the charity Debra, who fundraise to help EB sufferers. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience when we listened to the story of those who are affected by E.B.; both those who suffer from the disease, and their families. The charity had a stand on the first floor with other exhibitors and gave out tattoos of their butterfly symbol (see below). You can find out more about the charity here.

One of the main things I learned at Inspirefest was that I need to watch Star Wars and Star Trek. There were references to one or other in about 75% of the presentations, and I felt a bit silly not getting the jokes! I’ve also realised that I haven’t singled out any of the male speakers, and this is not intentional; they all shared ideas that resonated, it is just that for the first time in my experience, the female voice dominated the sessions and left a real and lasting impression. I certainly gleaned some valuable insights on presentation skills, mainly that the more personal the story shared, the more engaged the audience will be. But the main point to take away from the event is to just be your own authentic self, to silence the noise in your head, and to reach for your goals. As Dr Niamh Shaw said ‘Don’t give up on your impossible dreams’! So one week on, after much reflection and thought, I’m as inspired as I was leaving the Bord Gais last Friday and more determined than ever.

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