Fay Sharpe, founder of Fast Forward 15 introduces Debra Nightingale in the 8th of her series on Shero’s:: “There are few people in our industry with a heart as big as Debra Nightingale, her tough exterior, confident determination and a cool demeanour, are  misleading. Underneath that is a woman who you would want next to you in a crisis, who nurtures relationships and gives 110% . Outstanding at what she does, go getting and direct but with empathy and care in what she does in and out of work that is unique.

I’ve known her and worked with her over the last 10 years, She stands out positively  and is truly an industry diamond.”

Who is Debra Nightingale?

My long and winding road to the events industry has taken me through advertising, TV commercials, promotional videos, employee engagement, B2B marketing, and finally to ‘full-fat’ events for the past 18 years.  This blend of experience and skills has been incredibly useful, and in the year of the plague – 20/21 – it has meant that my company, All Bright Communications, has been able to pivot effortlessly away from the live events, to a broader buffet of marcoms offerings.

As a dedicated career woman with a daughter to raise, I spent decades working for companies like Cogent Elliot, Arc Advertising, Grass Roots, Motivcom and Aspect – and then suddenly, in a move that was completely out of character, I decided it would be good for my ‘chi’ if I upped-sticks and went and lived in far Northern Queensland. I learned very quickly that over and above the beautiful beaches and lovely palm trees, pretty much everything wants to bite or eat you, and so I returned 18 months later nursing some huge disappointments, but in hindsight it really did me a power of good.  It gave me the perspective I needed to jump off the hamster wheel of over-achievement and find the courage to do something that would be more fulfilling by allowing me to use the broader pallet of my communications skills again. And so I set up All Bright Communications. In Year One we worked with Virgin Active, Landmark Workspaces and The Ivy – on a broad range of really creative projects. Then in Year Two I was joined by long-term friend and colleague of 20 years standing, and talented communications director, Joanna Dolan; extending our comms capability even further to include digital and social media.  In Year 3, strangely and without any guile it seems that over 80% of our clients are women, and during these Covid years it is brave, courageous entrepreneurs in Femtech, fantastically talented and ambitious owners in dental, passionate advocates in events industry associations and ground-breaking women-in-tech membership groups that are the ones who are pushing ahead.  We absolutely love what we do, and now we think and work in a very different way from our old corporate selves. It’s more relaxed, more collaborative, more creative, more courageous, open-minded, considerate, and almost always about combined achievements for the greater good. It’s really very fulfilling.

Sadly, running interference in the background for the past 18 months, I’ve had to manage a very personal challenge which I would NEVER have imagined that someone like me would have had to deal with, because I think of myself as strong, focused, capable and in control.  Unfortunately, that didn’t matter to my young (male) neighbour, and because he was in Covid lockdown and got bored and angry, he decided to entertain himself by targeting his frustration towards me. I won’t go into detail but imagine the extreme use of the worst possible expletives, plenty of smashing and banging and threats, and horrible relentless abuse – sometimes for 8-12 hours a day.  So, please believe me when I say working at home hasn’t been a bowl of cherries, with nowhere to go to get away from it. Thankfully, many official complaints, police statements, arrests, notices of eviction and so forth later, he has finally gone. My head has been taken out of a vice and a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and despite the snow the sun is shining once again.  All I’m waiting for now is my jab!!

Today I find myself, for a second time, honoured to be a Fast Forward 15 mentor, during a period that has not only shaken our industry to the very core but changed the way we’ll do business for ever.  Back in January 2009, Fay and I met on the Board of Zibrant – she as joint MD, me as Global Events Director.  From an operational perspective there was a bit of pig flu swishing around and a touch of SARS flying about – all of which meant we had to be really cautious, but I don’t think in our wildest dreams we would have imagined this Covid horror, even if we’d sat down for a 3-hour brainstorm and 2 bottles of prosecco each.  Fast forward 12 years (see what I did there?), and FF15 is 6 years old; a brilliantly conceived, well-structured, incredibly effective, tried and tested mentoring model driven forward by the wonderful Fay Sharpe, and all of us who are ardent believers.  At the end of this educational year over 1500 women will have applied, and 90 of them will have been through this enriching and dynamic programme. I can confidently say that pretty much all of them would confirm they’ve benefited from the experience, guidance, and professional network they’ve had access to. The wonderful truth is that some of these women have developed their careers and done so well, that they are now coming around to their own Mentoring positions in the FF15 programme; which is a truly remarkable achievement and such a huge benefit to the events industry.

The truth is, being a Fast Forward 15 mentor has been a bit of a lifeboat for me during these challenging times.  It’s an incredibly enjoyable programme and the process of getting to know your Mentee and working out how you can help them achieve their goals is very rewarding. From a purely selfish perspective it’s under-pinned my self-belief, helped me to value my experience and really bolstered my confidence. It’s given me a huge feel-good buzz to be sharing and giving something back to an industry that has given me so much over the years, and it’s allowed me to connect and lock into an incredible network of fantastic women across the events industry.  It’s truly better than diamonds!!