Shonali Devereaux

Words: Rebecca Towell

WOW, what an icon! With 25 years’ experience in the events world internationally, including the Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, the three main annual Political Party Conferences and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Annual Meeting. Shonali is a lecturer in Events and Tourism at the University of Hertfordshire.

She is also co-founder of the Diverse Speaker Bureau, a trustee for Meeting Needs and the ‘mentor for mentors’ on Fast Forward 15.

Q: What is your proudest career accomplishment?
I’ve done many amazing things in my career! I’ve worked all over the world – from the Olympics in Sydney to the European Bank Annual meeting in Kiev to the Asian Games in Doha. But whenever someone asks me of my proudest moments, they have always been the people I’ve mentored at work to be their best selves. I’ve always had an open-door, honest approach to leadership, and it means that my team have never been afraid to approach me with their ambitions, and I have always helped them as much as I can to succeed. Everyone only has one life; why not encourage your team to live theirs to the fullest?

Q: What motivates you and how do you stay inspired?
Penny-drop moments motivate me. Whether it’s at an event I’m emceeing, or in the classroom. I’ll spend ages on lecture material to get the storytelling and activities right so my students understand the theories I’m trying to teach them.

I stay inspired by “filling my well”! A full well helps you to help others. (Like they say on the aeroplane safety briefing “put on your oxygen mask first”) Creativity, humour and new experiences are ways I like to fill my well. I recently fulfilled all three needs by going on a comedy course, although I’m still not funny! I love to indulge in collage art, vintage hunting and am a sucker for self-help books.

Q: You’re now the “mentor of mentors” for FF15, what do you love about mentoring & coaching (benefits of being mentored / mentoring).
A mentor is like a mirror that shows us how we really are, or a larger perspective on a situation, or reflects different views on a scenario. All of these things lead to those “penny-drop” moments that I love and supporting people in living their best lives. One of the most wonderful things about being “mentor of mentors” is using my wealth of mentoring tools and knowledge and flex my improvisation muscles to help mentors unlock the best out of their mentees.

Q: What are your top tips for goal setting, being accountable and accomplishing goals.
Full disclosure? I’m like a girl in a rock pool, uncovering stones. I’ll get delighted and excited about the next exciting project. It’s part of why I’ve amassed a wealth of different experiences in the event world, but also the reason that my goals are ever-changing. To have a goal I achieve and am accountable for, it needs to have a really strong WHY underneath it. If the “why” is not strong enough, I turn over my next rock to see what is underneath! My biggest advice is to understand your why. Remember it. Write it down. Underline it. Highlight it. Stick it on your wall, so you remember it whenever you feel distracted from your plan and path.

(PS – My goal is to be a presenter on TV. Presenting Loose Women, Bake Off, taking over from Claudia on the Traitors or have my own talk show like Graham Norton!  Why? My superpower / thing that brings me most joy is elevating others’ stories. I want to be on TV to reach as many people as possible!  It’s smack bang in the middle of my “ikigai” )

Q: You’ve recently taken a huge leap following your passion which involves lots of public speaking – what advice do you have on how to overcome fears and connect with the audience.
Check your ego at the coat rack. When you stop thinking about you (your appearance, your gestures, the thing you forgot to say) you are fully present in the moment and in the content and have the mental freedom to be able to connect with the audience. They want to hear what you have to say and they are willing you to do well.  Trust that you have rehearsed this / prepared enough; don’t let your ego get  in your own way.

Q: Can you give a little insight into embracing your uniqueness and the 12 days of your “Authentic Self”.
Yes! The 12 days of Christmas for many follows a period of overspend and overindulgence and somewhere in the middle of that, we make new year’s resolutions. My 12 days of Authentic Self was timed to coincide with the 12 days of Christmas, and remind people that the greatest joy in life comes from finding happiness by being your authentic self. I hope that by encouraging people to be themselves that they made resolutions and set goals that avoided being punitive, but instead resonated with their soul and were therefore more sustainable.

Q: Inclusivity and Diversity is extremely important – is there any advice for event planners that you have to ensure that this is always at the forefront of event planning?
There seems to be a lot of emotion around Inclusivity and Diversity with some planners fearful they are not getting it right and some planners thinking that they are not far enough along the journey. If you are thinking about it – well done – you have started the journey! Firstly, try to make it a part of your early planning discussions, and find a way to accommodate needs of those with protected characteristics into the fabric of your event. Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask your delegates what they need. Thirdly, keep practising doing steps one and two. The more you practice, the more you will understand what works for you and your delegates and the greater and more seamless your inclusivity and diversity becomes.