WeAreTheCity speaks to Viv Groskop, Managing Director & Author; How to Own the Room.
Viv is also one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming WeAreFutureLeaders conference on 24 May.
Viv is a writer, stand-up comedian and TV and radio presenter. She has hosted book tours for Graham Norton and Jo Brand, is the veteran of four Edinburgh Fringe shows and fronts the cult podcasts Dear Viv and We Are Women. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and Saturday Review and appears regularly on BBC1’s This Week. As an executive coach, she works with women across business, media and advertising, helping them to hone their authority, presence and leadership.
At the conference, Viv will talk about the importance of authenticity, and how you can ‘be yourself’ whilst still being professional and assertive. Discover the full agenda for the day here.
WeAreFutureLeaders, now in its third year, is a conference aimed at women (below Director level) who wish to progress in their career or who are preparing for promotion. This is not a conference that labours about the lack of women in leadership positions, this full day learning event where our guests will gain real tangible skills that they can take back in to the workplace the following day.
You can find out more about the conference and book your place here.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you’ve come from, where you’ve worked, how you got to where you are today?
I started out in journalism at Cosmopolitan and Esquire in the mid 1990s and then went on to work as an editor and columnist at the Sunday Express and Saturday Telegraph magazine. By the age of 26, I was sick of working for other people and managed to secure a redundancy payment which changed my life. I used the money to try freelancing, assuring myself that I would get a job after six months if it wasn’t working out. That was 19 years ago. Since then I’ve become a stand-up comedian (with five Edinburgh Fringe shows under my belt), an author of three books (my latest How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking is out now), a TV and radio presenter (for Andrew Neil’s This Week on BBC 1 and Front Row on BBC R4) and the host of Top 10 iTunes podcast How to Own the Room. That podcast has been an unexpected hit and is my new favourite thing. I interview women like Mary Portas, Nigella Lawson, Mary Beard, Anne-Marie Imafidon and Meera Syal about power, presence, performance, self-doubt and insecurity.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not more than six months or a year ahead. I always have ideas in my mind of what I want to do but it frequently changes by the time I’ve got close to where I was supposed to be going. Things move so fast now that you never know what opportunities are around the corner. I can remember saying ten years ago that I would never use social media and now I’ve built a podcast and reader community I love exclusively from social and reach over 50,000 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What inspired you to get involved with in motivational speaking?
It came out of my early career in stand-up. I did 100 gigs in 100 consecutive nights in 2011 as a sort of “do or die” experiment. It led to me hosting book tours for Jo Brand, Graham Norton and Jennifer Saunders and a book, I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life. But it also led to loads of people asking me to come into their workplace and pass on everything I had picked up about overcoming anxiety, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and recovering from setbacks. (99 per cent of stand-up is these skills. The other one per cent is good material.) So it started by word of mouth and I found I really enjoyed it. Particularly because I felt as if all the stage deaths I had experienced had not been in vain.
Do you have a favourite experience from your career?
Usually the last thing I’ve done. Yesterday I spent ten hours in a recording studio with a director, producer and six actors making my first radio play, Read the Room, commissioned for BBC Radio 4. This was something I worked towards for the past five years, with a lot of rejections, and to see it finally happen was great.
What do you think WeAreFutureLeaders guests will gain from your talk?
I’m talking about authenticity which is a really over-used word, especially in the corporate context where I think it’s not always realistic — and can feel very unsafe — to be “authentic.” I’ll be inspiring women to think about how they can take more risks. Frequently when we use the word “authentic” we’re really talking about having the guts to say what we really think and be who we really are. This is actually the most attractive thing we can do and be in other people’s eyes (and we all feel it when someone is “inauthentic”). But we fear it too. And it can feel especially scary to do it at work. I’ll be talking about how to lessen that fear.
What are your top three tips for success?
- Investigate yourself constantly for the ways in which you’re holding yourself back. What are you really scared of? Would it really matter if it went wrong?
- Treat every new attempt as an experiment. Take notes. Do it again better.
- Get yourself more financial and admin support than you think you need.
What has been your biggest challenge during your career?
Balancing work and life is never easy, especially as all the things I do blur into one and it’s hard for me to compartmentalise. I let myself off the hook as a parent a lot. I have three children (aged 8, 12 and 15) and if I was trying to be the perfect mother all the time, it would be a disaster.
Which female role models are you most inspired by?
I love the US stand-up comedian Tig Notaro. She works on lots of projects simultaneously and brings so much fun and energy to everything she does. I hugely admire Mary Portas. I’ve interviewed her many times and she always says something surprising and inspiring. She has taken big risks in her working life and is always in women’s corner. For public speaking, the best inspiration of the past 50 years has to be Michelle Obama: uniquely informal, relaxed, controlled speaking.
In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for women at work and how can it be overcome?
I think it’s connected to working motherhood. The way working mothers (I hate that expression) are perceived has knock-on effects for all women. One of the biggest cultural obstacles is the desire to regard the mother as the primary parent.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Embrace quotas as widely as possibly as a stinky but necessary evil. Any sensible person hates quotas as no-one wants to end up thinking, “Did I just get this role to fulfil the quota? What about merit?” But without them, the pace of change is so slow. Put up with the quotas, get the role, use the role to demonstrate loads of merit.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Spend more time on the things you’re good at and that you enjoy. Outsource as much of the other stuff as possible. Still trying to learn that, though.