Lessons from Keynote Shonda Rhimes at INBOUND 18

September 13, 2018 Ginna Hall

Since 2012, HubSpot’s blockbuster conference, INBOUND, has brought together marketers, sales and customer success folks for a week at the Boston Convention and Expo Center. The exhibitor floor is the width of two football fields, bordered by a main stage with seating for 5,000. Upstairs, 240+ sessions run back-to-back over three days.

The event attracts notable speakers from industry, politics and culture. Keynotes in the past have included Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King and Brené Brown. The hoopla continues after hours, with happy hours, a music performances, and sponsor parties. This year was no exception: 24,000 marketers from 104 countries made their way to Boston to drink from the Hubspot fountain.

From the enthusiastic clapping one wouldn’t have known that early on Day 2, a software upgrade as HubSpot moved its Enterprise service to AWS caused an outage that rippled across its biggest customers, causing some sites to be down for, in at least one case, seven hours.

It just goes to show that upgrades can challenge even a high-profile software company, and that the best policy is transparency and responsiveness. According to one customer, HubSpot issued an “all hands on deck” call to its developers around the world within an hour of identifying the problem and posted continuous updates while they worked to resolve it.

INBOUND 18 Agenda: People, Culture & Diversity

While that drama simmered in the background, the conference proceeded without a hitch. This year’s show was notable for the diversity of its mainstage speakers. Opening keynote Deepak Chopra brought at least one attendee to tears with his message of self care and meditation. Day 1 speakers included GE Former Vice Chair Beth Comstock; Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud; Thrive COO Brent Chudoba; Google X Chief Business Officer Mo Gawdat; and Shopify Founder Tobi Lutke.

Day 2 featured Award-Winning Writer and Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes; Hearst Former Chief Content Officer Joanna Coles; Award-Winning Writer, Best-Selling Author and Producer Esther Perel; Former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez; Producer and Actor Lena Waithe; and Stripe COO Claire Hughes Johnson.

Although they span industries and experiences, the one thing these individuals have in common are compelling stories and their ability to tell them on a big stage. There are personal and professional lessons to be had for marketers listening in.

Here are pearls of wisdom from one of the most high-profile speakers at INBOUND 18.

Shonda Rhimes Disrupts TV with Progressive Stories

Shonda Rhimes is an American television producer, screenwriter, and author best known as the showrunner—creator, head writer, and executive producer—of Grey's Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, and Scandal.

In 2007, Rhimes was named one of TIME magazine's 100 People Who Help Shape the World. She is the author of a memoir, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Rhimes has since left ABC and entered into a multi-year development deal with Netflix. She was interviewed by Joanna Coles.

On having confidence:

[With Grey’s Anatomy] it helped that I was very passionate about my job and I was the only one who knew how these characters behaved and talked. The writers were waiting for me to tell them. I wasn’t worried that people wouldn’t like my idea, I worried about getting it out correctly and helping everybody else hear me.

On casting diverse actors:

Unless you say you want to see an actress of color, they’ll send you white people of a specific body type, and they’re all the same. I said that’s not going to work for us. I just want to see good actors. We saw an interesting group of people and it made a difference.

On writing:

The book has been an amazing experience. Writing it was transformative. I highly recommend keeping a journal. You discover things about yourself while you’re writing.

On saying yes:

At the Kennedy Center Honors, I was told I was sitting with President Obama. I had an amazing time. But I realized that if they had asked, I would have said no. It was the universe was kicking me in the pants. I decided to say ‘yes’ to everything for a year.

On overcoming fear:

Saying ‘yes’ was profound. I said yes to big and small things: every time my kids asked me to play, going on dates, going to dinner parties. I had fear that everything would go wrong, but the act of doing a thing undoes the fear. If you have the difficult conversation you didn’t want to, accept the invitation to speak, go to the dinner, you realize it wasn’t so bad and you might even have some fun.

On leaving ABC and joining Netflix:

I had been in one place for a long time. I loved my job. We could now solve huge problems in three minutes. We were getting a little bit bored. I want to be excited about going to work. Netflix is a challenge. I’ve never worked in streaming. All the shows at once. Unlimited creative freedom. It’s a new world. Shondaland 2.0.

On negotiating:

You never walk into a negotiation without knowing the point at which you’ll walk away. If you’re not willing to walk away, you’re not negotiating. They’ve won. You have to be able to say I’m out.

On working in the #MeToo era:

It’s important to look inside your own house. You have to be 100 percent sure that everyone’s walking the talk. You have to make sure that everyone feels respected and that there are enough women on crews. I made it clear how people should be treated. Any man or woman can do a love scene in a snowsuit if that’s what they need to feel comfortable.

What’s the point of being a woman in power if you can’t make sure other women get to be in power?

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