Blog Nordic Business Forum 2017

Team Leader Spotlight: Virpi Hiljanen

#WeMakeNBF Appreciation Week is in full swing at Nordic Business Forum! It’s been a festive week full of interviews with some of our shining Volunteer Team Leader stars, and today is no exception. Up next, we would like to introduce to you the wonderful Virpi Hiljanen.

Virpi was in charge of the Speaker Services team, leading a group of 14 enthusiastic volunteers. She has also been a volunteer for two previous NBForum events, in 2015 and 2016, after which she joined the Leadership Program. We sat down to speak with Virpi about her experiences with us!

Nordic Business Forum: Hi Virpi! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about your time as a Team Leader this past year! Let’s start with the basics. What is it like to volunteer with NBF?

Virpi Hiljanen: It’s the best! I mean it. Compared to any other organization that I have worked with, there is something special about NBF. From the beginning, the “magic” quality of volunteering with NBF has always been the way everyone is asked to take ownership of everything they do, even when you’re doing the smallest job — though there are no small jobs… All the jobs are as important. I feel like, even for the little details, everyone is encouraged to take ownership and I that was really something that got me applying again and again. I had already decided in 2015 that I wanted to be a Team Leader because the atmosphere of the event and the feeling of being in a group where everyone wants to be involved all the time was just so fun. The whole package makes NBF very unique for me!

NBF: It’s lovely to hear that you immediately knew that the Team Leader role was for you. Had you ever done something like it before?

VH: Not at all. We had months of preparation, which helped! We had lectures and visitors from different places and different backgrounds, some had been in the events and some had never visited the event at all. But they were all useful because they had different points of view on leadership, and that was very nice because, even though we were 16 pretty similar people, I feel like we all got something different out of the sessions. The guests, especially, brought their own points of view to the discussions and we all got a lot out of those conversations. We covered so many topics, like recruitment, motivation, how to prepare for events like this.

One of my favorites brought in very concrete examples to show us exactly how people stay motivated. So, for example, I learned exactly what happens when someone is dehydrated, and how even two percent dehydration can make you lose your focus… It was easy to remember and something I could use because it was so real and so concrete, so I feel like that was the most useful session. It was important to me to keep my team motivated, and this session gave me real lessons that I could apply in my position right away.

NBF: That’s great to hear! It seems like you were quite well prepared throughout the Leadership Program. Did anything come as a surprise for you to deal with?

VH: Not a surprise, really… but a challenge, in a way. I have never led a group before, and I was kind of afraid of that when we started. I was worried that I wouldn’t know how to give orders to my team, or I didn’t know if I could give clear instructions to a team for them to understand them and follow and succeed. I never had the chance to practice that before, so it was a big unknown area in my mind. I wanted to do well, of course, and I wanted my team to succeed.

It was my biggest challenge, but I overcame it, so it became my biggest learning too. Giving the instructions of what needed to be done became easier the more that I did it, and I proved to myself that I’m able to do it. Suddenly, I felt like my team really trusted me and they really listen to me, which was an amazing feeling because it was originally one of my biggest fears that I wouldn’t be able to do it at all. The confidence that it gave me was incredible, and it was the biggest lesson for me through the whole year.

NBF: Wonderful! And you’ll be able to carry that lesson with you and use it anywhere! Since you had such a positive experience in the Leadership Program, what advice would you give to someone hoping to become a team leader?

VH: As much of a cliché as it is, I would advise them to be themselves. It felt at the beginning that, for me, we were 16 very, very similar people, but it wasn’t actually the case. We were definitely similar because we wanted to do the same thing, but in the end, it turned out that we’re very different. We have different personalities, different leadership styles, and we work differently. But, at the same time, we worked together very, very well. This experience has taught me that anyone can learn to be a good leader if they are interested in what they do, passionate and open-minded, and excited about what they do. So, be yourself because there is no one type of person who can be a leader in this world. It makes things more interesting if you can be yourself rather than trying to be someone else. As a Team Leader, you can create a very good atmosphere for your team with this mindset.

NBF: Fantastic! Great advice, Virpi. One last question for you before we wrap things up… Do you have any stories that you could share from Nordic Business Forum 2017?

VH: Yes! I love this one… we had the pianist José André Montaño visiting us. He came in two days earlier — on Sunday — and he only had one rehearsal scheduled for Monday and his own performance on Tuesday. But he had nothing else planned for Monday. I thought that he and his team would figure out what they could do since they arranged for the extra time in Helsinki. Actually, though, José André contacted his host who had been helping them on Sunday and said that they would like to do something in their free time. This was difficult because we hadn’t planned for that – we didn’t have a car for them, we didn’t have a driver, nothing was prepared because we were counting on them figuring it out.

Instead, though, my team as a whole more or less took it as their job to figure something out for them to do. Suddenly — I didn’t even know how it happened — they managed to get the car to drive them around, one of my volunteers went with them, and they ended up going sightseeing around Helsinki! They also visited a very big piano store and José André got to play there, and the piano store owners were amazed by his performance and they even took pictures and Facebook videos of him playing in the store. They were so happy about it!

Even though that was not something that was at the top of my mind when we were taking care of everything in Messukeskus, my team managed to do all of that by themselves! I was very, very proud of them for taking ownership like that — they didn’t try to run everything past me, they just confirmed if their plan was OK, and when I said yes, they went for it. It was amazing. José André and everyone was impressed with them, and I was super impressed!

Visit our blog for more interviews with some stand-out students from Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, our partner for our main event in Helsinki and our volunteer recruitment. Have a question about the NBF Leadership Program? Get in touch with Virpi to ask her questions about her experience. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest news and announcements from our HQ!