Human on the Inside with Keynoteworthy’s Cathy Ngo

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5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Cathy, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight! You’re the Founder of Keynoteworthy, a platform connecting diverse thinkers and speakers with event curators, which you established in 2019. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

As the founder and director, I’m responsible for the strategic direction of the company which includes sourcing key partners, keynote speakers, and event industry organisations who are also working towards pushing for our Sustainable Development Goals.

As a start-up founder, I wear many hats, from marketing and overseeing sales down to admin. It makes life much more interesting and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In addition to Keynoteworthy, you’re a social entrepreneur, keynote speaker and writer. You’re also Chief Storyteller & Founder of creative content marketing agency Worthy Stories and the Founder of corporate wellness consultancy Wellworthy & Co.. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

I am a person with many interests and hobbies. My natural curiosity in people, things and places allows me to explore many different things including my career.

I’ve made several career moves, starting in corporate human resources (HR) to corporate affairs and internal communications, to copywriting and now event management.

No matter what I explore, I stay true to my values. On face value, they may seem random, but everything I do has diversity, equity and inclusion at the heart.

I started Worthy Stories (previously Words by Cathy) four years ago and was helping small businesses with SEO optimised content. I then realised I could leverage my strengths and experience in HR to create content that is inclusive. I believe words have the power to divide and also unite. Unfortunately, many brands – big and small – get it wrong, not because they want to do any harm, but because they may have lived experience or they may not understand that certain words can trigger trauma to shape the words that speak to a diverse audience. My friendship circles are very diverse across different genders, sexualities, abilities, beliefs and ethnicities. My conversations with people have expanded my knowledge and perspectives of the world. This inadvertently has helped me with my career and thinking.

For Keynoteworthy, it started by accident. In one of my previous roles, I was able to attend many high profile and big conferences, but to my disappointment, there was such a lack of diversity in audience, speakers and supply chain. I felt out of place, and a pivotal moment for me was in a particular event, the keynote speaker asked everyone to turn around and speak to someone they wouldn’t normally. I instantly felt at that moment 40 people looked at me. As a 5ft tall, petite Asian woman who vastly seems out of place, it’s no wonder I had strange looks and awkward conversations.

Wellworthy & Co. will be launched next year. It’s currently in the works. This came about because wellness is largely culturally appropriated. I’m aiming to bring wellness back to its roots. I’m also a qualified personal trainer and fitness instructor and now working on my yoga teacher training. I used to train people after hours when I was working in corporate. I have since taken a break from teaching and miss it so much.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

I studied a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Human Resource Management. I initially chose this pathway because I didn’t want to do accounting, finance or economics. I am very right brain dominant but I knew I had to make my parents happy by obtaining formal qualifications.

I did well in school and at uni, but I’m often a daydreamer who always has a wild imagination. I think that’s why I have to do several things at once because I’ll be too bored with just one job!

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

As a 21 year old, I did everything my parents and family wanted me to do. I was a people pleaser and never wanted to cause any discomfort for others. The problem with this is that I was living my life through other people’s expectations. I now realise this is not a life to lead and how wasteful it is.

Pushing back can be tough sometimes due to my cultural barriers and upbringing. As an Asian-Australian I was brought up to respect elders and not challenge my parents.

I’ve learnt to balance my needs versus theirs, and have had to compromise. It’s super hard and I have my psychologist to thank for guiding me towards these difficult conversations.

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

My work involves speaking to people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders etc.

Human skills such as the ability to relate, empathy, patience, active listening and genuine interest in others is super important.

The only thing is when I have too much empathy and feeling, the emotional labour can be taxing to my mental health, so I try to balance it all with self-care, eating well and exercising to look after myself.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

I think communication and dealing with adversity is always one of the things I am learning all the time and there is always room for improvement. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. I will only get better through authentic storytelling and active listening.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

Communicate, communicate, communicate…A skill that can oftentimes be difficult to master, but is essential to one’s positive career development. 

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent Uni graduates or candidates keen to work at a company like Keynoteworthy or Worthy Stories, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be curious. The world is a strange place where many people try to fit in instead of being their true selves. It’s a shame, and my advice is to be true to yourself. If your workplace doesn’t accept you for who you are and your beliefs, find like-minded people who do. Our online world makes finding communities very accessible. I believe life is not worth living when we try to fit the mould of others and societal expectations.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

I would look at their extracirruclar activities. What are their interests and hobbies? What are their values? Are they charitable? Are they good active listeners and can they take on constructive feedback?

Academic achievements are important, but they don’t always shape the individual to be successful in life. I’d rather work with someone who is open minded and has a growth mindset.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

I started a Masters in Business a few years ago but quit half way because I got bored. It was way too predictable, theory based, and it just didn’t suit my learning style.

For me, I’m constantly learning everyday. I apply the 70:20:10 model, also known as performance-oriented learning. 70% of what I do is based on my experiences in my career and the lessons learnt from mistakes along the way. 20% is my learnings from others and my business associates. And finally, 10% is things that are more formalised. I have done a few courses and modules along the way.