Ask Women Anything with Melanie Coulson

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The evening of November 18, 2014 was snowy and cold as guests piled into The Wild Oat Bakery to attend Media Action Média’s increasingly popular event, “Ask Women Anything”. AWA’s goal is to highlight amazing women from our own community and allow them to present themselves and tell their stories however they choose, without the media constructing them in any way.

When it comes to telling stories, our guest speaker Melanie Coulson is an expert. Melanie has been a storyteller since the age of two. This interest evolved into a successful career, as she has spent fifteen years in the journalism industry at the country’s top newsrooms, working at CBC, Global Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen. She is now the Director of Communications and Content at United Way and a journalism professor at Carleton University, both of which demonstrate her close attachment to storytelling.

Over the past year, Melanie has had the opportunity to travel to different venues and talk to many strangers about herself. She confessed that after telling other people’s stories for so long, learning to tell her own was a challenge. “It’s weird to talk about yourself, isn’t it?” she noted. Having learned a few things through telling her own story, she gave her audience advice on how they can tell theirs, touching on elements such as a strong hook – something that will stick in people’s heads – and great characters, stating, “If it wasn’t for the characters, you wouldn’t read the stories.”

Melanie then spoke about the setting of a story, focusing on the particular setting that she had been exposed to in the male-dominated news industry. At the time, Melanie had been one of the only women in her workplace, and she was able to recount multiple occasions when she was treated in a sexist manner. Running front page articles on women’s news had also been a challenge for her, since other (for example, hockey-related) stories would be prioritized instead. Melanie made a point of insisting that sexism is not limited to that line of work; she stated, “Sexism is everywhere, in every workplace.” Though her work experiences were immensely rewarding, they also presented challenges.  Melanie learned and gained so much through her experiences, including one aspect in particular: confidence.

Confidence is a very important element in telling your story, Melanie said. She felt that to be successful, you need to know what you want, and you need to take control of your life and do everything you can to achieve it – don’t wait for others to tell you what you can and cannot do. Melanie mentioned the large confidence gap between men and women, and identified the way in which men tend to be better at following the “fake it ‘til you make it” routine. As she learned through experience, you need to take risks sometimes and grab opportunities.

As the night went on, Melanie answered questions regarding how to deal with sexism in the workplace, sources of inspiration for writing, current events (the scandal involving Jian Ghomeshi, who was jokingly referred to as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”), and the evolution of news in social media. The event was attended by many and thoroughly enjoyed by all, and the entire audience took home many wise and powerful words from a woman who is an absolute expert in her field.

Media Action Média would like to thank:

·   Melanie Coulson, for telling us her story and giving us tips to help us tell our own

·   Our audience, who listened, asked fantastic questions, and took part in our raffle draw

·   The Wild Oat Bakery for letting us host this event in their lovely café

·   The hard-working volunteers who helped make this event so successful

·   Our promoters and raffle sponsors

For more information, please contact Amanda Parriag.