Spotlight On: Entrepreneur Zahra Al-Harazi
The road to real leadership is rarely a straight one, and among Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs, few have traveled a route with more obstacles overcome than Zahra Al-Harazi, who was named Chatelaine’s Top Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011. Sharing her no-holds-barred attitude and passion for success, Zahra discusses her unique approach to entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as her personal experience as a pioneering woman and immigrant in the business world. We put her in “the spotlight” today:
What inspired you to want to be a speaker?
It wasn’t a conscious decision at first. I was asked to speak at a Women of Influence event in Calgary with an audience of about 300 people, and then again at several more events over the next few months, and I realized that I loved the opportunity to make an impact, and the opportunity to grow and achieve success.
Any advice for aspiring speakers?
Consider what value you are adding to the audience, how are you going to engage them and hold their attention. They want you to succeed, they want to walk away with knowledge and learning. You just need to make sure that you give them that.
What do you like to leave audiences with?
Time really well spent. Knowledge and learning. A changed perspective.
How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?
No, I try not to think about it too much, otherwise I will freak myself out.
Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?
Last year, in Istanbul, I spoke to an audience of almost 1,000 entrepreneurs from 38 countries around the world. It was an exhilarating experience to speak to an audience of incredible minds and talents, because of the success of that talk I was invited to speak to a similar audience at the South Asia Entrepreneurs conference in Chennai, India. Memories of both trips, the incredible people I met and the exhilaration of a successful speech are memories that I will have for a lifetime.
Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?
I agreed at the last minute to speak at the Ace Student Entrepreneurship awards. They had never had a keynote at their gala before, but one of the organizers had heard me speak two days earlier at Mount Royal University and so made a special request for me to appear at the Ace awards. Not having a lot of information on the event, I was floored when I got there to find out that there were 2,000 students and alumni from across Canada at the event. That was the biggest audience I had ever spoken to. Instant stress!
I also felt a lot of responsibility to give the students takeaways that will benefit them in their careers and their lives and was thrilled to get a standing ovation from the entire audience at the end of my “20 lessons in 20 minutes” address. I also gained almost 800 new twitter followers that night!
Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?
There are many, and the list gets bigger every day. I always try to focus on one or two every year and give them all my attention. This year, I have joined the National Board of directors for Make-a-Wish Foundation, a wonderful organization that grants wishes to children with serious medical conditions.
If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?
I wouldn’t choose a different path, I am incredibly lucky to love what I do.
Desert island album?
Would have to be a compilation, I get bored fast. Something with a bit of life and happiness to it, after all, I will be alone there. And preferably it will come with a CD player and LOTS of batteries.
Best subject in school?
Last book you read?
The World Is Flat, by Tomas Friedman
Last film you saw?
Iron Man 3, on an Air Canada flight recently.