Niluka Kavanagh shares why keeping her work varied has provided more enjoyment and stimulation, and how multiple career streams can actually compliment each other
So, you’re a consultant, writer, poet and presenting coach?
Yes, that is correct. But I never planned it this way. When I began my career, I did not know that my hobbies could turn into something that would complement my work or enrich my overall career. But what I do know is that variety really is the spice of life. If you can fill your time with the things that stimulate you as an individual, that can create a very fulfilling life indeed.
You have the permission, power and autonomy to create a career that works for you.
Let’s start with your writing.
I studied English Literature and Language at Oxford, so my love for words has always been present. Writing has continued to remain in my life, even after I graduated. At the weekend, I would spend time writing reflective articles, blogging about fashion, or trying my hand at poetry (something I find incredibly relaxing). I soon had quite a lot of content and I wanted to share it with a wider audience.
In January 2019, I decided to launch my own platform, where I compiled all my creative content in one place. The home page states, “enter a world of creation” and I think that is apt, since my website contains a variety of material. Last year, I added a careers and business section which has allowed me to share material based on my area of work with people who may not know much about the customer or brand space.
Ultimately, the platform has become a way I can combine my enjoyment of writing with my desire to educate, entertain or inspire others. My advice to others would be, if you have something you really want to share, write it down. Then be brave and share it. You never know who might find it useful.
What does your job as a consultant involve and why did you pursue this?
I work as a consultant for KPMG LLP in our Customer Consulting practice. Although it took me a few years to figure out what I wanted to do, I have now found something which genuinely excites and interests me. My area of work includes customer-led innovation, experience design, brand strategy and communications. I’m also one of the founders of KPMG’s Behavioural Science Unit, where I have been looking at how behavioural science might be applied to our work.
There are two things that stimulate me most as a consultant.
First, the variety. As a consultant, you have the opportunity to work on a range of client challenges across different industries. This is one of the aspects I enjoy most about the job. Last year, I found myself working on Project Nightingale for the NHS during the pandemic, where I was responsible for mapping the nurse experience and organising the brand donations. It was a totally unique and challenging experience, given the circumstances. My next project was completely different, helping launch a new money management app for a leading retail bank and understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviours of their customers so we could design the most desirable proposition. The variety and pace of consulting is something I thrive in.
Second, the people. As a consultant, you are always surrounded by new and interesting people on different projects. I love the collaboration and team spirit you can create when on a project. There is always the chance to meet other inspiring individuals and learn something new from them. I am proud to say that I have even met two of my closest friends at work.
For me, variety is where I get a lot of my enjoyment from. The combination of my writing, consulting (which is by its very nature varied) and coaching leaves me feeling stimulated.
And you have your own start-up too…?
In my career, I have had the opportunity to host various events and lead internal networks. My background includes over 5 years of experience in broadcasting, podcasting, radio and speaking in front of C-suite executives. Last year, I achieved a qualification in rhetoric at Harvard University. My biggest highlight has been presenting to 800 people on the gender data gap as part of a behavioural science event we ran. In short – I really love presenting. But I soon saw not everyone did.
There was one moment this hit me. Despite a colleague being infinitely qualified to speak about a subject, he was unable to get his points across clearly and with authority to the client. Although he was a specialist in his field and more than able to answer any question thrown at him, because of his nervousness and lack of presenting skills, he wasn’t able to do himself or the work justice. It was then that I realised how important presenting is. But my research also showed me how difficult it is to get help, with courses being expensive, generic and often time-consuming.
That’s when the idea of a remote coaching platform, offering 1-1 tutor-style help, sprang to mind. No subscription, no fuss. An accessible and flexible way for people to become better at presenting. The exact same day I had the idea, someone messaged me on LinkedIn asking for help with their presentation. If there ever was a sign, that was it. And so, HelpMePresent was born.
Since then, it has been a real pleasure to be able to work with clients of all levels to help them become better at presenting. What’s more, I have also been able to bring this expertise back into my career as a consultant and help advise when we have big pitches or presentations coming up.
I think it is completely normal to have times when you feel you are less productive than others. We can’t always be at 100 each and every day. And that is OK.
How do you manage to do all this while still maintaining a work-life balance?
I often get asked how I have time to do it all. It is an interesting question because I never really think about it this way. My writing and HelpMePresent are in many ways part of the “life” element of the work/life equation. These are hobbies and pursuits that stimulate me. I gain energy from doing them in my spare time rather than viewing it as work.
However, I also know that working too much is a real danger and is unstainable in the long term. To prevent this, I always make sure I have time to work-out, read and watch Netflix (where my brain is forced to focus elsewhere!). I must be firm with myself on days when I feel more tired and flex my schedule accordingly. I think it is completely normal to have times when you feel you are less productive than others. We can’t always be at 100 each and every day. And that is OK. As long as you are enjoying what you are doing most of the time, that’s all that matters.
What advice would you give to other people beginning their careers and/or wanting to try different things?
You have the permission, power and autonomy to create a career that works for you. To not be hemmed into one box. To be able to pursue your passions, hobbies and interests in a multi-faceted way. To experiment. It took me several years to find out what type of consulting I wanted to be in. Sometimes, you won’t know straight away, so keep asking questions and remain curious.
I am also a strong believer that everyone should have a side-hustle of some form – be that blogging, knitting, or launching a charitable foundation. Whatever it is that interests you. It doesn’t have to result in something huge – the most important thing is that it brings you enjoyment and you learn along the way. If you earn money from it too, great. Try that thing you’ve always wanted to do and don’t think it means having to close other doors.
Finally, ask yourself what in a career will make you happy. For me, variety is where I get a lot of my enjoyment from. The combination of my writing, consulting (which is by its very nature varied) and coaching leaves me feeling stimulated. What’s amazing is how they have all ended up complementing each other, in different ways. But perhaps most importantly, be bold. Keep learning. Do what feels right. Trust the process and the rest will follow.
Read Niluka’s creative content: https://www.nilukakavanagh.com/
Gain presenting and communication help: www.helpmepresent.co.uk
Connect with Niluka: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nilukakavanagh/