Audio (Podcast)

Helping Others Find and Share Their Story

Sarah Webb
By Sarah Webb

Sharon Delaney McCloud calls herself a bit of a gypsy. She is the daughter of Irish immigrants whose adventures led to them to Kenya and Tanzania where Sharon was born and lived as a young child.

Her travels took her around the world as a member of the Department of Defense’s U.S.O. program before Sharon began her career as an Emmy Award winning television journalist. Now, she leads a digital marketing agency in Raleigh where she leads the firm’s professional development practice and a video team that creates content for local and national brands.

As the mother of three, Sharon considers that job her most important as she attempts to find balance every day in our fast-paced lives. She’s a cancer survivor, Olympic Torch Bearer and a communications pro who inspires audiences on resilience and finding their voices.

Introduction:00:09Welcome to Plaid Radio by Plaid for Women and the #NoMeanGirls movement. Enjoy today's show and be inspired to change the world.
Sarah Webb:00:18Welcome to Plaid Radio. I'm your host, Sarah Webb, and I'm with today's guest Sharon Delaney McCloud. Sharon is a bit of a gypsy well, that's what she calls herself. She is the daughter of Irish immigrants whose adventures led them to Kenya and Tanzania where Sharon was born and lived as a young child. Before Sharon began her career as an Emmy Award winning television journalist, her travels took her all over the world as a member of the Department of Defense USO program. Now she leads a digital marketing practice in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she heads the firm's professional development practice and a video team that creates content for local and national brands. As a mother is three, Sharon considers that job her most important, and attempts to find balance in the everyday life. She is also a cancer survivor, an Olympic torch bearer and a communications pro who inspires audiences on resilience and finding their voice. Welcome to the show.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:01:10Thank you so much, Sarah. I'm excited to be on this show. I've enjoyed listening to some of the podcasts of other people and women that you have interviewed in the past.
Sarah Webb:01:20In doing a little bit of research about you, I realized your coworkers or your team, were the Holderness family and their little crazy videos! I definitely want to talk about that. I'm like, “I'm going to get to ask Sharon exactly about that” so we'll have to dive into that a little bit, but first you were born Tanzania and then moved here to the U.S. Tell us a little bit about your childhood and what that was like.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:01:44Sure. My parents are Irish immigrants who came to the United States to follow that immigrant dream that you hear so often. My father wanted to become an aviator. He actually never became a pilot, but he did work within the airline industry. That is what took us to East Africa. So, my parents moved to Nairobi, Kenya, that's actually where I was born and lived until I was five and then we moved to Tanzania and I lived there till I was eight. My parents always tell me that I was the best at speaking Swahili in the house and so I was the official translator in our home. Being born there and as such a young child, you've probably heard that kids pick up second languages so much faster than adults, so I spoke Swahili fluently until I was eight. That's when we moved to the United States and unfortunately, I've forgotten the Swahili. I always joke that I'd love to get hypnotized to see if they can dig it out from the back of my brain somewhere.
Sarah Webb:02:44That would definitely be interesting. Have you traveled back there as an adult and shared any of that with your children?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:02:50I have been back to Africa but only to Egypt, but it is on our bucket list to go back to East Africa where I was born and to take my children on a safari. Also, I would love to attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or at least get halfway up. That's on the bucket list, too, if we're going to make it all the way over there.
Sarah Webb:03:11Yeah, exactly. I think that would take a tremendous amount of training.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:03:11I think it would, too!
Sarah Webb:03:19I don't know, I'm like, “maybe I'll just like take like the tour guide part of Mount Kilimanjaro,” but you've done a lot of other traveling as well. What have you learned from that experience? What was it like being nine years old and moving to the United States?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:03:37It was quite eye-opening, as you can imagine. The culture difference was extreme. In Tanzania for example, we didn't have television. We had electricity, but we didn't have TV and so we were not used to all of the conveniences that we have here in the US. One convenience that you really don't think about is, we didn't have fresh milk in Tanzania. We would get milk that oftentimes was powdered milk that we'd have to pile chocolate flavoring into just to be able to stomach it. So coming to the US was just, it was like a smorgasbord of foods that I wasn't used to. And then of course TV was… we were ridiculous, my brother and I just couldn't get enough of it because we'd not seen it before and just everything that… the US has so much to offer and so it was really fun to see what the US is like in the eyes of a kid who has not experienced it before and to be old enough to have remembered what an impact that was. And so yeah, it was kind of fun going to third grade in New York and writing that essay, “What'd you do over the summer?” And I had no idea how lucky I was. I was writing, “Well, I went to the pyramids and I rode on the camel,” like, what a brat! I had no idea how lucky I was to be able to have done those things.
Sarah Webb:04:59It sounds like an amazing childhood. What did you think about milk once you came to the US? Were you like, “Now, I get it, why people like this!”
Sharon Delaney McCloud:05:08Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah. We would go through a lot of milk. My mom was constantly heading off to the grocery store to replace milk. So yeah, that was one of all those niceties that come with living here.
Sarah Webb:05:19Well tell us a little bit about what you do today, Walk West Media Training and Presentation Coaching. What's your day-to-day look like and how do you help people?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:05:28Well, having been a journalist, and basically a professional communicator for 20 years, when I decided to leave television, because the hours can be absolutely brutal on family life. I was the evening anchor which meant I worked 2PM to Midnight or if you do the morning show you work 2AM until 1PM. So, I left and one of the first things I thought was, “well what is a transferable skill that I can monetize and scale?” And so, Kim Holderness, who you mentioned earlier, she was anxious to leave news at the same time and she and I were friends. So we thought, gosh, what are we going to do? How can we transfer these really good skills as writers and storytellers into the marketplace? And so, the first thing we did was, “you know what? We're going to be media trainers. We're going to teach other people how to do great interviews,” because we sat on the other side of the camera asking all those questions and we saw the pitfalls and the problems people had trying to be succinct and tell their story and stay on point with their message. So that's what we started in 2008 and then we added public speaking skills immediately after that and then we started the video piece. But day-to-day… For example, yesterday we went to a Fortune 1000 company in Charlotte and we worked with their millennial age workers. It's a high-tech company and a lot of software engineers who, to be frank, are not always that skilled in communication. We do a course on workplace communication and trying to understand where people's biases come from and how their personal influences affect the way they communicate in the workplace. So, we did a four-hour training session for this company yesterday and this coming Friday we will be doing training for the North Carolina Medical Society. We're actually doing what we call MedTalks, so just like TedTalks, but these physician leaders are going to be talking about projects that they're working on in their various communities to help move community health forward and so we are doing a MedTalk Bootcamp. We're going to help them put together a 12-minute talk on their project. That's a really fun thing because what we love is their content and what they're going to be talking about is going to make an amazing impact and change in their communities. So, we're going to help them craft their message.
Sarah Webb:07:54Oh, I like that. Can you give us one nugget? Some of us are in very technical roles, like those engineers. What is one thing that we could do to make our communication more relatable to others?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:08:10For people who have highly technical jobs, you have to remember that you are inside baseball when you're with your peeps on your team. Everybody knows your technical jargon when you're working with people that are in your field, but for those of us not in your field, we have no idea what you're talking about if you're using all of those very complicated terms. We oftentimes, when working with engineers, we're not asking them to dumb down their conversation about what it is they do, but asking them to use a different, more conversational messaging when they talk about what it is that they do for their company or for their clients to help them in their business to drive results. Just really unpackaging that complex, engineer talk, and make it more simple for the rest of us to understand.
Sarah Webb:09:07I find that when I work with people like that who have a passion, like scientists and engineers, they're so excited to tell me their message that if they do get it into that conversational format, I get excited about what they're doing. I'm like, “oh, that is really neat.” They could be doing amazing, great things, but unless I understand at a common person level what they're doing, it's really a lost message. I think that’s definitely great advice.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:09:32The first thing you have to do always is, "who's your audience?" If they're going to some conference where it's a whole bunch of other software engineers, of course they can speak that very complicated language. But if they are doing, for example, just a regular interview or a podcast or a radio program, that is not for the technical crowd, they have to think about the lay people, people who don't work in their space.
Sarah Webb:10:01Yup. Absolutely. So, at Walk West Media you've got these different umbrellas where you're helping people, you're helping them on media training or helping with communications and then you've got the video piece. What was it like developing your own brand? Did you have this struggle going from 20 years of journalism, being on the camera every day and this is how people saw you in this light, especially viewers, and then you start this company, what was that balance like? And did you have trouble reestablishing your brand? You’re not the day to day journalist anymore but want to be taken seriously on media training.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:10:41Yeah. I will tell you Sarah, Kim and I had no idea what we were doing, at first. We were clueless. We knew we had some skills, but we didn't know how to exactly package that up and make it into a marketable business right at first. But we learned on the job. I learned how to build websites and Kim went back to her old days as a cub reporter where we shot and edited everything ourselves. We didn't have photographers doing it for us. We really learned on the job with our company and so Walk West used to be called Green Room. You might know the term green room from the theatrical sense, where people are in the green room getting ready before they go out for their moment in the spotlight. That is what we named our company originally, because with media training, that's what we were doing. We were prepping you before you were going out for that interview or that presentation. So Green Room really fit, initially. And when we finally convinced Penn Holderness, Kim's husband, to quit. He was also a TV newscaster and we finally convinced him to quit and join us because he was already working for us as a videographer and an editor, and of course he does all those funny videos, but nobody saw them back then and so we convinced him to quit. They released the Christmas jammies video back in the end of 2013, which was really just their video Christmas card. It was not intended to be some kind of marketing video for Green Room. We did put it on Green Room's YouTube channel and our website. Well, what happened was they released it and in one week's time we had 10 million views. Crashed our website, crashed our server, and within two weeks we had 17,000 inbound emails from people all over the world asking us to make a video for them. It was insanity. So, the three of us were like, oh my gosh, we're working out of Panera and our basement at the moment, we have to figure this out. We very quickly met with some advisors, some close advisors in the agency world, to just give us some quick pointers and within one calendar year we went from the three of us to 11 employees. We ended up getting an office and we became a full-fledged company. We weren't just working off of the dining room table anymore and we sort of grew up very quickly. We were still clueless and every day learning something new about being an entrepreneur and running a business. We did not come from business school, we were all journalists. We were figuring it out. Kim and Penn honestly thought that the popularity and the wave that they were riding off of the Christmas jammies thing, would kind of go away after a few months. Well, it didn't. Four and a half years later they work full time on the Holderness Family brand. So, two years ago I took over everything else at Green Room. We had a slew of other clients that we did stuff for. I was managing that with our 10 employees then I got diagnosed with cancer and boy did things get rough. I was trying to keep all the balls in the air and it was difficult because my husband had lost his job, so I had to work full time through all of my treatment and I had to have two years of treatment. I just finished up a month ago after a yearlong clinical trial after all the other stuff: the chemo, the radiation, surgeries, all that stuff. So, in the process of my illness we said, “you know what? We need to find a strategic partner, another agency that we can partner with to help grow our business and help me as a leader, keep all the balls in the air” because I was in and out of the hospital. Anyway, long story short, we found an amazing partner in Walk West, and so at the end of December 2016, we merged with Walk West and we took on the Walk West name, which we love. We moved into their office because there were too many of them to move into ours. So, now our agency, there's 35 of us and it's a growing business that we love and we're doing some amazing work, building beautiful websites, and doing live streaming and social campaigns and we even have two lobbyists on our staff. So we do government affairs, we do a little of everything. I still kind of pinch myself sometimes, Sarah, thinking that just a few short years ago it was Kim and me in the basement and here we are now in this all grown up office with a payroll and lease payments.
Sarah Webb:15:35I understand the Panera office. I'm like, “are you counting this towards my points because I need my free cookie.”
Sharon Delaney McCloud:15:41Exactly!
Sarah Webb:15:42You talked about starting out, the two of you, and then adding... you were journalists not business people, and now, like you said, you're pinching yourself. You've done this 180 and are structured and have a real business with payroll and responsibilities. Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome? Do you ever think people don't know that this isn't the real me or do you ever have that little bit of self-doubt?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:16:16Oh, every day, absolutely every day. And that's part of the work that I really love about building up women and I have another training, a keynote, that I do fairly often on how to build executive presence for women. Because, Sarah, this whole idea of the imposter syndrome, women have it more often than men, and realizing, “oh my gosh, they're going to figure out that I actually don't know what I'm doing” and realizing, “oh my gosh, it's all going to blow up and it's gonna fall apart.” Thinking about what I’ve accomplished, and the hard work is… I think helps take away some of that imposter syndrome stuff. I just have to remember I built this with a lot of great team members and of course we're going to make mistakes. Of course. But we're going to learn from them and we're going to move on and try something new and make it work. I think that it's okay to admit to have... I think everybody at some point has the imposter syndrome feeling, but I work hard to make sure that I'm researched and prepared for everything that I do so that I have the confidence and I don't doubt myself when I get up in front of a client or I go out on a pitch or I'm training someone in a vertical that I don't understand their business. I’ve really tried to do a good job of researching and prepping myself to try and push down those feelings of the imposter syndrome.
Sarah Webb:17:55I like the idea of the hard work and being prepared because I think that sometimes we don't want to do the work. You know? It's hard. It's tiring. My husband and I wanted to give up on something, but my husband was like, “we don't give up.” If we were to give up, then nothing would be created. Back to your executive presence program for females, for women. Tell me a little bit about that and what are you hoping that women walk away with from that type of training?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:18:23I think there is, and you've probably touched on this in past podcasts where women, if they see a job posting on LinkedIn or wherever else, they’ll read the qualifications required and the statistics show that women, if they don't meet 90 to 100 percent of those descriptors of what it takes to do the job, they don't even bother to apply. Whereas men read the same list and if they might be able to do 30 or 40 percent of those tasks, they're like, “oh yeah, I got this” and they apply. Women are holding themselves up to a different set of standards than men and we need to crush that self-doubt. We need to stop the self-doubt. And so there's many, many different statistics. You know, women account for 57% of all college graduates in the US today, we hold 63% of all the masters degrees, yet only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Why aren't we getting to the C-suite? We've got the education, we've got the experience, but something is stopping us from getting to that next elite level. And so there are many studies that talk about executive presence, which is kind of this weird thing. Well, what is executive presence? Oh Sarah, what would be your definition if someone asked you, “what is executive presence?” What would you say?
Sarah Webb:20:07Gravitas. Owning the room. I guess being confident, walking in with your shoulders back.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:20:15Yes, yes. To all of that. It’s all those things. In our research, as we put this program together, we discovered there are three pieces that have people look at you and say, “oh, he or she has executive presence.” So the first piece, as you mentioned, is gravitas, the second piece is your communication skills, the ability to own the room. And then the third piece is your appearance. People don't want to hear that, because we don't want to be judged just by the way we look, but I'm not talking about whether you look like a supermodel. I'm talking about the way you present yourself. A lot of that is body language, your vocal delivery, but also how you show up, the way you're dressed. I don't know about you Sarah, but I see a lot of young people coming to work, and it has become more accepted in the workplace in the US to be more casual unless you work at a bank or an investment firm, but the number of people rolling in wearing yoga pants and hoodies is astounding to me. Who is going to take you seriously if you're rolling in in a pair of yoga pants? And so I contend that you still have to... You've got to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. I know that was something my parents always told me and early in my career as a newscaster, before I was actually a reporter, I was an overnight graveyard producer when I was 21 years old. I would go in at 11:00 at night and I would write the newscast for the next morning. No one saw me. I was totally behind the scenes, but I showed up every day in a little suit and the News Director would come in and say, “Sharon, where are you going? Why are you dressed up? No one sees you. You're just behind a typewriter” and believe it or not, it was back in those days, it was typewriter, and I'd say, “well, there could be breaking news and you're not going to have enough reporters, but I'll be ready to go.” And he'd be like, “okay,” and you know what happened, breaking news one day. A few months later there was a terrible flood and I was ready to go, and I was dressed the part and ready to go out the door.
Sarah Webb:22:32I do think that is something as we're in this age of individualism and we do have more relaxed workforces that we feel like we can dress our own. But dress for the job you want is sound advice, but it is something kind of like legend. When I was on my little corporate ladder, I worked in an organization where you could wear jeans on Friday, but I joined this new group and they were like, “our group doesn't wear jeans, we have to go to the top floor unexpectedly and no one on the top floor wears jeans because that's where all the executives work, so, we don't wear jeans.” And I'm like, “oh I want to wear my jeans on Friday.” So, I went and got a tailored pair of jeans. They look like business pants, but they were made of jeans material. It was my way of rebelling, but that way I could go up to the seventh floor. It was dress for the job you want. None of those people wore jeans and I want it to be an executive one day. So I needed to blend in with them. But I think kind of that polished look doesn't mean you can't have personality. And I think we are finding that balance of, you can still wear your favorite color, just not head to toe, right? Like it needs to be an accessory. I think it's trying to find that balance between personality and executive presence. That can be hard.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:23:48Yes. Yeah. Your personal style… It doesn't have to be a navy blue conservative suit every day. There, luckily, are a lot of options, but I do think that presenting in a manner that people see you and you inspire confidence in them, they're more likely to buy into whatever you're trying to tell them or if you have a persuasive argument, they're more likely to come to your side if they see that confidence in you. And, you know Sarah, when you put on that favorite dress or outfit that just you feel like you look good and you stand up straighter, you've got a good hair day, just can go in and crush it, right?
Sarah Webb:24:34Yes, yes. I would have power pants is what I called them. You talked about how you were ready to go, you were wearing the suit behind the scenes, and you've had 20 years in journalism in front of the camera. What was one of your favorite stories that you've covered?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:24:49Gosh, there were so many. One that comes to mind was a young boy who needed a double lung transplant. Goodness gracious! This kid had been through the ringer. He had cystic fibrosis and at this stage he was probably around 18 and we were following his journey. We would go to different fundraisers to help the family with their medical expenses and we were right there when he got the call that a donor was available. We got to travel with him to a children's hospital and be there with the family and really document his journey back to health. He got the two new lungs and he began to live a whole new life because of it and it was so fun to be able to see him enjoy being outside and do things that other kids got to do that he hadn't been able to do. I just loved showing that story and putting that story together. And there's countless other stories over the years, but I love that one.
Sarah Webb:26:02Yup. Absolutely. It's about the personal… like even with the news stories, as a viewer, things that I like to enjoy, and repeat, and watch again are the personal stories. What's actually happening in people's lives and seeing the good in that. Thank you for sharing that. Well, as you know, we run a campaign, #NoMeanGirls. We want Plaid for Women to be a place where women support each other and celebrate each other's success. Is there a mean girl mentality in journalism?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:26:30Ugh. Horrible. Absolutely horrible. I always tell the story of back when I was a news anchor and we would get emails from viewers, not about the great story we just presented, but, "Who does your makeup? You look like, Elvira! You need to get up new makeup artist. Oh my gosh, what were you wearing tonight? Are you getting fat or you pregnant?" These people that would email in, and guess who they were? It was other women! The men, the male anchors, never got those. At one market, one of my coworkers was probably 50 pounds overweight and didn't take very good care of himself and if I wore suit that didn't look spot on, I was getting the emails. He never got a single one! I just feel like women need to come on! We need to be supporting each other, not breaking each other down, but building each other up. And so, I always remind women that you cannot be that person who is going to nitpick and pull apart a woman's psyche. That's one of the things that… TV is a very visual thing and usually you're judged by the way you look and each pound you gain and how your makeup looks and how your hair looks, and women were held at an entirely different standard than the male journalists and it's just not right. And I think as women we can help put a stop to it if we stop all that judging.
Sarah Webb:28:17Yeah, absolutely. I find that most of the time when someone's judging that, specifically in that context, it's something they're unhappy with in their own looks. Like, really they're just jealous. It's their way of lashing out. I would never even think of taking the time to complain about a news anchor. You know what I mean? Like I have so many things to do in my life. Something else is going on if someone's so offended by your hairstyle that day that they've taken the time to write to you.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:28:45Exactly.
Sarah Webb:28:46We need an intervention in their life for something. Maybe they're lonely. Something's going on. Well thank you for sharing that. Thank you so much for joining us. How can our listeners find out more about you follow what you guys are doing?
Sharon Delaney McCloud:28:59Sure. You can go to my website which is or to my company's website, which is
Sarah Webb:29:15Perfect. And I'll be sure to put those in the show notes for listeners. So thank you so much for joining us Sharon. It's just has been a delightful conversation. I love listening about your childhood, which is a little different than the standard typical American and also makes you realize some things we take for granted, like milk, but also about women and how we can be more supportive of each other and talking a little bit about executive presence. Thank you so much for sharing that with this.
Sharon Delaney McCloud:29:38Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate it.
Sarah Webb:29:41And that's a wrap for Plaid Radio.
Sarah Webb
A bit about me, I'm a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee and volunteer. I am married and have two children - one who aspires to be a secret spy ninja and the other wants be a doctor for toys...Read More
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