November 4, 2020

The Mentor Matchmaker: Meet Niamh Donoghue, Founder of Soundboard

By Emily Merrell 

Do you have a mentor? How did you find him/her? Finding a mentor is a lot like dating — you’ll meet a lot of people before you find “the one”. Niamh Donoghue started her Ireland based company to help those curious about their career, or next steps in life, to find a mentor. In these digital events, we’re introduced to various industry leaders and hear their stories of getting to where they are now. What’s the special sauce? The conversation is broken up with curated introductions based on needs/desires. Learn more about Niamh and her own journey with mentorship.

SDS: What was your impetus behind creating Soundboard

NIAMH DONOGHUE: It originally started because I wanted to create a better way for people to find mentors. But, mentorship is so broad and means so many different things to different people. What I was trying to create was a platform for people to exchange experiences with one another, to gain new perspectives and to unblock any self-limiting beliefs that were holding them back. 

That’s why Soundboard is really open to everyone. We bring in founders, thought leaders, creatives and business owners who have done something really inspiring. We have them tell their story and then we dive into the Speed Soundboarding sessions  – where we handpick a fellow event attendee based on common interests and passions – and the outcome has been so amazing so far! People soundboard ideas, share their experience and have these mini-mentor sessions with other like-minded people who could be based anywhere in the world. We usually get around 40 people attending the events. 

Learn more about Niamh and her own journey with mentorship
Niamh & Shona. Courtesy of Niamh Donoghue.

SDS: What does the idea of a soundboard mean to you? At what point in your life were you interested in learning more from others? 

ND: To me a “Soundboard” is where you have a mutual exchange of experience with another person, and take from that a new perspective that you didn’t have before. You are always learning from the conversations that you have with people, whether you realize it or not. And once you do realize, you can become more intentional with who you speak to and surround yourself with. 

The reason I called the platform Soundboard and not anything with the word “mentor” or “networking” in the title, is because unfortunately, some people only network or look for mentors when they are in need of something. Such as a new job, help on a project, a new client – it’s really transparent. You should always be on the lookout for genuine connections because you never know who will spark your next idea. 

I’ve always instinctively looked to others for inspiration and to bounce ideas off of. Most of us are conditioned to do that from a young age, so we actually do it without thinking – we look to parents, siblings, the older kids in school, celebrities you admire. When we start to do that consciously and curate the people we speak to, it becomes really powerful. I think that’s what I’ve learned in the process of creating Soundboard. I even have my cousin Shona who is super involved in the event series and we’re constantly bouncing ideas around. 

SDS: Everyone wants a mentor but no one knows how to find one. What advice do you have for those seeking a mentor? 

ND: Get clear on what you want – information gathering, figuring out what you would like guidance on? Use online research, movies and books. Start to notice what lights you up. 

Find someone you want to be like – ideally someone who has similar interests and skills that you want to emulate. If it’s not someone you want to be like, then you’ll be disappointed from the get go. Make a list of 5-10 people to reach out to. 

Lower your expectations – mentorship is like any other relationship. Let it evolve organically and give it time. Don’t ask them to be your mentor up front. Make it a mutual exchange, it’s not all about you. 

You get what you give – I usually approach people by telling them I am curious to hear how they achieved what they did and would be really grateful if they had 30 minutes to tell me about their experience. I always offer up my time in exchange – “Would be more than happy to act as a sounding board for you on any projects you’re working on or if you have anything you need help with as a big thank you.”

Niamh Donoghue, founder of Soundboard. Courtesy of Niamh Donoghue.
Niamh Donoghue, founder of Soundboard. Courtesy of Niamh Donoghue.

SDS: What are the biggest mistakes people make when searching for a mentor? 

ND: The three biggest mistakes I see are: 

  • Thinking they have to ask someone to be their mentor upfront. Why are you asking them to be your mentor? You wouldn’t go on a date and ask someone to get into a relationship right away, would you? Mentorship is the exact same as any other relationship.
  • Only looking for a mentor when you need something. Start building your relationships today. Have a think – who do you know that is doing something cool and you would love to hear more about how and why they did it? Got someone in mind? Great! Ask them if they would have 30 minutes to tell you their story. They could be your next mentor.
  • “Don’t know where to find a mentor.” Spoiler – we are all mentors, we’re just waiting for someone to ask us! Not very many people sit down and think “Ok, I think I’m going to be a mentor today.” The majority of mentorships happen organically so reframe your thinking and I bet you find your next mentor easily. 

SDS: What have been the greatest success stories from Soundboard? 

ND: The best feedback we get is that the events are really inspiring and the connections are so genuine. The ripple effect after each event is so cool to see. 

To call out a few specific stories, we had an artist attend our event with Fort Rixon. Shortly after the event, she quit her part-time job to be a full-time artist. She was able to reach out to her Soundboard match to get a perspective on pricing for commissions and use her as a Soundboard. 

At another event focused on social enterprises, we were able to match two organizations working to end Direct Provision in Ireland to collaborate post-event. During the same event we had people join who really wanted to do something to help refugees beyond just donating. They were connected with a local organization in their area and are now teaching English classes because of their Soundboard match. 

There are a lot more stories like this and as long as this is the knock-on effect we continue to have, we’ll always run the events.

SDS: How can we find more information about Soundboard and what can we expect?

ND: Check out our website to find out about upcoming events or to subscribe here for news about future events. You can also follow Soundboard on Instagram and LinkedIn.
We’re really excited about our next two events: Alys Harte is an investigative journalist with the BBC, she is going to talk to us about how she got to where she is today, the power of storytelling and how we can apply that to our lives today. In December we’ll have Mikey Lion who is a DJ, record label owner and festival creator. Each event will include our usual Speed Soundboarding sessions and we’ll look forward to seeing you there!

November events with Soundboard! Courtesy of Niamh Donoghue.
Check out these November events with Soundboard! Courtesy of Niamh Donoghue.


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