Over the past 5 years or so I have had the privilege of working with young people in schools supporting them as the learn how to speak out loud in front of others. Generically this is known as “Presentation Skills Training” but for many people that instantly equates to Powerpoint slides and writing scripts. It is also a cue for people to switch off and avoid taking part.
The sad thing is that everybody I meet – no matter what age or stage they are at in their life – has the ability to contribute to the discussion, tell stories for shared learning, impart wisdom and so much more.
But many choose not to.
I work with clients during their career transition. There is never a more important time to be able to talk about yourself in a compelling and persuasive way than in an interview but I know that this can be really difficult. We are hit by the cultural message that saying how good you are at something is showing off at the same time as saying how good you are at something is the key way to influence the decision of the recruiter.
Even after overcoming that hurdle though finding the words to use is another challenge. We seem to get out of the habit of telling stories when we are at primary school yet the descriptive language used then is exactly what we need to explain and expand on what we need to say to illustrate the points we are making.
Aside from the interview preparation though there are other situations where I find that people tell me that they have chosen not to speak up. Whether it is to contribute to the discussion in a school, college or university class or to add their point of view in a meeting at work I am often told that they are scared of “sounding stupid”.
The reason I do the work I do is to change this. There is nothing more satisfying for me than when someone who engages me as an individual client or someone who was in one of my workshops telling me later about how they were so proud of the difference that speaking up made.
Some of the barriers that people have to overcome to decide to ensure that their voices are heard are imagined – but even so it takes time, effort and commitment to move those and build confidence.
For some the barriers are real though.
As I write this I have just watched the final episode of a series called “Educating Yorkshire” on Channel 4. It has been on for a few weeks and from time to time I have been aware of newspaper and social media discussions on the programme. However when my daughter suggested I watch the last episode because people at work were talking about it I decided to take a look.
Musharaf – one of the pupils whose story was covered – has a stammer. The challenge for him ( and his excellent and inspirational teacher Mr Burton) was that he needed to make a 10 minute presentation or there was no way that he could pass his English exam. The story of how this was resolved – in front of TV cameras until the exam itself to add another layer of pressure that even the most assured speaker could find challenging – is powerful and very emotional. He is an extraordinary young man.
You can still watch this on demand – and if you have time I urge you do to so.
And if you have been choosing not to speak up maybe now is the time to make a different choice.
You will have interesting things to contribute. Exciting news to share. Funny stories to tell. Important points to make.
We need to hear your voice.
If you would like to find out more about how I work with people and groups to get them to speak up get in touch to arrange a no obligation chat. It is always good to talk!
Here is a link to the programme I mentioned. I am not sure how long it will be available though.