A few days ago I embarked on an adventure in a lovely little place in the heart of Cheshire, on a course called ‘Phenomenal Woman’. This was ‘take two’ as I had been too unwell to go in March, when I had originally booked. I wasn’t even sure until a couple of days before if I’d be able to make it this time. However, I was determined, and I’m so glad I did!
In this blog I will share the magic of what happened when this unique group of women came together with Catherine Sandland from White Hart Training. It was a course in public speaking and the stories of resilience I heard will stay with me for a long time.
The start of the story
I have a variety of experience in public speaking and it’s something I enjoy very much, especially since I found that when I share my story it encourages other people to do the same. And storytelling is so natural to humans, it has connected us through the ages.
My main reason for going was to gain expertise in crafting a talk that would have even more impact, and also to deal with the emotions that I see in the audience in-the-moment, which happens every time when I tell the full story of my life.
We gathered in a bright, welcoming, and stylish venue called the Joshua Tree. It’s a centre built and run by an amazing charity who support families affected by children’s cancers. Talk about a sense of perspective – and what a friendly and supportive team.
We each took our seats to get started, and Catherine started to tell us stories to give context for what we were about to experience. Suddenly I had one of those moments when I just knew I was in exactly the right place at the right time, as if it was already laid out on a path for me.
What I learned
I could write a whole blog about the valuable things I learned and experienced. For now, I want to focus on a couple of things which were significant for me.
I’m fairly experienced and confident speaking to groups. But I realised that I have mostly developed what I do and how I do it by trial and error. I have also watched and listened to people who are great at public speaking. However, there’s nothing like immersing yourself with an expert. I gained huge insights from the guidance on structuring a talk. The icing on the cake was the specific feedback from the trainers and from each other.
It was helpful to learn engaging ways of hooking the audience into the story. Then structuring what follows helps to focus on valuable messages and flow. Most importantly, these techniques are tried-and-tested, and are based on the quality of talks like you see in TEDx events. I now feel I can stand up alongside accomplished speakers, as well as continuing to develop and polish my skills.
2. Settling the audience and bringing them with you
I mentioned that I have found it a challenge (until now) noticing people’s emotions when I talk about a devastating moment in my life. My husband Alan was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) just 3 days before we got married. I’m sure you can imagine that an audience will have a range of reactions. Some of them are pretty emotional.
I learned that I had been dropping that bombshell (my words for it!) too early in the talk. People had barely settled in and then I gave them something significant to process! Instead, I enjoyed telling a sensory-rich story about when I arrived at Linlithgow Palace. I spoke about my long bridal gown with the velvet bodice. I felt like Mary Queen of Scots as she swished along the ancient flagstones hundreds of years before. Then I spoke about the two nights of celebrations we had planned – and boy did we celebrate!
And when it got to the moment of explaining the diagnosis and the effect it had, I was ready.
I took my time.
I paused and breathed to give the audience time to process what I had said.
What difference did it make?
The difference was remarkable. I really got into my stride, and enjoyed delivering the talk even more than usual. And the applause, tears, and hugs afterwards helped me to confidently integrate my new skills and experiences. It meant a lot that a few of the women in the group told me what had been going on for them at the point that they were emotional, which was a deeply moving combination of their experiences and them relating to mine. This sharing was a precious gift.
I’m now excited about developing more opportunities to speak at events, conferences, and webinars. I have a transferable way of crafting and delivering a variety of talks. It’s a great platform for sharing my messages around resilience, mindfulness, and NLP. It will be useful in my role as an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, as well as being a great complement to being an author.
I learned loads from listening to each phenomenal woman telling their stories of resilience, wisdom, passion, and purpose. We are all connected in our willingness to stand up and speak out. And I feel there will be a lasting bond between us after what we have shared.
A phenomenal ending
Catherine closed the event with a beautiful reading of the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. I thought it was a perfect choice as we each prepared to embark on the new beginnings this will bring. The emotion in the room was palpable and we agreed to stay in touch.
Thank you to Catherine Sandland, Ashley Costello, and Sue France for this incredible experience and the feedback, support, and encouragement. You were all phenomenal too!
PS – the next course is in March if you are interested to find out more!