Case Study: Roberta Reeve on becoming a more confident speaker

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….Covering Agriculture In The UK….

Roberta Reeve, Technical Manager at the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) shares how a Public Speaking for Leaders Masterclass equipped her with the tools to speak more confidently in a range of settings, and what she’s going to do next.

Background  “Public speaking matter is a regular part of my job, not always to large audiences but often to committees, training groups and my colleagues. AIC is a Trade Association and I manage an assurance certification scheme. As a result, I am dealing with strategy as well as practical applications and I have to present on all of these to all levels of the industry from chief exec members to haulier/driver.

I wanted to appear more confident and not be concerned that there are people in the audience who will know more than me. I also wanted to speak more clearly and be sure that I was getting my point across and the audience understands me. I wanted to engage the audience more – my background is scientific and I’m aware I can present as a scientist and be very evidence and explanation based. I also wanted to feel more confident about recounting successes in my work and not feel that they are trivial or that I’m ‘bigging them up’.

I want to be less concerned about the audience’s judgement. If I can speak with confidence without feeling nervous or lacking in knowledge, then I feel I will have made a big step forward.

Achieving the above would mean I’d be more at ease in public debate or answering questions. Overall, I’d have a more professional appearance to match what’s expected of me for my role.

Thoughts immediately following the Masterclass in June 2019 I relearnt things I had forgotten and gained valuable new insights and practical ways to improve. An additional benefit to the day was meeting people from completely different industries and backgrounds which added to the interest in presentations. Our group were all willing to learn and be open which made the course work very well.

What happened next? Catching up with Roberta in October 2019 I asked her how she put her learning into action.

Is there a moment that stands out for you, since the Masterclass, where you thought, ‘that’s made a real difference? “I was standing in front of a group of about 50 people giving a training presentation.  I had the after-lunch slot and the group was just getting going and as a result a little quieter than they had been in response to my opening question. I found myself becoming slightly out of breath & uncomfortable. I realised this and took a moment to shuffle my papers on the lectern, took a deep breath & carried on to the end.

What made the difference? The difference was that I could recognise what was happening.  I had followed the preparation and practise procedures learnt on the Masterclass and was confident in the information I was giving.  I think this gave me time to evaluate how things were going during the presentation and also made me aware that I was in control and could take a pause if necessary.

I also realised that I was starting to have a “crossed-leg” standing position which had been highlighted as conveying nervousness and a closed posture during the course, so I changed that and started to move about a bit more when speaking. I think having a more relaxed and open posture helped to break the formality of the situation and encourage some responses out of the audience as well as making me feel more relaxed and open.

How do you know something had changed? Afterwards a couple of colleagues commented that the presentation had gone well.  There were several presentations that day from different people and overall, I think the standard was consistent which gave me confidence that I had performed to the required level.  Some of the audience spoke to me afterwards and asked questions which suggests the message had got across.

I think the main difference the Masterclass made was to me was around the following:

  • Practicing out loud had got me used to the sound of my voice & what I was going to say;
  • I’d prepared notes in a format that I found easy to read during the presentation.

These facets of my preparation and practise, more than anything allowed me to consciously register what was going on around me during the presentation, for example the audience reaction, my posture, and put me in a position to change something.

I was nervous directly before speaking, but I had managed to sleep well the night before, enjoy the other presentations & didn’t feel afterwards like I had been ‘through the mill’ whereas prior to the Masterclass I would have had a restless night & been worried during the day. The practical facts I’d learnt as well about posture, breathing, timing and delivery were very helpful.

One thing I did realise was that the venue can have a big effect – layout, technology, catering staff coming in at the back of the room with coffee or clearing up – distractions.

Since then my public speaking has mainly been at smaller meetings, giving presentations, but I am now trying to apply the same principles of preparation and out-loud practice. 

What’s next? What has spending time working on your approach to speaking encouraged you to think about or do? Ultimately, I could see myself doing a TED-type talk. I’d need to work my way towards that! I think I’m building a framework of sorts to get me there with some key indicators that I’m making progress. The first step on the road is to be more confident presenting in meetings.

I’d know I was doing this when I both know what I’m presenting and can stay slightly removed to be able to follow the discussion and relate it back to what’s been presented. To do this I need to take my time. When I have done this, it has helped me to stay calm and also stay open to feedback. Taking my time, means time stops, or slows just a little which helps me feel in control-that I know where I am and what I’m saying. I can break off and pick up where I left off.

With the confidence from these experiences I can see me speaking more confidently at seminars for our members. These can be to audiences of 150+ where I may have to present changes which may well be questioned.   From there – who knows!

The other thing I would do is some webinars for our members. I’d like mine to have some atmosphere and not simply be reading off slides. And I’d like to be there, on camera and present. I’d need to learn how to be confident and comfortable on camera which is another opportunity to grow and develop.

What else would you need to be aware of? What do you need to pay attention to in order to give yourself a great chance to make it a success? For me it all boils down to practise and preparedness. I prepare what I want to say. I write down the words. Then I rehearse them, out-loud using the paper version as an aid. Then I do this without the paper version. I learnt through doing this that a good or great speaker spends a lot of time and effort to make it look easy. That time and effort is also open to me – I now appreciate what’s required and it’s up to me

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to become a more confident presenter? I would recommend the value of practising out loud. This helped me get used to the sound of my own voice. This got me to a stage where I’m not thinking about what I sound like during the presentation (which I used to). This means I am free to focus on other things, for example, my posture, the audience. The other suggestion I have is to seek opportunities to develop further. After the Masterclass I attended a Confident Women in the Workplace session which helped me to further work on my impact with breathing exercises to help with nerves and understanding how posture helps voice projection.

Would you like to be better equipped to handle speaking and presentations? Perhaps I can help. For an informal chat, get in touch here.

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