Case Study: Helen Gregson on Stepping into Public Speaking

Helen Gregson, CEO of the European Society of Endocrinology shares how she became more comfortable and confident in her approach and delivery of public speaking.

Background  “It’s expected behaviour from a CEO, to be a completely comfortable presenter, knowing what you are doing. But for me, and I expect many others, these were moments I didn’t look forward to at all.

In April of 2019 I was asked to speak at a conference taking place in December of that year. And I thought, that’s enough time to work on my discomfort and overcome it. I believe that when you’re a leader it’s important to push yourself to develop. And I expected this of myself.

I should say I present on an almost daily basis with no problem. Speaking to committees and during meetings is a significant part of my role. In these settings, I’m a confident presenter.

What I found challenging were two of the differences between these regular day to day, week to week presentation moments and what I was being asked to do as a conference speaker in December:

  1. It was a conference which is a more formal occasion.
  2. I was speaking on a topic I was not completely familiar with.”

The Change “In the past I might have stepped away from this opportunity. What changed my mind? I did. I decided to push myself. My fear was holding me back. So this was a personal challenge. And it was also a professional one. My Association would not have noticed a problem. But I did.

I could see an opportunity that we were missing out on. By not speaking, I was holding back in terms of sharing my ideas with others. And in turn holding us back by not enabling a positive connection between the audience and the Society via me. I realised that I was the link between the audience and the Society. And by speaking I could activate the connection. If I could speak and speak well, I would inspire trust and credibility in me, that would also create trust and credibility for the Society.

People remember people. And people remember memorable credible people and associate those characteristics with their organisation. Speaking is a chance to make these connections happen. As a Society, we are moving into advocacy and policy work and to make this shift effectively, a profile of trust is key. We wanted to become a Society that was recognised and respected.

When you look around at organisations that are doing well, their leaders tend to be well known and well respected. How they do reinforce this is in part, through their presentation and speaking style and substance. As an outsider you make the link from ‘there’s a CEO I can trust’ to ‘there’s an organisation I can trust.’

This applies in two contexts, both when you are speaking to an audience of people in the sector you serve, and also to an audience from the sector you are part of. Sharing how you have done something as a Society with other Association professionals is an important way to build your profile and that of the organisation you represent. The two go hand in hand. The combination of the high profile of the leader and the respect in which they are held, creates the impression that the association is a thought leader. CEO’s that speak, inspire confidence and encourage others to feel confident about the Association. That’s why I wanted to change my thinking and approach to public speaking.

And that’s why I booked on to the Public Speaking Masterclass run by John Scarrott. I followed his plan. And it worked!”

Key takeaways 

Preparation: John’s “Speakers Clock” was an excellent planning device for me to create my actions. It gave me a structure to work through with timings as to what I should be doing and when. This also enabled me to focus on proper rehearsals. I did some research on my audience, who were a group that I knew, but not that well. This helped inform my content.

Practise: I’d had it drilled into me by others not to rehearse too much and not to write out the words in full but to work from bullets. John’s advice expanded my ideas on this. He suggested rehearsing would help my performance and confidence and not harm it.

He also recommended creating a script of what I wanted to say, from which I could take my bullets/notes or work from directly. Spending time rehearsing from the script meant I lost the scripted feeling of the words, connecting with them naturally and fluently. I rehearsed at least 10 times and forgot all about over-rehearsal.

Another good suggestion was to ask others to support me. I asked a trusted colleague to be my audience and to review the script which they did. All of this added to my confidence.

Personal Confidence: My presentation was on day two of the conference. Again, I took John’s advice to visit the room where I would be speaking before I was due on stage. I stood in the lecture hall, looked at the 100+seats and imagined them filled with people. I stood on stage at the lectern and looked out at the audience. Standing on the stage, looking out at an imaginary audience helped calm my nerves and give me confidence.

Results I had some great feedback. Afterwards someone from the audience came up to me and said ‘you are a brilliant presenter!” And the organiser also said, ‘that was exactly what I was looking for.’ So I met the brief for the audience and the organiser, a double win.

Personally this has been a step change for me in my belief about myself as a speaker. I was surprised that I came out saying to myself ‘I actually rather enjoyed that!’ And looking forward to my next opportunity to speak. And I came out ready to seek it out rather than hide or hope it never arrives.

How did I get here? At heart it was a belief that I had something to say. Something that others don’t know. And I have the experience to share and give others new insights and knowledge that can help them. I found my self-belief. It was something that was hiding. And through working on the practise of speaking, I came to believe it more strongly. And that is something that I can now harness to raise the profile of my association.

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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