An Interview With Two Aspiring Speakers — Helen Scott and Peter Hicks

The ByRecWorks Aspiring Speakers program is a completely free networking initiative for professionals from the tech world to try their hand at public speaking. After a recent event, I got the chance to talk to Helen Scott, a Java Developer Advocate, and CTO, Peter Hicks, about their experience.

I have long believed in the power of public speaking to build confidence and skills. With Aspiring Speakers, those new to giving talks and speaking publicly get the chance to try the waters in a safe and encouraging atmosphere.

Starting the group came from a desire to help tech professionals, a group that can be introverted, step up and learn that public speaking can be both fun and rewarding. Aspiring Speakers is a nurturing environment that provides mentorship, advice, and a space to practice.

Here is what Helen and Peter had to say after their recent experience:

Why did you decide to do a lightning talk?

Helen: Dom Carlo asked me at short notice because there was space. I did it because while I’m still relatively new to speaking, I’ve never tried to prepare a presentation with such short notice. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it in the ninety minute window I had available. I also knew that if I didn’t prepare it in time or if it was horrific, it was a safe space to fail in, so I said yes. I also said yes because turning down opportunities isn’t going to get me where I want to be.

Peter: I’ve given probably a dozen talks in the past to a variety of people — both internal within the wider company I worked for, and public talks.

I’ve only ever given longer, fifteen plus minute talks in my career, and only on technical matters. I wanted to challenge myself to give a shorter, less technical talk to see how I dealt with the experience and what I can learn from it.

What were your expectations going into it?

Helen: I was expecting to be nervous, and I was in the few minutes leading up to it, but the nerves are settled now to a less heart-thumping level (just a mild sweaty palm level). My expectation was that it would be a supportive audience and again, a safe place and those expectations were definitely met. Mostly I thought it would be fine, and it was.

Peter: The weeks prior to giving the talk went by so quickly, and it was a week prior to the day that I started to get nervous. I had to cut down on the number of slides and practice being brief and leaving the audience inspired to learn more — my tendency is to talk more about detail. I wasn’t sure if my nerves would get the better of me on the day and whether I’d talk too much!

How did you feel it went, and how did you feel afterwards?

Helen: I felt great afterwards, which is another reason that I was so keen to give the talk. I like the post-talk feeling of euphoria! That said, you do also feel a bit drained after speaking into the void, even if it’s only for five minutes, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s one opportunity the pandemic has afforded new speakers.

Peter: I’d finished the presentation even before I properly felt I’d started. Having a set of bullet points off-camera helped as I could glance at them during the talk. Afterwards, there were lots of positive comments which helped relieve my anxiety, even though I knew I’d slipped up in a few places.

Did you get any expected or unexpected benefits from it?

Helen: Oh I want to do it again, that part no longer surprises me. I’ve met a lot of people and mentees through this initiative. I’m looking forward to delivering “How to prep a lightning talk in ninety minutes”. My manager joins for the calls to support me.

Peter: The biggest benefit I came away with was that of having delivered my first ‘short’ presentation designed to inspire people to look at the subject matter themselves later. I also had a great sense of happiness at having achieved something new — it’s very easy to keep doing the things you’re comfortable doing, but growth and progression only occur when you step outside your comfort zone!

What are the next steps looking like for you?

Helen: I guess I’m a little further down this road than most as I think it was my fourth lightning talk. I’m currently giving a thirty minute talk and I hope to keep going with speaking in person when we’re allowed to.

Peter: I’d like to give more lightning talks. This one has made me think about focusing on fewer points and inspiring others to research something new — rather than tutoring them.

Any final words about recommendations for others to do it?

Helen: Do it. It’s a safe, supportive and encouraging environment to learn and grow your public speaking skills.

Peter: I recommend everyone looks at giving a lightning talk at some point in their career — earlier rather than later, or you may miss out on the benefits to you. Whether you come away proud of what you’ve achieved, or a bundle of anxiety and nerves, sooner or later you’ll have the warm feeling of having challenged yourself to do something new.

If you’d like to follow in Helen’s and Peter’s footsteps, join the Aspiring Speakers program and develop your public speaking abilities. I’d love to welcome you. Gain confidence, a network and valuable skills, all in a comfortable and forgiving environment.

As you can see from these interviewees, you’ve got nothing to lose. Get in touch today.

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