MTPT Project blogger, tweeter and South West Representative, Kate Fiddian (@kfiddian) shares her key takeaways from one of her first solo CPD trips on parental leave.  This post featured on Kate’s own blog, which you can explore here.

It has taken me nearly two weeks to write this, but I’m not going to apologise for that, I’m raising a tiny human, which seems to drain an awful lot of brainpower.

Leaving my 6 month old baby at home with his dad for the evening, I headed to a bar in town to join my first ‘Lean In Circle’. Having read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead‘ I was inspired to find out more and was delighted when a colleague said she’d found a circle in Bristol.

Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, and they’re changing lives. Women are asking for more, stepping outside their comfort zones, and leaning in.”

We arrived to find fifteen like-minded women from all walks of life; from hypnotherapists to entrepreneurs, all being brave and asking for more, myself included. All too often we can become stuck in a silo and although I hugely value the network I have within education, it was refreshing to hear from different voices. Having been unsure about what to expect, this session focused on developing public speaking and took both me and my colleague out of our comfort zone.

I’ve always happily volunteered to speak at events and get a real kick out of doing so, but since being on maternity leave I’ve lost my confidence. I’ve spoken a couple of events with little one strapped to my front in a baby carrier, determined that having a baby won’t change what I can do, but have found myself flustered, rushing and getting jumbled up. The evening I spent at the Lean In circle with a group of openly supportive women bolstered my confidence and left me feeling fabulous! A refreshing antidote to the cliché of daily mummy-life; endless nappies, baby groups and sleepless nights.

To break the ice and get us talking, we were each given random topics to talk about for 30 seconds; mine were ‘I love puppies’ (I don’t!) and ‘ice cream should be banned’ (hmm, maybe). Listened to by two other women and then promptly given feedback on our presentation style, we all received validation and constructive advice from our peers. Over the course of the evening we built up from light hearted mini-speeches to presenting about a topic that we are passionate about.

Having felt like the door to career progression was firmly closed at the start of my maternity leave, unsurprisingly enough this was the topic of my short speech; the lack of choices given to women on maternity leave and the sometimes damaging assumptions made about career and motherhood. When I finished my impromptu speech, I was greeted with cheers, applause and smiles. Feedback from the others in the circle told me I came across as determined, articulate and genuine – these words were music to my tired and intellectually-deprived ears!

Towards the end of the circle, the fabulous @JLRollason shared her top tips for public speaking. With her permission, here are a few of my favourites:

First and foremost, ask yourself; am I setting myself low expectations? Do you hear the devil on your shoulder saying ‘I’m really nervous; I don’t normally do this sort of thing…’? If these phrases are familiar to you, you are probably unwittingly setting yourself up for failure. Henry Ford once said ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right’. @JLRollason used a beautiful piece of imagery to help us relate to this; have you ever been nervous on behalf of a person on stage at an open mic night? Awkward, isn’t it? Don’t do that to your audience! If you tell the audience you are nervous, they will feel nervous for you; don’t take them on that journey! By the end of your presentation, the adrenaline will be pumping and you will feel awesome, why not tell yourself this at the start instead.

And then bite size some take-aways that will become my public speaking mantra…

Breathe! One that I often forget, especially when I get enthusiastic or am passionate about a subject

Use silence – it gives the audience time to think and reflect; if you are going too fast or find yourself rambling, just stop. Pause. Take a deep breath. Use a silent moment to re-gather attention from your audience and re-focus your mind

Pause for emphasis, a well designed page of text has space around it and between paragraphs; a pause in your speech is the verbal equivalent

Don’t be tempted to use your telephone voice! Add personality and give a little of yourself away, make it personal with a short anecdote to engage your audience

Reframe ‘nervous’ for ‘excited’. I tried it recently, it works! Alright, it wasn’t a speech, but I was leading a #MTPTchat digimeet on Twitter. How I interpreted the nervous energy I felt building determined how it affected me… I got excited!

Finally, feedback is a gift! Do you find yourself dissecting parts of your speech and playing the worst bits over and over in your mind afterwards (my mum calls it the broken gramophone in your head)? Here is a lovely little gem from @MarianneContent; find a trusted person in the audience to do two things for you whilst you are speaking:

  1. Note all of the fabulous things you did and all the brilliant bits of your speech, get them to give you this feedback immediately after your presentation
  2. Note some areas for development, ask them to give this to you a few days later, when you are ready to reflect

I left my first Lean In circle feeling empowered, reinvigorated and positively buzzing. I know I am a better mum as a result of staving off the creeping brain atrophy that can so easily take hold and I loved engaging with such a diverse and interesting bunch of sheroes. I’m already looking forward to the next circle!