I walked into the room as I walk into all events at Cambridge Judge Business School – confident, self-assured, hiding the nerves inside. However, there was something surprisingly unsettling about being in a room full of women, all successful businesswomen, having adapted my style and personality, like most women in the field, to make myself noticeable amongst a group of men.
I was met with the comment ‘I love your outfit’; I felt myself immediately relax, no longer having to put on the inevitable front when walking into a room of men, which is a familiar sight at most business events.
Dr Judita Vivas, physical theatre artist and movement teacher, began the workshop with an exercise involving walking into the room and taking Centre Stage, without saying anything. Our very own Dr Ghina Halabi went first – a stellar example of how to take command of the stage. A couple of other women had a go, equally capable, but all three said they had never felt so vulnerable, seemingly under constant scrutiny by their audience.
Vulnerability was to become a running theme of the workshop.
With Judita, we practiced how to feel grounded on stage, telling personal and professional stories in small groups, and giving/receiving feedback. I found myself shying away from talking about my own achievements, and turns out most of the room did too. ‘Stop apologising’ was the repeated message.
I found myself gaining much more in common with these women than I had ever imagined. Who knew that my problems with public speaking, which I hadn’t realised were problems at all, seemed to derive from being a woman.
Next came Bridgid Nzekwu, a specialist media trainer and a renowned nationwide TV presenter. We were encouraged to challenge our perception on what makes interesting news according to the media, and urged to start building our media profiles now. Many of us didn’t even realise we needed one, but Bridgid pointed out that having a media presence as future startup founders and business leaders could be the make or break for our companies.
We were talked through fantastic tips for approaching a media interview, constantly asking the question ‘what is that [nasty reporter] going to ask me next?’. Many structures for answers to difficult questions were covered: Point Evidence Point, Audience Message Example Negatives, etc.
Undoubtedly the audience favourite was steering away from a question that you either didn’t know the answer to or couldn’t answer for confidentiality reasons, using Address Bridge Communicate; in reality, this sounds like ‘I don’t know/can’t say because… but what I do know is… [my thing] because I am amazing’.
I left this workshop feeling more aware of my difficulties in public speaking, but better equipped with the tools to exploit my strengths, and safe in the knowledge that I was not alone. The power of bringing together women in what can feel like a male-dominated environment is something that I had seriously underestimated, but never again!
I came away with one resounding take-home message: Stop apologising because I am amazing.