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5 min read

Search Leeds: Women in Digital – Confidence in public speaking and the workplace

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

As discussed in our recent live blog of the Women in Digital Panel’s discussion on Balance, it is no secret that the digital sector is male-dominated.

For Search Leeds 2019, the conference organisers felt they should celebrate accomplished women working within the industry.

The second discussion of the panel focused on confidence, lead by panellists Kirsty Hulse, Jane Rutter and Nadish Saleem.

How to change the way you perceive public speaking

Jane Rutter defined confidence as doing something that makes you feel adrenaline and mentioned that this would be relative for every individual. What one person would find daunting might well be within their colleague’s comfort zone. She strongly encouraged everyone to do something that makes them scared, as being out of your comfort zone is how you grow.

Nadish discussed her experience of working with a diverse group of women who all have different backgrounds. However, she noticed that as she became more involved in public speaking, how the digital marketing public speaking sphere was not diverse at all. Nadish mentioned that, for this reason, she tries to take an active part.


How do you get yourself to a point where you’re willing to take risks?

The panel initially suggested focusing on the benefits of taking said risks, and not the worst outcomes. When preparing for pitches, meetings and public speaking opportunities, they recommended considering the best outcome and what positives you could get from doing this – rather than focusing on what could go wrong.

Jane raised the point that she uses a completely different approach to taking risks. Instead, she prepares herself for the worst. Humans will naturally conjure up the worst case scenarios in their minds and she argued that taking risks in the workplace would rarely ever be as bad as you think. Jane debated that as most people have the fear of saying something ‘stupid’, to remember that everyone has or will be in the same position as you at one point so to not fear it.

Nadish shared that she is prepared to take risks in the workplace as she is confident in her skill set and passion to constantly learn. Because her confidence derives from her background and experience, she is also keen to prove people wrong that might doubt her abilities based on her gender or race.


How do you differentiate from an opportunity that scares you and a warning to protect yourself?

Kirsty Hulse discussed the impact of cortisol (our stress hormone) on wellbeing in the workplace. When you consider something scary and construe it as scary, your body will react by releasing more cortisol. This is why it is important to view things positively and perceive things in a better way to make yourself feel better.

What will be considered an opportunity for growth or a hard limit will differ based on your personality type, said Jane. She argued that the individual is the only person who can judge that. Whilst it is important to take care of yourself when working in a fast-paced industry such as digital marketing, it is also important to remember to push yourself to ensure you are constantly growing.

Jane raised the point that there is no harm in saying that something is not for you, and doing what is best with you. She encouraged the audience to be comfortable with failure and the fact that you won’t be perfect every time.

Rather than dwelling on what you have done wrong, the panel suggested considering what you can do better next time instead.

Nadish recommended constantly finding opportunities to take leadership and put yourself in charge – whether that be in meetings or projects where the opportunities arise. By ensuring that you are in control of a situation, and not passive, it will make you more resistant and tenacious to change. In fact, it will help you grow without realising.


What do you do to regulate your nerves and mitigate how it will affect your performance?

The panel raised the point of ‘power posing’ to reduce cortisol and, on a lighter note, using humour as a defence mechanism. Listening to music prior to an important meeting or talk was suggested to help you get into the right headspace.

There is also huge importance in ensuring that you are fully prepared and believe what you are saying. In other words, clearly understanding why you are taking part in something and why you are there. By compromising these factors, your nerves can increase and affect your performance in the workplace and public speaking.

Nadish recommended being proactive in finding opportunities to speak up, such as in meetings, talks and training sessions. Not only will this help you progress through your career but it will also provide you with the experience of communicating clearly when put on the spot.


Public speaking tips: how to avoid mumbling and find the right pace

Jane suggested finding opportunities for public speaking training. The key here was to find the right trainer, based on the type of public speaking you would like to get involved in. She stressed the importance of getting feedback on your current public speaking style, even recording yourself, to find areas to improve.

To avoid mumbling and ensuring that the audience can clearly hear you, Kirsty recommended speaking slowly and deliberately. Whilst this might sound obvious, Kirsty suggested practising your talks so slowly that you fear sounding ridiculous – in fact, talk at a speed that sounds “too slow”. As most public speakers’ adrenaline will be through the roof when they are on stage, their idea of speaking too slowly will translate to the perfect pace for the audience.

Based on tips and tricks used in musical theatre, Nadish advised the audience to practice their speech with a short straw between their teeth. Not only would this help with your articulation but it will also allow you to project your voice. Nadish also recommended practising your talk with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth, shortly before public speaking. As when it comes to your time to speak, it will further help your articulation.