In December of 2015 I was approached by Susanne Rosch-Iles, who had seen a brochure for a talk I was giving on presence and empowered public speaking. Having been focused on raising a family for many years, she was considering going back to work, but felt that her self-confidence with regard to communicating with others out in the world had been eroded in the time that she had been away from the workplace.
Following our meeting was born the idea for a course in public speaking, geared towards people who had limited confidence in their ability to stand in front of others. Susanne had a friend who had a pressing need to restore her confidence around public speaking, and with some modest publicity designed to attract others with similar needs, in February 2016 we embarked with five participants on a six week course, entitled Be Seen, Be Heard.
The course was loosely structured around two main questions:
1. What stops you from being relaxed, comfortable and vibrantly yourself when you are faced with the prospect of standing in front of an audience?
2. What physical and psychological actions can you take to positively transform your experience of being in the spotlight of other people’s attention?
We played lots of games, shared experiences, watched each other in action and fed back to each other. I led exercises which I had adapted from performance training or from my work as an acting coach, which were designed to maximise the speaker’s awareness of their body and voice. We explored the relationship with the audience in depth, always asking the questions: what does the audience need in order to stay connected to the speaker? What does the speaker need in order to stay expanded?
The course was incredibly collaborative and playful, with the sense that we were all learning together. I referred a good deal to the Zen concept of ‘Beginner’s Mind’, where one consciously assumes the mindset of a beginning student who knows nothing and is open to everything, rather than the more closed mindset of the expert.
The feedback at the end of that first course was overwhelmingly positive, but also quite surprising. All the participants said how much fun they had had, and that they had felt safe, supported in the group and emboldened to reveal far more of themselves than they thought would be comfortable at the start of the course.
‘This is not just about public speaking,’ one of the participants said, ‘It’s changed the way I feel about myself in the whole of my life.’
‘What’s next?’ another person said, ‘I feel like we’ve just started.’
With these encouraging words, I set about designing a follow-on course.
Be Seen, Be Heard Part 2 launched in September 2016 as an 8 week course culminating in a public presentation. With five students, drawn from all three of the Part 1 courses that I had offered since February 2016, once again we embarked on a journey into the unknown.
The focus of this course was on applying the principles and techniques learned in Part 1 with each participant creating, rehearsing and presenting an individual 15 minute talk to a public audience. The added challenge was to design and deliver the whole event as a group - negotiating on choice of venue, size of audience, time of day, and all the practical details of the event. This way participants had full ownership of the event, and were able to build an appropriate ‘crucible’ to contain and display their efforts.
Each week participants would bring in a section of their presentation and deliver it to the others, who would provide constructive feedback and encouragement. So the presentations grew out of a process of trial and reflection, which had the added bonus of giving participants lots of experience in front of an audience.
The culminating presentation event was officially named ‘Story Party’ - which we borrowed from Story Party London, which one of the group had connections with. We advertised it locally in Stroud, and held it in a central venue on a Sunday afternoon in November, without having any idea of who or how many people would turn up. Around 55 people came, and the feedback we received was extraordinary: ’I laughed so much……thoroughly absorbed and touched…..honest and brave….what a beautiful concept.’
The Story Party Stroud now runs as an independent event every couple of months between October and April, and has become a firm fixture in the Stroud cultural scene. It is open to anyone who has a personal story to tell, and the desire to share it.
Since February 2016 I have run seven Be Seen Be Heard Part 1 courses (now offered as a weekend course) and three Part 2 courses. I have also run one day courses at the Isbourne Centre in Cheltenham, Hawkwood College in Stroud, and many tasters and private coaching sessions covering wedding speeches, job interviews and work presentations.
Be Seen, Be Heard is now attracting attention from the corporate sector, and I have delivered trainings for the Barnwood Trust and Gloucestershire County Council. In September I hope to be delivering some training for the local NHS Trust.
Be Seen, Be Heard began as a response to a need, and it has grown organically as new participants have brought new issues and challenges to be explored and transformed. The methodology is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the individuals attending the courses, and whilst the focus is the challenge of speaking in public, the benefits are felt across the whole of life. Be Seen, Be Heard is a programme that explores the deeply personal question: how can I live comfortably as myself in the world, and make the contribution I am most inspired to make?
To find out more about upcoming courses, go to www.adamfotheringham.com/events.