This year I found, or rather re-discovered, a voice and a presence within me that I think I knew was always there, but had been muted and even silenced over the last few years (by me), for a variety of reasons, some conscious and some just due to life choices and circumstance. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to complete the “Speak to be Heard” programme at the lovely Oasis School of Human Relations centre in Boston Spa.
Speak to be Heard is a two day programme where you learn how to create personal impact and use your voice to influence others. It’s intensive so that you learn fairly quickly how to build your confidence, increase your personal impact and manage the inevitable nerves that come from public speaking. It’s also fun, practical and participative as you learn from working actors and coaches who help you find your authentic voice and use it to great effect.
I wanted to go on this programme as I was interested in seeing what a difference it could make to me once I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone, and how others around me experienced a different me – a me that they had never seen before. Was I up for this…? Was I in a place whereby I could let go…? I had hoped to come out of the programme with a renewed sense of confidence. What I actually got was a whole lot more.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect: not sure whether I would enjoy it; curious about how much I might need to expose my private, inner person and what people might think about me; wondering what others in the group would bring to the sessions; and a whole lot more…I joined the programme holding all of these thoughts, but also went in with an open mind, no expectations and a genuine curiosity as to what the programme would do for me.
On these two days, something happened inside, or rather, I let something happen inside me, deep down which literally rose up, and with a huge sense of release, I allowed myself the space and the time to speak out, to really speak out and take people on a bit of a journey with me, unafraid of what anyone might think. I felt not only heard, but also listened to.
The group was a mix of quiet reflectors, bright sparks, insecurities and anxious anticipators with Glyn Fussell and Corinna Powlesland as the facilitators. From the off, Glyn and Corinna set a tone of calm, humour and positivity where I for one felt held in a very safe space. The door was open for honest reflection and authentic communication. It was clear that the group would be challenged to go outside each of their individual comfort zones, to explore parts of us that not been opened up for a while, and in some cases not at all. And that all felt ok.
Now, I’m not a shrinking violet, by any stretch, but I am essentially a quiet, reflective listener who also has a capacity (often hidden) for being a bit of a performer if the mix of people I am with is right. A strange mix of introvert and extrovert I suppose and I often never know which one is in the room with me, nor which one might pop up at any point. On this programme, I could literally feel my confidence growing, just as if someone had given me a shot of something (they hadn’t, just to be clear!). I’ve done quite a bit of public speaking in my career with ease to mass audiences, yet it’s the groups of between 10 – 20 people that is a challenge for me – more intimate, more riding on your words somehow.
I couldn’t wait to get back for the second day, so that I could try and push myself even further. I felt ready for anything. As the programme developed, I found myself questioning why I suddenly felt like I’d moved up not just one gear, but several gears in terms of speaking out with confidence. What was happening inside me was something that I almost felt I couldn’t control, but in a really good way, like that moment when you have just learned how to swim or ride a bike for the first time on your own. I guess it’s what like learning to fly must feel like for a fledgling.
But why…why was this happening to me right now…? One word – permission. I had given myself the permission to allow what was inside me to come out, but the only reason I felt able to do that was because the people in the room, namely Glyn and Corinna had made me feel it was ok to do that. A safe space, a playful opportunity, with no right or wrongs and an open door to be whatever you wanted or needed to be.
This then had me pondering even further on the word “permission.” It implies a nod towards their being a “something” or “someone” who I needed to check in with to see whether it was ok for me to open up, have a stronger voice, and display more presence. This took me back to my childhood, where as a generally shy child, I had moments of confident inner glory – at aged 10, stepping in as a witch in the school play after the first cast witch couldn’t muster up a witch cackle loud enough to scare the audience. I had no problem delivering the cackle, whereas putting my hand up to grab the opportunity to be the witch was the battle I had to win within myself. And so I now know that I still have this doubting voice which has been with me since childhood. I recognise it, and have fights with it most days, but it’s not nearly as loud these days, thanks to the Speak to be Heard programme.
Within the space of two days I went from that curious, slightly anxious place to a space of comfortable sharing and really valuing the power of being listened to. I’ve worked with several people over the years who seem to have perfected the art of “pretending” to listen and it actually serves very little purpose for the speaker or the “listener.” When you feel that you are being listened to…really listened to, there is a sense that your words are valued and mean something to someone other than yourself. Accompany that with the skills to know when to project your voice and/or tone it down a bit, and how to communicate through your body language, you then have all the tools you need to really be able to speak to be heard.