Union learning gave me the confidence to speak up

Union learning gave me the confidence to speak up

About the author: Juanita McKenzie

Juanita McKenzie is a Performance & Customer Engagement Officer with Bristol City Council and Unite Trade Union Learning Rep.

Recently Juanita attended a Public Speaking Course organised by Unite Union Learning Organiser Matt Gillett which has great benefits for her confidence and how she supports learners.

When I attended my training sessions to become a ULR, I was made aware of the Public Speaking Course being offered by Unite for its Learning Reps. It sounded excellent and I could see why this would be a very important skill for any Union Representative. I have always been terrified of speaking in front of an audience despite having good communication skills and this has been a barrier for me in the past.  

For this reason, I approached Matt Gillett who was organising and facilitating the public speaking course. I had the opportunity to discuss my fears and why these were both the barriers but also the most compelling reasons to attend the course. Matt was able to speak from experience about his own past challenges with public speaking and how the course would be able to give me the skills and confidence I needed to develop in this area. I felt very positive after discussing this with Matt and was fortunate to be able to attend the course in April 2016.  

The first day of the course was devoted to learning the techniques and skills required for preparing and delivering a speech. The content was well-presented and clear, with written material and also time for discussion in the group. One of my favourite parts of the learning that day was watching a selection of videos of various speakers, some current and others historically famous.  It was so interesting seeing different styles of speaking and discussing within the classroom what we observed. Matt delivered a very entertaining and informative course which we all found extremely valuable in understanding the essential techniques needed in public speaking. By the end of the first day we were given the task of preparing our own speeches to be delivered to the group two weeks later. 

The second part of the Public Speaking Course arrived, with a group of very nervous attendees waiting to deliver the speeches we had all worked hard to prepare for this day. It was very clear that we were all anxious but Matt soon put us at our ease and the speeches got underway. It was a relaxed and informal process with each person delivering their speech to the class and then getting feedback from them. Every speech I heard that day was excellent and it soon became clear that we all had different styles of public speaking and that this is what made each speech great. The group was encouraging and supportive, giving feedback in a positive way and focusing on the strengths of each speaker.  I have never felt more nervous in my life but really felt a tremendous sense of achievement after presenting my speech and receiving feedback. The biggest lesson I learned on the day was that each person there was as nervous as I was, yet it didn’t show and they presented excellent speeches regardless of how they may have felt in themselves.

Matt was incredibly supportive and encouraging throughout and succeeded in facilitating an informative course in a relaxed setting that allowed us all to have the confidence to speak and find our voices.  Since this course, I have grown in confidence in leaps and bounds and this has impacted on my life in many positive ways. I am taking on new learning roles in the union and I have gone on to successfully step into a new role within my workplace, one which will involve delivering training and presentations to groups of people. I would not have dreamed of applying for this sort of role in the past but thanks to the valuable skills I learned on the public speaking course and the confidence it gave me to speak in front of others, I am certain it gave me the edge in the interview and the confidence to believe in my ability to do this.

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