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A mum’s tale – Thinking on your feet after a career break.

After a career break to raise two boys, the day finally came to wave my youngest off to school. The time was right for me to return to work. I’ll be honest, although I was excited about the prospect of this new chapter in my life, my confidence was faltering a little. I had over ten years’ experience, having been a successful senior marketer, before starting a family. I knew all the information was still swirling around in my head, but after eight years off it was a little foggy.

The working environment had changed: the way business operated; the political landscape and some of the tools I used previously were redundant now. I had all this to worry about.

I found myself back at work, working with the lovely people at Indigo, with a nice warm coffee sat on my desk. To my surprise there were people that actually wanted to listen to me (what any parent dreams of when knee high in nappies). I was loving it, but noticed that any questions where I was put on-the-spot, filled me with dread. I felt like a rabbit in headlights on some of these occasions, questioning my true ability, not just with these ad-hoc questions.

Clear and concise
I told my manager of my concerns. He recommended we, “kill two birds with one stone. Try attending one of our workshops that will help you to feel more confident when communicating verbally. You’ll also understand what you’re marketing by actually experiencing it, first-hand.”

My first thoughts, if I’m honest, considering my outdated experience of training from ten years ago was…

…“How will I stay awake while someone talks to me for 7 hours?”

I signed up for a two-day Think on Your Feet® workshop. Designed to ensure you are understood, remembered and:

  • confident in all ad-hoc and unplanned conversations – giving you the time to think before you speak.
  • speak clearly and concisely – helping people listen, so you are understood and remembered.
  • avoid those ‘rabbit in headlights’ moments – getting your point across without waffle.

Practise, practise, practise
The workshop is very practical, we were straight up on our feet for a 60-second elevator exercise. Being split into pairs with the idea being that you’ve just stepped into the elevator with the CEO and they say, ‘So tell me, how’s it going?’ This is fine, I thought, I can chat to anyone!

I soon realised when it was the other person’s turn, that she was clearly well-experienced and running important projects in her organisation, but I had no idea what she was talking about or what her message was. Then it hit me like a sledgehammer – I was the same!

Being able to waffle about what I knew, showing my passion, saying what I think I need to say. Not good! I realised that my listeners were being left confused, with no idea about who I was, what I did or what message I was trying to communicate.

Six plans
During the workshop we were taught six plans to structure responses for any ad-hoc or unplanned communication and questions. The plans helped me to think of three key points to structure my responses. This enabled me to answer with clarity, brevity and impact. Even I was surprised at how clear my communication became.

Next, we learnt bridging techniques, great for interview situations or big Q & A sessions. We learnt how to:

  • Probe the questioner to find their hidden agenda.
  • Buy time to gather thoughts.
  • Adapt or break-up difficult questions.

At the end of the first day we did the 60-second elevator exercise again, with the same person. This time, when I finished, she looked at me and said, ‘Wow, that sounds really interesting.’ I was telling her the same things from the first time round, but realised that I had delivered it in a more succinct, structured and easily digestible way.

Did I change?
The trainer made a great analogy about how we think when communicating, “a lot of time we are like ducks, looking calm on the surface, but paddling like the clappers underneath”. When I think back to those first few weeks back at work, I can see I was a duck.

The workshop has boosted my confidence, my communication is more direct and to the point – without appearing blunt or rude. I no longer dread bumping into the MD at the coffee station or questions such as, “tell me about yourself” or “what’s your opinion on this?”

We often spend time on workshops that help us to focus on how we present ourselves and are perceived, not how understandable or memorable we are. I now talk to all my stakeholders with renewed confidence and have a toolkit of practical ‘plans’ to structure my conversations, even the difficult ones, when put on-the-spot.

Is it for you too?

Find out more about Think on Your Feet® at www.indigobusiness.co.uk/toyf.

I would recommend this workshop to anyone:

  • Returning to work after a career break and feeling a bit rusty.
  • Facing a promotion opportunity in the workplace.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of questions they get in the workplace.
  • Embarking on any interview process.
  • Changing career.
  • Managing large or multiple projects.
  • Wanting to improve their communication skills or confidence.
  • Reporting to board level.