Time to speak up!
Sandra Norval describes how public speaking can make a difference in the fight against climate crisis and wildlife loss
Recently we’ve seen a huge increase in the attention paid to climate change and biodiversity loss, with the actions of Extinction Rebellion demanding attention – but the most compelling stories have come from the two opposite ends of the age spectrum.
Storytelling has been fundamental to this increased focus, through repeated and succinct oration from Greta Thunberg, just stepping into the limelight, and David Attenborough, the master with decades of experience under his belt. The aspect that connects them is their passion for making a difference. Their love for our planet shines through in what they say, and we cannot help but respond, react and rethink.
However, their voices alone are not enough. Within each and every one of us is a voice waiting to be heard – if we find our own way to unleash it. For some it will simply be speaking out at work, challenging things that need to change, but for others it’s an opportunity to spread their ideas, gain support and drive momentum.
I have been chair of IEMA Sussex and Surrey Region for a couple of years now, and as an IEMA Fellow have been a speaker at all sorts of events, from small intimate groups to larger stages. From these platforms I have challenged audiences to think differently, and feedback has always helped me to build what I can do.
In recent months I’ve noticed that, when arranging events, it’s often a struggle to get speakers – for all sorts of reasons. Dates and locations are always a challenge, of course, but it surprises me when people tell me they haven’t ever considered speaking about their subject. I understand that it can be daunting, and I’ve seen many articles and videos about tackling those fears, but I thought it would be interesting to share my take on what speaking does for you, the speaker. It might surprise some readers to know that it really isn’t about boosting your ego.
The biggest gain for me has been getting the message across to the audiences I speak to, whether on stage, on camera or simply in meetings. The good news is that the more you find your voice, the more your confidence grows – and you develop your ideas, too. Not so long ago I was painfully shy, would never have dared to challenge someone senior and often told myself that I knew nothing. Things changed when I finally found my voice.
A decade later, I have full confidence in my speaking ability. I gradually found my techniques for all sorts of scenarios, but it all came with practice. In the early days I was literally standing on stage with my knees knocking, nerves keeping the volume out of my voice and my face glowing red. The more I went out there and did it, the more I learnt to use that nervous energy. Above all, I drew energy from the conversations that followed, discussing my topic and building confidence along the way.
Speaking up has, without a doubt, opened doors for me. I have used the experience in my skills evidence for my qualifications, gained CPD from the events I have participated in, honed my ideas for the work that I do and built a network of incredibly inspiring people, many of whom I have shared the stage with.
Please, don’t just take my word for it. Start by getting involved with your local region, tell them what you’d like to talk about and help to plan an event to make it happen.
We need to scale up change. We must also change ourselves, and this is just one way that all IEMA members could make a difference. I hope to share a stage with you some day!
Reasons to speak:
It’s a fantastic skill to have
As we move towards a world that focuses on storytelling through social media and events, the written word is becoming less of a focal point for current topics. It’s the place for deeper thought and longer pieces – but short, sharp talks, videos and podcasts are the order of the day, so speaking is a powerful tool
It will build your confidence
I always say: if something scares you, challenge yourself to do it. Start small and gradually build to larger audiences or more challenging situations. Your confidence will grow as you tackle your fear head-on, but it’s also a chance to get more involved in a wider range
It will help you shape your thinking
I know that sounds counterintuitive – you expect the person on the stage to be a thought leader. At the same time, though, they are listening and engaging with their fellow speakers and with the audience, because they want to test their ideas, learn from others and build on what they know
You never know who you’ll be speaking with!
I have maintained contact with most of my co-speakers and often gone on to work with them in some way, whether that involves writing, supporting their sustainability work, coaching, mentoring or developing their business. In some cases, I have worked alongside eminent professionals at the top of their field and been in awe of them! I learn something every time I speak
You are showing what you are capable of
While you are up there speaking, you are demonstrating more than just your speaking skills. You’re showing what you know and how you communicate your message. Your passion for your subject will shine through the nerves. And anyone in the audience will recognise that you know how to handle the pressure of putting your ideas out there; that is critical in the sustainability profession
You are showing others what is possible
Think back to times when you have been inspired by someone you could relate to – someone who represented you. Maybe you watched a woman introduce a difficult concept on stage, or a black TV presenter inspired you, or you saw someone with prosthetic limbs speak about climate change. We talk about diversity and inclusion, but need the exemplars to take the stage. Even now I am sometimes the only woman on a panel; we need our pool of professional speakers to grow so we can see and hear you
Your profile will grow
Building your professional standing means growing your profile. It’s not an ego thing – it’s part of increasing your reach to do more. Key Person of Influence by Daniel Priestley talks about doing this by writing articles and speaking. IEMA is always looking for contributions to papers, event speakers, and articles for Transform
You will learn
By speaking you will learn how to speak well, engage different audiences and manage the room on panels and in Q&A sessions. You will learn about new topics from co-speakers, and even find out where your knowledge gaps are
You might just change the world!
After all, that is the intention of our work, and getting your ideas out there will definitely make a difference
You will inspire others
Whether through your subject or simply by being up on stage talking about it, you will inspire someone. They might not tell you until a long time afterwards, but I guarantee that it is happening!
Sandra Norval, FIEMA, is director of Bluedotaug and IEMA Sussex and Surrey Region chair. Find out about her speaking experience at www.sandranorval.co.uk