Speak up! What I thought of Women Talk Design’s Present Yourself course

This post is written by Dawn Kofie. Dawn is a content designer at dxw, an independent, employee-owned digital agency. She enjoys using words in ways that help make people’s lives easier. She’s a fan of yoga, anything written by Samantha Irby, documentaries and butter. As a recent Present Yourself alum, we are so excited to share Dawn’s thoughts on the program.

If you’re a woman or nonbinary person who wants to be a more confident public speaker, I’d thoroughly recommend Women Talk Design’s Present Yourself program. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. If you haven’t heard of Women Talk Design (WTD), its aim is to get more women and nonbinary people speaking up and sharing their ideas at work and events. 

Present Yourself is an 8-week, online course about speaking with confidence, and creating and delivering presentations that people actually want to listen to. It’s made up of 8 self-guided modules and a weekly 1-hour live session. This is time for you to chat about how you’re getting on, ask for feedback and get support. And there are scholarships available. I know I sound like I’m on commission, but I promise I’m not. I genuinely think it’s a well put together course that’s worth the time and energy.

What it covers and how

The course material consists of articles, exercises and videos which range from 5 minutes up to half an hour. I’m not usually a huge fan of this kind of format, because it’s often just lacklustre curated content (spot the content designer). But, and it makes sense given the nature of the course, what Women Talk Design has created is solid, filler-free guidance. The advice that’s shared gets straight to the point and is practical, actionable and reassuring. And all the guest speakers are knowledgeable and relatable people who work in design, research, tech or related fields.

The topics covered include:

  • choosing talk subjects that matter to you
  • using story effectively
  • openings, closings and transitions
  • showing up confidently as yourself (because you don’t have to ‘Talk Like TED’)

The reasons why I liked this program

It doesn’t shy away from the fact that some speakers are more equal than others

Unlike many courses on this topic, Present Yourself acknowledges, and is actively trying to address, the fact that public speaking in design, research and tech isn’t a level playing field. 

Being part of one, or many, historically marginalised groups has an impact on how you’re perceived. It can affect whether people (#NotAllPeople) think you have a right to speak up, and whether they’ll deign to listen to you if you do. If you’re a professional speaker, it can be a factor in whether or not you’re given speaking opportunities in the first place. And if you are, whether you’re paid and how much. 

And systemic bias (The Artist Formerly Known as Imposter Syndrome but minus the victim blaming) means you can end up internalising, and believing, the idea that you’re not entitled to express yourself or be heard.

It’s not a ‘speak like me’ course 

On many public speaking courses, you’re presented with a formula based on what’s worked for the person delivering it. There’s no consideration given to your personality or preferences – you’re treated like a vessel into which the facilitator pours their public speaking wisdom. Present Yourself has a much more inclusive, ‘you do you’ (within reason) approach. So, for example, their one-size-doesn’t-always-fit-all take on things means they share a range of options for practising talks, and how to prepare immediately before you deliver them. Then it’s up to you to try them out and find what works best.

There’s time devoted to mindset

‘Consider what’s going to resonate most with your audience’, ‘how to create decent-looking slides’, and ‘why it’s good to take pauses’ are all useful. But help to counter the feeling that you’d consider changing your name and moving abroad if it meant you didn’t have to speak at a conference is useful too. 

So the validation throughout Present Yourself is very welcome. You repeatedly get the message that:

  • what you have to say matters
  • how you think about yourself in relation to public speaking, and the negative stories you tell yourself about what’s going to happen when you do, aren’t necessarily true
  • getting confident about sharing your ideas doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a process

But it’s not just low-key cheerleading. They share practical ways to understand what your needs are as a speaker, and how to handle anxiety. 

The live sessions felt like genuinely safe and supportive spaces

Knowing that everyone’s on the course for similar reasons means that the live sessions feel less intimidating than other online meeting situations. There’s a lot of emphasis put on being clear about the experience you and your partner want to have in the live sessions. And there’s also concrete advice on coaching and how to ask questions that help move someone on if they’re stuck. All this makes for a space where it feels OK to contribute and there’s no pressure to be perfect.

I’m already using what I learned

More often than not, post-course enthusiasm means I’m convinced that I’m going to put everything I’ve learned into practice. Then reality gets in the way. But, maybe because of this courses’ subject matter, I was able to start using what I was learning immediately. There’s nothing to stop me from taking a moment to collect my thoughts before joining a meeting. Or reminding myself that I have as much right to speak as anyone else. 

Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be a superstar public speaker, Present Yourself shifted my thinking a little. I now understand that speaking up and delivering presentations are not needless opportunities for public humiliation.They’re about making a contribution and sharing information and perspectives. I also now have a tried and tested process for putting talks together and preparing to deliver them. 

If you’re planning on doing the course

If you decide to do Present Yourself, I have 2 pieces of advice. 

The first is to block out time to do the exercises and read and watch the material for each module. I found that an hour to an hour and a half a week worked best for me, because some weeks (hello module 6, ‘Show up confidently you’) are longer than others. Doing this means you’ll be able to get the most out of the live sessions, instead of joining the Zoom calls and wondering what the hell everyone’s talking about. 

My second bit of advice is don’t try to say too much in your final presentation. It’s surprisingly difficult to put a talk together that lasts for just 5 minutes. I found that, even though I thought I was being concise, I had to keep cutting stuff out and my talk was still 15 seconds too long. Less is definitely more.

There are two more Present Yourself courses running this year in June and October 2022. Enrollment for the next cohort is now open.

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