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Speaking up for local voices

Posted by: Angie on 04 Aug 2016
in Blog

It’s a less known fact that three out of four individuals suffer from speech anxiety. As someone who, for some time, has tried to avoid public speaking, the invitation to speak at a workshop on digital communications hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was a daunting one. It would be my first ever public speaking engagement, but one that I knew I had to embrace.

The workshop entitled “Digital Media and the Global Goals: Opportunities, Risks, Strategies” was attended by approximately 50 people from over 20 organisations, including the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the European Commission, UNICEF, OXFAM and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to name just a few. I saw it as a great opportunity to talk about something I feel passionately about – the role that local actors play in development initiatives.

My job was to focus on the “partnership” aspect of the workshop, specifically how, on social media as elsewhere, development actors need to work together in new ways to achieve impact.

Getting prepared

Earlier in the year I’d invested in public speaking training courses run by Speakers Trust and facilitated by the wonderful Hilary Lyons. I can highly recommend the courses: they provided me with some useful tips, such as how to breathe, how to hold yourself in a room and how to engage your audience. 

A realisation that came from the training was that no one wants to see a bad speaker, so in fact your audience is wishing you well!  The courses certainly improved my self-belief in my ability to speak in public, and so the invitation to speak at the OECD event was a timely one.

Picking a topic - promoting the role of local

It is a lot easier to talk about something you are passionate about and that you believe in. My experience of partnership working through the With and For Girls Collective has provided a neat way of demonstrating how digital communications has enabled us to plant girls' voices and girl-led organisations' voices at the heart of our communications strategy.

As such, promoting the role of local actors in sustainable development was an obvious choice for a topic on which to focus the presentation. To my surprise it provided perspective rarely touched upon at the conference.

Developing the content

By producing content written by, for example, award winners or girl panellists, the With and For Girls Collective has been able to secure targeted online PR content including Grant Craft, Guardian Development and Alliance Magazine - all of which were interested in the girls' voices and “agency” aspect of our work. This is meeting a key purpose of the Collective – which is to place the voices of girls and grassroots development in spaces of influence. Digital has provided the “how” in this.

The power which comes with including the views and voices of those you seek to empower has been critical to our success. We can still do more in this area but when we’ve done so it’s provided us with some of our most powerful and richest communications moments. 

We’ve seen this most recently through the Women Deliver Live platform run by the 2016 Women Deliver Conference when winners of the 2015 With and For Girls Awards were given the opportunity to engage with the conference remotely using the hashtags #WD2016 and #WDLive.

These were coupled with location hashtags such as #NairobiDelivers or #RioDelivers to show where remote engagement was based and facilitate further networking in those locations. A number of digital tools were used, such as various social media platforms, a daily digest newsletter, live streamed conference sessions and recorded interviews.  

Social media has also allowed us to facilitate conversations between award winners and panellists through tools such as Facebook groups. Going forward it’s our hope that we will build an online community of practice, and whilst this is not necessarily externally focused, digital plays a huge role in hosting this.

We’re excited to see the south-to-south lessons and the south-to-north lessons that come out of these types of discussions.  

Over the past six months it has been interesting to see how the 2015 winners engage online. Different organisations have different expectations and see different opportunities in engaging. Generally speaking it has been the smaller organisations that have the time and the inclination to engage the most, and it will be a challenge for us to create a platform that is useful and relevant for all winners.

Key takeaways

Now that the conference is over and I have had time to reflect upon the experience, I have a few top tips for anyone looking to give public speaking a go:

  1. Know your content – the audience can tell when you believe in what you are saying.
  2. Invest in training – it will provide you with handy tips and reassure you that nerves are normal.
  3. Practice practice practice – in front of a mirror, with your colleagues - it all helps!
  4. Just go for it! There’s no time like the present.

Good luck!

Photo: Quoc Anh Tran/Stars Foundation