Improving women's confidence in the workplace

by Harriet Dean, 03 March 2020
Women in masterclass listening to a speaker

Co-Chair of Cambridge Assessment's Women in Leadership staff network, Harriet Dean, shares five key takeaways from Dr Ghina Halabi and Dr Judita Vivas' 'Communications Masterclass', part of The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge series of events.

When Dr Ghina Halabi (an astrophysicist with expertise in storytelling and public speaking) attended a theatre class run by Dr Judita Vivas (an experienced performer and theatre artist) they soon realised they could combine forces and create something spectacular; helping women to improve their public speaking skills through physical theatre and storytelling, with the ultimate aim of improving their confidence.

The Women in Leadership staff network at Cambridge Assessment are hosting a number of communication masterclasses as part of the network’s sponsorship of Cambridge University Library’s ‘The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge’ exhibition, which encompasses a series of events aimed at women.

As co-chair of the Women in Leadership staff network, I was so excited to organise and host these masterclasses. Improving confidence and communication to assist public speaking is something that I am extremely passionate about, as not only have I experienced it myself, I have also heard many stories and been in situations where it is clear that lack of confidence should not exist. All women should feel confident and proud of who they are and what they do, and should be empowered to communicate this confidence effectively.

The first masterclass took place on 27 February 2020 at the Triangle, Cambridge Assessment's global headquarters. The participants were women of a variety of ages, job roles and ambitions all with the same goal: to improve their communication and public speaking skills and to increase their overall confidence.

Dr Halabi led the participants through a series of storytelling techniques, whilst Dr Vivas focused on the more physical performance related aspects, which can both be combined to have a huge effect on public speaking skills. Dr Halabi and Dr Vivas were outstanding facilitators, enabling people to relax, open up and be vulnerable in order to improve their skills. The room had a great atmosphere. Everyone attended for the same reason meaning there was a strong sense of unity and support. Most importantly, there was no negativity in the room!

Five key takeaways from the communications masterclass:

  1. The skill of storytelling and public speaking is like a muscle, you must train and practice to improve your skills. You can't magically become a fantastic public speaker overnight, you must continually hone your skills.
  2. It is important to understand why you are in a public speaking situation. What is the purpose of your public speaking? What are you trying to achieve? Are you giving information? Are you there to make connections? Once you understand why you are in a public speaking position, you will be able to use that to focus your mind.
  3. Posture and stance when public speaking is incredibly important.If you are in control of your body language and you are comfortable and relaxed, you will then be in control of your thoughts.
  4. Practicing positive feedback is essential. When we do something we are scared of, we usually fear negative feedback or criticism. Practising positive feedback with friends, family and colleagues can help us feel confident, empowered and aware of how strong our skills are.
  5. The nerves never go away! Even the most experienced performers and public speakers still get nervous. To combat this, we must remember why we are speaking. We must feel passionate and have confidence in what we are saying. 

Cambridge Assessment are hosting three more sessions of the masterclass on: 13 March, 25 April and 27 September 2020. Sign up to attend.

Harriet Dean, Co-Chair of Cambridge Assessment's Women in Leadership staff network and PA/Unit Coordinator, Public Affairs at Cambridge Assessment

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