Pitching ideas to peers and confident communication
Today we had a staff development day at the Boleyn Ground (West Ham’s football stadium if you aren’t into that sort of thing). The day featured a number of talks and sessions about a variety of aspects of the service. Perhaps the key element for me was a section whereby staff pitched ideas to their peers in an effort to secure a share of a pot of money that had been made available. At the end of the day, we all had to vote on the ideas that we thought most deserving of funding. Needless to say this was a key element of the day because I had proposed two ideas and so had to convince my colleagues that they should back them and make the things I had proposed actually happen.
A little while ago I made a proposal in a committee meeting for something that would be delivered across the university (not just by library services). In making the proposal, I also sketched out some detail to present to the committee, including when it would be delivered, some ideas of what it would involve and suggestions for promoting it. I did this because I felt if I could walk into a meeting with a rough framework already drawn up, it would both save time and give a clearer idea of what I was proposing would look like (I know this is all a bit vague around detail, but I’d rather not say too much about it at this stage!).
Part of my thinking for the proposal was that it would need to be really heavily promoted across the university. As I was unsure the extent to which this would be delivered, I decided that I should pitch for funding to promote it in the event that actually it just ends up being delivered by our team (also I figured that more generally this would be a good thing for us to lead on). At least with promotional funding secured, it would go ahead something like the way I envisioned and would hopefully be a success.
As I said above, today was the day I had to pitch my idea to my colleagues and secure their support to obtain funding. We had four minutes in which we could lay out our proposal and convince colleagues that they should back our idea. We had the opportunity to present using PowerPoint, but I decided to freewheel it and just layout my ideas with some notes and my memory. I should add I also had another idea, but it was somewhat vague and was not really the one I had put so much energy and effort into. Having reflected on my pitch, I don’t feel like I delivered the convincing case I should have done. I think I lacked coherence in my communication and I don’t think I emphasised enough the extent to which I thought my proposals were A GOOD THING for not only the service, but the university in general. A part of me feels like I would have been helped by slides, but then I’m not really sure slides would make a great deal of difference to a four-minute pitch.
Needless to say, whilst it was a close run thing, I didn’t quite manage to get into the top three proposals (I missed out by one vote!). I thought I might have been in with a shot, but I think ultimately I didn’t do enough to convince my colleagues, so I am trying to reflect on that and consider how I might have done things differently. I certainly think I could have structured my proposal better in its delivery, talking through the elements in a systematic way. I don’t feel I really did this, and I think that lack of structure is certainly something I need to address in future.
I think this also underlined a particular failing of mine that I have long felt I suffer from. I like to think (others may disagree!) when it comes to articulating my arguments in writing, I can be pretty convincing. I mainly put this down to my undergraduate studies. Both of those subjects are really heavy on getting you into the mode of developing arguments, ensuring they are sound and convincing through the use of evidence to support your assertions. I am less good at this when it comes to speaking. I’m not a naturally good public speaker and I find it rather difficult to think on my feet. I need the time to reflect that comes with writing. Without that time I tend to stumble around, sounding uncertain and lacking in confidence. I think there is certainly a marked difference in confidence between my written arguments and my oral ones. I think I’ve long accepted that is the case, and in some ways I’m not too bothered about that (I always wanted to be a writer and that has just always been the way I feel most confident in communicating). However, I definitely feel it is an area I need to improve on. Perhaps a start would be to ensure that I am clear on the structure of anything I plan to communicate verbally, rather than trying to “wing it”.
So, perhaps that should be my objective for the coming year: to be more confident in my verbal communication. I certainly feel that next time around and I’ll avoid the errors I made this time…