We all need a Mrs Armstrong
by Robin Dolman
When walking into the conference room this morning, I was still on a high from yesterday’s high ropes adventure, yet I must admit I was feeling really tired (I was on newsletter duty last night….enough said). The program for the day simply stated “Communication”. That should not be too hard? I had conquered my biggest fear yesterday, “bring it on” I thought to myself.
“This is the time for you to do an impromptu speech, the topic will be provided to you 8 minutes before you are to talk” Katie announced. The anxiety I suddenly felt immediately transported me back to my speech and drama classes when I was still at school. That familiar feeling of dread reminded me clearly of Mrs Armstrong, my speech and drama teacher. She often would make that same announcement as Katie had made, and I found myself remembering the topics we would have to discuss: your favourite animal, your holiday, your hero. While sitting there, waiting for the first person of the day to present, I found my mind fast forwarding through memories. How far I had come since the days in Mrs Armstrong’s studio. All the twists and turns my journey had taken to get to this moment right now. I had come from discussing my favourite animal to discussing the incorporation of an ethics framework into a dietetics curriculum. I found myself remembering the instructions and feedback Mrs Armstrong used to give. Tips included “never a windmill or a statue be”, project your voice Robin, speak slower Robin - you are not catching a train, look at your audience.
Back to the present, when it is my turn to speak. The feedback received from my fellow participants was empowering and really useful, done in such a kind and up building way. There my “a-ha” moment of the day hits me. I have not received this kind of feedback since my speech and drama classes. At a point in your life, you are just expected to be able to do this kind of thing. If there is any feedback on your presentations, it is probably in conversations that you are not privy to. I just imagined my students have these sorts of “feedback” discussions all the time. I wonder what Mrs Armstrong would be thinking if she was in the room today? I would like to think she would be mostly pleased, as I did try to follow a lot of her advice, although I still received comments like “speak a little slower” and “don’t fidget with your notes”. Pointers I will definitely be thinking of the next time I stand up to do a presentation, or even for meetings and that important “elevator pitch”.
I realised today that it is so important to make sure that you always have a Mrs Armstrong in your life. Someone you trust, who will be willing to give you the feedback you need to hear and not what you want to hear. Also, just as important, be willing to be a Mrs Armstrong to those in your circle.