As you may know, I’m a speaker/trainer as well as a copywriter.
Last month marked 19 years since I first visited a PSA region. The meeting was in Leatherhead. Reg Athwal was the RP, Nigel Risner and Lesley Everett were speaking (I wonder what happened to them?!)
I realised I wasn’t ready to join the PSA at that stage, and subsequently spent three years at Toastmasters.
It was April 2011 when I finally became an Associate member of the PSA. I upgraded to Professional membership in March 2013. In the years 2015/16, I co-founded and ran the relaunched PSA SouthEast region alongside Barnaby Wynter. We were appointed RPs of the year in April 2016.
I became a Fellow in October 2020 – a particularly proud achievement because I qualified during the first year of lockdowns.
I’ve spoken online and / or offline at most of the UK & I regions, run sessions at UK conventions, and have a video about websites on the Hub. I travelled to Cape Town to present at the PSA SA convention in 2014/15, and to Vancouver for the CAPS convention in 2018. They invited me back to present at one of their online conventions during lockdown, and I did a virtual talk for APSS too. I plan to go to GSS in Bali next year.
At the upcoming Solihull convention, I’m speaking at the Fellows’ event and acting as an ‘expert’ in the Ask the experts session.
My accountability partner, Antoinette Dale Henderson, asked me to share what I’ve learned during this time. Here’s the top 10 list that popped into my head (in no particular order).
1. No matter how professional you think you are, you can always be more professional. I learned this from Roger Harrop’s talk about his speaker bag, and when Geoff Ramm woke at 4am to practice his convention talk in the car park.
2. Don’t guess what the audience want to know, ask your client if you can speak to a few of them in advance. This common-sense advice came from Alan Stevens. I won at least one piece of business because I told the prospect that’s the way I work and they were impressed. They couldn’t believe no-one else had asked them the same. And it makes prep so much easier. And boosts confidence because you can be more certain your talk will deliver what they want.
3. Not everyone can do audience participation the way I can, and it’s a legitimate presentation style. Barnaby gave me this insight and it’s led to two books – ‘Experiential Speaking’ and ‘Unboring’ were both written in response to requests from PSA members.
4. Microphones and battery packs are not designed for women’s clothing. You need to wear trousers, a belted dress, and/or a sturdy bra strap. To illustrate this point, Annabel Kaye tells a hilarious story about a pair of Spanx and a young and embarrassed sound engineer.
5. It’s not a learning provider, but PSA membership teaches you what to do and what not to do. For me, the P stands for Professionalism. What to do before, during and after a presentation to make it worth paying for. S is for Speaking. How to speak better. A for Association. For me, that’s the most important bit.
6. Speaking and training can be a lonely business. Having a mastermind group and an accountability partner make all the difference to your success. My thanks for a perfect balance of support and challenge go to Antoinette, and to all those who are now and who have ever been in a group with me.
7. Improv helps with spontaneity, creativity, relaxation, dealing with questions, and generally being a better speaker / trainer / human. John Cremer changed my life when he ran an introductory improv session at PSA London, and I’ve studied it ever since. Pre-lockdown, I even performed for a year in a musical improv troupe, doing shows in London and Brighton. It’s led me to a source of belly-laugh fun.
8. Joining the PSA means you are part of a global community, and it’s wise to make the most of that. Speaking at PSA SA and CAPS has given me the chance to travel and see new places as well as meeting lovely people and winning more business. Go beyond your local region (such as attending the new virtual region), and see where it leads you.
9. The more you put in, the more you get out. However, it’s not an even equation. PSA membership doesn’t give you business on a plate. See and be seen at the various events, get to know people, make friends, be brilliant at what you do – and eventually you’ll be rewarded with referrals (because that’s what friends do for each other).
10. We’re all different. We are an association of individuals, many of whom are opinionated and outspoken, for obvious reasons. That doesn’t mean everyone is right. The majority are primarily motivated to be helpful (that lesson is from research work done by Michelle Mills Porter). At the other extreme, some are primarily motivated to be a business. That’s me. I’m helpful (I think), but I’m here to make money.
11. A bonus thought (because it’s always good to exceed expectations). I’ve observed that the overall culture of the association flexes and evolves every year according to the national president and their committee. Similarly, each region changes slightly each year depending on the priorities of the regional president and their committee. If you don’t like what’s going on, take part and try to influence things. And be aware that most people are volunteers (especially at regional level). They are giving their time and expertise out of goodwill, balanced with running their own business. They all deserve an award.