Olivia Mitchell – My Story
I do all the writing on this blog, but it’s all based on the methods that Tony and I have jointly developed over 10 years of providing training in presentation skills.
Throughout my career I’ve presented in many different situations:
- As a lawyer I made presentations on the Official Information Act to public servants.
- As a manager at the Wellington City Council, I presented to the elected members of the Council and to the management team.
- As a management development trainer for a major bank I travelled around New Zealand presenting and training on management topics to bank managers.
- As a political candidate for the Green Party at both a local and national level, I’ve spoken at many “Meet the Candidates” meetings.
- As a small business owner, I make presentations to promote our business.
- As a professional presenter and trainer, I now present two to three times a week on presentation skills.
My journey to becoming a confident presenter
I did not start off life as a people person. I was shy and had just a few close friends who shared my passion for horses. I travelled for a year by myself after I left university and that was when I first got used to talking to people I didn’t know. But there’s no way I would have called myself a confident person. One of the first jobs I had when I settled in New Zealand involved being a relief receptionist for a large technology firm. I was given the feedback that I had to improve the way I answered the phone!
The first step in my journey to becoming a confident person and presenter was joining Toastmasters. I joined a new club and was one of its founding members. The support and encouragement of all the members was fantastic – and I learnt not only to speak confidently but also to socialise and talk to people I didn’t know. I also met my husband Tony Burns – so I have fond memories of that club.
The Prepared Speech Contest
There are two speaking events that had a large impact on my development as a speaker in Toastmasters. The first was when I decided to enter the Prepared Speech Contest. My speech was called “Make a Difference” and I slaved over it. I wrote and rewrote it many times. I rehearsed it constantly. I thought I had a winning speech. I came second at club level and that was enough to get me through to the Area competition. The contest took place in a large hall and it was the largest audience I had ever spoken too. I was very nervous – trembling all over – but I knew my script and I got through it. I came nowhere. It was a real let-down but I learnt that speaking is not about having a script and getting all your words just right. You can’t inspire your audience unless you connect with them.
Toastmasters Conference session
My second experience was with Tony – a couple of years later. We decided to present an educational session at the District 72 (New Zealand) conference. The session was called “Mindpower in Speechmaking”. We started preparing this session months in advance and spent all our spare time working on it. We presented it at several clubs to test it out and videoed ourselves. We tested the boundaries with visual aids. It was pre-powerpoint – but we put together a fantastic “animation” using hinged overhead projector transparencies. We got tremendous feedback from the session and for the first time I felt like this was something I really could do.
At the time I worked as a lawyer at the Office of the Ombudsman. They started to recognise my skills – and I was asked to deliver presentations to staff throughout the government sector to educate them on the Official Information Act.
Adult education courses
Tony and I also started branching out of Toastmasters, and started running adult education classes on public speaking and personal development. What a turnaround for a ‘non-people’ person. I had changed the way I defined myself.
Management development trainer
And that made me realise that I wanted to be doing more speaking and less legal work in my day job. So I made a huge career change and became a management development trainer for one of the major banks in New Zealand. I was training 2-3 days a week and travelling around the country. This cemented my skills – delivering the same information to many different audiences is a tremendous training ground.
An argumentative audience
But constant training and travelling didn’t quite do it for me. I missed being involved with political issues as I had been at the Office of the Ombudsman. I joined the Wellington City Council as Manager of the Democractic Services team. It was a challenging job from a presentation point of view – I was often presenting to the Mayor and Councillors – possibly the most skeptical and argumentative audience you can imagine. My particular interest was in participatory democratic processes and I developed and delivered a training programme for fellow Council officers who needed to go out and consult with the public.
Standing as a political candidate
My next presenting experiences were as a political candidate for the Green Party. I stood first as a candidate for local government. At that time being a local councillor was my dream job and I was extremely motivated. I did things that I could not have imagined myself doing a few years earlier. Going to shopping malls, street markets and train station platforms and stopping people to try and talk to them, going door-to-door canvassing, and cold-calling. This was seven years ago, and green issues were still a minority issue. The Green Party was seen as radical and extreme. So I didn’t always get a good reception. I missed out by 234 votes.
The next year I stood as a candidate in the national elections. I was doing this to give the Green Party a local presence not because I wanted to be in Parliament. In the “Meet the Candidate” meetings, I would have a five minute slot to say my thing alongside the other six candidates in my area. Generally the audience was hostile to my point of view – so I learnt how to keep going despite the lack of audience encouragement.
Meanwhile Tony had started up Effective Speaking – a presentation skills training and coaching business. And after my political experimentation I decided that I would join him in the business.
I find helping people to overcome their fear of speaking and develop their presentation skills to be hugely rewarding. Developing presentation skills had a great impact on my career and my life and I know it can do the same for others.
The other side of my life
OK, I’m somewhat obsessed by presenting – but I’m passionate about the animals in my life. We live on a 200 acre “lifestyle block” (large but not an economic farm) and have dogs, horses, chicken and cattle.