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The Spending Review is here and with it new things for the non-departmental public body for whom I work, so several very high-up people are doing the very hastily-arranged rounds au moment explaining what is going on to us rank and file. All good, transparency, clarity, etc. etc. etc.

Last week I was forced to walk out of a presentation because the chap who was giving the talk was so ill at ease in public speaking, compounded by delivering difficult news, that he was speaking very softly and looking everywhere but at his audience. It just wasn’t worth me continuing to attend as it was completely counter-productive, and I realised that if I said “Hey, sorry, look at your audience, especially me in the front row”, again, it was just going to make a difficult situation worse and put him utterly off his stroke, which would have been no good for anyone. It was one of those situations where hanging on for the equality angle just wasn’t going to be worth the trade-off. So I toddled off to my desk and spent an hour on productivity instead. Afterwards he made time for me to see him one-to-one and I found a different person, animated, attentive, humorous, much more at ease on that one-to-one basis, so I clearly understood everything that was going on and was able to ask my questions. Different but equal: a couple of hours later than everyone else but able to put my questions in person and have a human conversation.

We should have arranged this in the first place, but sometimes I have caught myself being over-ambitious with what I can now achieve, and run up against my limitations which are still present. This was definitely one of those times! I think the best thing I can say is that it very definitely depends on the speaker.

I should say that I normally have appropriate communication support and work is very good about arranging this. Sometimes, where professional support has been unavailable (e.g. owing to illness) colleagues have written notes, briefed me, or even where they know me very well, undertaken lipspeaking at very short notice, and I have to say that those who have done so have gone over and above the call of duty and it’s one of the things that has meant I’ve stayed in this organisation as long as I have. However, last week’s events were rather ad-hoc in nature and caught us all slightly on the hop.

Today I attended another presentation on the forthcoming changes by another even higher-up chap. This gentleman is very much used to, at ease in, and enjoys, public speaking – and it showed. He was expressive, he used wholly appropriate gesture and expression to reinforce his points, he kept eye contact with his audience, he projected his voice to fill the room, he used plain language, he developed his points logically, which made it easier to keep and hold the thread, and he delivered it all at a reasonable pace, all of which meant I followed a fairly long speech without difficulty. The acoustics were good, the lighting excellent, the speaker was well-placed to be seen by everyone. He ticked all the right boxes: he didn’t walk around, waffle, distract with ummmm and errrr every other word, look everywhere but at his audience, or cover his mouth. The colleague on my right detailed to jot down notes and to lipspeak if necessary only had to fill in by repeating the questions coming from behind at the end and I was then able to understand the High-Up Chap’s response perfectly and ask a couple of questions myself. This was an example of a situation where I can now hold my own quite well, because I had help from the outgoing persona of the person talking.

I’ve definitely learnt a lesson here: next time I try a meeting without communication support, it’ll be with someone who’s an accomplished public speaker!