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I was on stage last autumn in Denver, Colorado when I had the ultimate,’Gosh, if I’d only known that, back then’ moment. Interviewing me was a friend who had once been my student flatmate. So, we have a long history. We laughed at the thought of going back to tell our 18 year old selves what we would one day be doing, how our lives would change and all that we would prove capable of. Just as well there is no time travel because I doubt being told I would be on stage presenting regularly would have appealed to me at that stage. I had to work it out for myself a few years later by which time I had already missed some key opportunities. At age 8 I was on stage singing a solo when I forgot my words. I stood for the duration watching the entire audience mouth the words to me and then I left, the platform, the hall and never went on stage again for years. I recently met someone who had been a child at that event and recalled how stressed she had felt witnessing me stand there. I developed a phobia as a result. Thankfully,some years later I was required to lecture as part of my job. I researched all the psychological techniques and put in place behaviours necessary to overcome my anxiety and be as good as I could be on stage. As a result, this is part of my career that I truly love. I have found my voice. Now, ironically , people often say ‘Yes, but you’re a natural’. No, I’m not. I learned how to have presence and credibility on stage through hard graft and analysis of good techniques. Now I love it, have nerves of steel and delight in holding an audience on a topic dear to my heart. I encounter men and women all the time who fear public speaking, possibly more than death itself. Such a lot of energy is expended, avoiding opportunities to speak or experiencing confidence – shaking anxiety. More worrying, I come across a lot of women who don’t feel comfortable even giving their opinion in meetings, let alone on stage. As a result, women’s voices are absent from so many debates where decision making does not reflect their opinions and choices. Their careers are impacted because they are just not visible enough to achieve career advancement. I can’t go back to my 18 year old self and say, ‘Come on, Averil, get your voice heard now’ but I can exhort and coach women of all ages to become confident in themselves, develop presence and get their point of view across. Just don’t take the risk of looking back one day and thinking, ‘I wish I’d made this a priority sooner.’

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