The runaway success of the Manufacturers’ Alliance Annual conference this year was, without doubt, the guest speakers, leaving many attendees inspired to take action. The speakers were all praised for being incredibly authentic and engaging, however actually found themselves firmly challenged by having to speak publicly sharing both their personal and professional stories.
The first speaker of the day was the tallest man in the world (not really but very lofty in height), Alex Grace! A member of the West Yorkshire Peer Group for manufacturing leaders, and MD of Banana Moon Clothing.
He now looks back at his speaker experience,
“For most, speaking in front of 100+ people in any setting is pretty nerve-racking (especially when the M62 traffic makes you a bit late), but once I was up on the stage I felt really comfortable, confident and I made sure I had fun. I actually really enjoyed telling my story and it was nice to be able to share some really vulnerable situations with others. A bit like a weight being lifted with people who totally get it.”
“One thing that stuck with me was a comment Gary Sheader made in his introduction to us. He explained the three of us are not expected to be professionals at speaking in the slightest. It made me feel at ease knowing that the Manufacturers’ Alliance community would, without a doubt be ‘willing’ me to deliver a great presentation. The rounds of applause and the amazing feedback from everyone at the end was a real boost for me, which definitely keeps increasing my confidence as a leader and is all part of my development. In the evening after the conference, I had a real sense of pride knowing I had inspired others.”
Great! …but it didn’t start so great. Back in January when initially invited to speak, Alex confessed to having a total mental block in what to present or share for some time and was fairly anxious about the content all around. Then how exactly did he get to, “a sense of pride knowing I had inspired others”?
“My difficulty was understanding why people would want to listen to stories about me, whereas I felt it should be more about the business. But the point of the conference was that it is about people, and the people behind the business are what makes it what it is. Once that clicked, I realised that stories about me and my life are very relevant to my leadership, and how I developed Banana Moon into what it is.”
All he needed was a ‘few tools in his box’ for public speaking with his head now in the game. The tools came in the shape of the Manufacturers’ Alliance’s very own Kerry Leigh. All-round funny lady and self-proclaimed Mr Bean Look A Likey, she took Alex and taught him how to speak authentically (and how to gallop apparently!) As a tutor of the Academy, she worked alongside Founder Gary Sheader to prepare Alex for the big lights of Bolton.
Interestingly Alex found the most value in preparation actually coming from what the Manufacturers’ Alliance understands more than most – his peers.
“A highlight of my whole year was the preparation sessions with the other speakers. They are fantastic people, we really clicked and the energy in the room was brilliant. We had such a laugh, and all formed a great bond. This gave me a real sense of being a team on the day, and I’ve made some really good friends in Kate, John and Kerry.”
So there it is, understanding the purpose, bonding with people, and having a laugh were the key ingredients that watered Alex’s public speaking sapling – into a tree of triumph!
Upon asking Alex what he hoped others took away from him sharing his story. He acknowledged most of the people at the conference are in the fortunate position to be decision-makers within the businesses they are part of.
“My hope is that people will recognise how we are largely able to make our workplaces what we want them to be. They can be really positive, full of energy, new ideas and it’s also fine to have fun with things. Work should be fulfilling both for ourselves and our teams, and it should make a significant impact not only on the careers of our teams, but also their lives.”