More than 100 women from diverse industries, careers and backgrounds took part in WeSpeak’s successful inaugural Speakers Boot Camp.
The organisation, launched this year to build skills and promote more public-speaking opportunities for women, held its first event on April 17 for a sold-out crowd at Washington Properties, Hamilton.
Attendees took part in group presentations as well as breakout team sessions throughout the day, both aimed at building confidence within a supportive network.
“We were sure we were on to something with the WeSpeak idea, but after seeing the amazing turnout and hearing everyone’s story, it’s official — the WeSpeak movement has begun!” Kathleen Faries, the group’s chairwoman, said.
“Our first boot camp was uplifting, but it’s just the beginning. We’re excited to take our volunteer coaches and all our boot-campers on a journey of bettering their best, one presentation and coaching session at a time. There will many more opportunities for others to join this dynamic platform as we move forward.”
The idea for WeSpeak was the joint brainchild of Ms Faries and fellow Bermudian-based insurance executives Kathleen Reardon, CEO of Hamilton Re, and Kirsten Beasley, head of healthcare broking at Willis Towers Watson North America. All three participated in last week’s event, along with female counterparts from other industry sectors, government departments, and community non-profits.
“Seeing the WeSpeak vision come to fruition was extremely fulfilling,” said Ms Beasley, who brought attendees to tears with her own story of pubic-speaking challenges. “Walking side by side with women as we all took steps towards improving our speaking and coaching skills was empowering and inspiring.”
Fiona Luck, WeSpeak committee member, an independent non-executive director and board member at Lloyd’s of London, said: “We experienced incredible energy from awesome women — of many different ages and backgrounds, from various industries and stages of their careers, all wanting to do better and find their voices.
“WeSpeak will help them do that. I feel we’re starting something here that really is going to change the longstanding issue of not having enough women’s voices heard.”
Attendees heard of the survey WeSpeak conducted in 2018 that identified reasons for female reluctance to speak publicly. These included a lack of formal training, limited opportunities to practise, and little access to talented peers or mentors. Notably, although women polled realised effective speaking skills were integral to their career success, most felt ill-prepared or practised to excel.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to attend the first WeSpeak event,” said participant Liana Hall, a writer and communications consultant.
“Firstly, the passion of the organisers to encourage and empower women to find their voices was apparent at every step. Secondly, the coaching itself was first-rate. I learnt an extraordinary amount, which has equipped me with skills and insight I felt I lacked but couldn’t necessarily put a name or solution to.
“The coaches were all generous with their time and advice, giving practical and useful tips I think will serve us all well. I am grateful and appreciative of the efforts of all involved.”
Helen Crisson, an actuarial analyst at reinsurer Validus who also took part, said: “I think WeSpeak’s boot camp offered a really great opportunity to women to practise and express themselves in a completely nurturing and supportive environment. “You’re getting positive feedback and feedforward, and it’s building confidence and helping women to grow.”
The day included presentations by professional corporate coaches including Connecticut-based Michael Crystal who has assisted Bermuda clients for 16 years, and Bermudian Christie Hunter Arscott, a strategic adviser on gender and generations.
“WeSpeak is filling a real need in our community,” said Arscott. “One of the most important things about the boot camp was that it was more than just a speaking-training session. It was really about elevating the voices of women in Bermuda and equipping them to be confident enough to elevate their own voices in different settings, whether that be the boardroom, or raising their hand in a meeting, or in their families or community organisations.”
Looking forward, WeSpeak will launch an inclusive programme of coaching, along with more events to help women improve their presentation skills.
The group also plans to create a database of Bermuda-based female public speakers and panellists/experts who can offer coaching to other women, along with speaking services to industry panels and keynote opportunities at events. Its online coaching platform will allow women to match with trained volunteers from various industry backgrounds to develop skills and confidence.
Target coachees are professional women in mid- to senior-level roles with ten-plus years’ experience in their field who want to advance their careers.
Corporate supporters of WeSpeak include EY, as platinum founding partner, and the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, Butterfield Trust and Deloitte as silver event sponsors for the April 17 boot camp.
The Association of Bermuda International Companies has also supported WeSpeak via its Diversity and Inclusion Committee since inception. In-kind support for the boot camp was also provided by Washington Properties, The Whitfield Group, Island Restaurant Group, and Two Rock Wines.
“We could not have asked for a better experience — it was a day filled with inspiration, courage, exploration, celebration, and extraordinary talent,” said EY’s Carolyn Myers of the boot camp. “Congratulations to WeSpeak for creating what was described by many as ‘the best event ever’!”
Members of WeSpeak’s Committee include Ms Beasley, Ms Faries, Ms Luck, Ms Reardon and Ms Myers, along with Kendaree Burgess; Gemma Godfrey, Rosemary Jones, Sylvia Oliveira, Grainne Richmond, Jo Stanton, Tawana Tannock, Laura Taylor, Peta White and Suzanne Williams-Charles.