#upfront conversation with Denise Strohsahl

I’d like to introduce Denise Strohsahl who was #upfront at the last Creative Mornings event in Edinburgh. Denise founded her Edinburgh-based small business marketing consultancy ‘sandstonecastles’ in 2010, right after her move from Germany to Scotland. Denise responded to Akiko Kobayashi’s invitation to share her stage because she loved the idea of being able to look at an audience without having to talk to them. Here’s what she has to say about her experience of being #upfront…

When I heard about #upfront, I immediately jumped at the chance. In the past, I always thought how great it would be to be a ‘fly on the wall’. This was an opportunity to be able to see what it feels like to stand in front of a large crowd without the pressure of having to actually say anything.

And it turned out that #upfront was exactly that! While listening to a great talk I had time to look back at the audience, forcing myself to look at the people and imagining myself being the speaker. Suddenly the crowd didn’t look half as daunting as expected. Those people were just like me, sitting there with a tea or coffee in their hand, curious to hear what the speaker has to say.

#upfront makes the people in the audience more aware that the speakers are not super humans with nerves of steel who have spent years (and huge amounts of money) on professional speaker training. It reminds you that those experienced speakers were one day speaking for their first time too.

“#upfront makes you realise that one day it could be you”

The idea of having people sitting on stage blurs the line between audience and speaker, front and back, listening and speaking. It erases the difference and distance between the audience and the speaker, and reduces the ‘confrontational’ nature of most conferences.

The first thing I realised was that knowing what you’re talking about is half the battle.

“Nobody really cares if your English isn’t perfect as long as you have something interesting to say”

I had my first experience of speaking in front of small groups while working as a tour guide in Scotland for the first few years after my move. It was odd at first, but after a short while I felt quite comfortable doing walking tours or using the microphone on the coach. Being a tour guide with little attention on you is very different from standing in front of a large crowd at a conference with all eyes on you. It’s also much easier to speak in your native language than improvising and hiding your nervousness in your second language.

Since starting my own business, I have made a point of not just sticking with what I know but taking every opportunity to learn something new. So, a few years ago I decided to try public speaking. I held a few small workshops about marketing and I have been invited to hold presentations in front of smaller groups of local business owners a couple of times since.

Despite this experience I would only talk at a conference if I was invited. I wouldn’t put myself forward. Being #upfront was a way for me to practice being on stage which is so needed as right now the only way people can really practice is by hiring professional speaking coaches. I love the way it gives you a chance to build a closer relationship with the speaker and ask them direct questions about their journey.

I still think that public speaking is a great way to generate new business. But lately I haven’t really chased up any other opportunities to speak, mainly because there aren’t many local events for my target audience but also because it seems a lot of effort for something that is not a key part of what my business focuses on.

I would love to be able to do more public speaking in the future though. It suits me and my personality but I also think that apart from the stage fright bit the content is another big challenge.

“Workshops are easy because I talk about my work and how others can learn from what I know but to give a talk I have to have a point to make; something interesting to say. I’m not sure if I know what that could be in my case. ”

So my next goal is to find the stories I will tell.

Special thanks to Alex Humprhy-Baker and the sterling team at Creative Mornings Edinburgh and of course the speaker, Akiko Kobayashi, for sharing her power and her stage. We’d love to see all Creative Morning speakers around the world sharing their power and being #upfront.