#upfront conversation with Angela Prentner-Smith

I’m happy to introduce Angela Prentner-Smith, founder and CEO of This is Milk.  Angela founded her business in May 2013, and following a hiatus, finally started trading in July 2015 following her return from maternity leave.

This is Milk helps business with change and transformation in a digital world, offering people for projects, business audits and reviews, horizon watching and digital delivery. Angela was #upfront with  Mairi Damer,at the Women Making Scotland conference in June 2016. Here’s what she has to say about the experience and her relationship with public speaking…

My upfront experience was a little different to most because my primary motivation was to encourage others. Lauren was the first speaker and spoke with such determination about the movement she was building around #upfront while sharing her stage with eight other women.

Like everyone else in the room, I applauded and felt inspired by the potential of the simple concept. The next speaker, Mairi Damer, was also inspired by what she heard and decided to spontaneously invite people from the crowd to be #upfront with her. I watched a few people get up and suddenly thought I need to get up too! If I believe in what Lauren is championing, then I need to show support.

Frequently in my career, I make the case for something I believe in around big meeting tables, and no one backs me up. After these meetings, people approach me to tell me they agreed with me and supported my ideas. My reaction internally is always – why didn’t you back me up or say that when it counted?

I now know the reason for this is often either a lack of confidence or a perception that I was holding my own so I didn’t need support. However, I think we should all stand-up and be counted, be role models and make changes by exemplifying what that change should be.

“For me, it was about solidarity and leading by example – if we are all willing to applaud Lauren and this idea then let’s get up and show our support!”

So with those thoughts in my head, I followed the other few women who walked on stage to be #upfront with Mairi.

It felt quite natural, like being on a sofa would but I was a little unsure where to look at first. I honestly can’t remember what Mairi was talking about now, and perhaps that was a sign of being preoccupied with the experience of being #upfront.

“ It made the conference seem more intimate”

The audience almost became secondary to me, I remember looking out at them and having some thoughts about different outfits I liked, and I remember thinking what a great range of women the audience represented. From then on I focussed on the stage. I thought a lot about the feeling of the sofa and cushions and wondered why the women on the sofa with me were #upfront.

I’ve attended many conferences of late and started running my own events so I often think about conferences and how they work. At our last Milk Bar event, we had three speakers. They weren’t on a stage which was nice and casual, but we did get feedback that people would like different formats. So this time round we are having interactive workshops.

This feedback and my #upfront experience started an interesting conversation between me and the other women in my team. I asked Nicky and Annina how they felt about public speaking and conferences in general. Annina feels she is getting worse at it the more she does it, and Nicky doesn’t even like seeing people speak because it feels outdated to her.

“When she talks in public she gets blotchy and her mouth goes dry which is surprising for her because she is a very engaging confident woman. We are all perfectionists, so the thought of making a mistake on a stage when you expected to be the ‘expert’ is quite terrifying.”

This led to us talking about what putting a person on a stage does. It basically says that person is powerful, an expert of some sort and an authority.  Perhaps, it is a lack of comfort with being viewed as an expert that causes such extreme reactions to being on stage and public speaking.

“I think #upfront is a brilliant way to place people in a powerful position who would never normally be there. ”

We usually see white men speak at us from a stage. Maybe the answer isn’t about getting more people on stage, maybe it’s about building a new platform altogether? I know #upfront shares this sentiment and I think it’s a useful vehicle to imagine what this ‘stageless’ future might look like.

Of course, I’ve been on a journey with public speaking. I was a very introverted person, particularly through my high school, college and university. In fact, I used to drink to feel comfortable in big social situations. I had a fear that I had nothing interesting enough to say so I stayed very quiet.

During my degree I took a part time job at Student Loans Company and quickly was promoted to a role that required me to speak up. I literally forced myself to speak because I had to, and I knew I wasn’t going to progress if I didn’t. I was quickly promoted again to the role of Team Leader which involved chairing meetings, and give presentations to the rest of the department. In order to do this, I used to pretend I was a person that was good at presenting. Pretty much method acting. I continued this through my career, and at one point was speaking at conferences to over 200 people for Student Finance England.

“Now I’m very different to the introverted student I used to be. I’ve let go of my fear that I have nothing to say. I have plenty to say, and I’m pretty much fearless. When I get up on stage now I have no fear, no nerves and no butterflies.”

One of the ways I’m achieving this goal has been to set up my own meet up group and build a new platform to bring new voices around changing business. This is the Milk Bar Meetup – bringing business transformation to Scotland.

My goals are now not only about confidence but about being on more platforms to be heard by different people. I have ideas to share and now I need to find ways to share them. I want to change businesses – so let me be heard! I want to be a role model to mothers, to women and girls, and also to people who have had a tough upbringing or lived through abuse.

So my advice would be to anyone reading this who wants to be braver is stop being afraid. Know that you have something to say, and if you can’t do it as yourself – pretend you are someone who can, eventually you will become that person. Become the person you want to be – you are in control of that.