MonthJune 2015

What My First Year At University Has Taught Me

This week marks the end of my first year at university, and I will admit I am sad that soon I will no longer be a first year! I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into university life. I have chosen the above picture as it sums up the year nicely; I’ve met great people, in a great place, doing great things!

To say the time has gone quickly would be an understatement. It feels like it was only yesterday that I was moving in, however the number of incredible things that have happened in between are endless. I’m confident I have some memories that will stay with me forever, although admittedly some memories are a bit blurry 🙂 Nevertheless, first year at university is one I will never forget!

With the amount that’s happened I’ve decided to sit down and reflect on what first year has taught me – apart from how to cook, or how long it takes me to drink a pint. Whilst valuable skills, I have certainly not mastered either!

There are more hours in the day than you realise!

Ok, yes everyone has 24 hours in their day. But before I came to university I certainly hadn’t made the most of them all. This is probably first discovered by most students when they leave a project or essay until the last minute and a long night of working is needed.

The 9-4 ritual of schools before university got me into the habit of only wanting to work in these times. However I soon found that for me there isn’t much difference between 1pm and 9pm. If I don’t have any plans I can easily use that time productively. What I most like about this is the freedom it presents. If you’re happy to get you work done around 6-8pm when not much is happening, it opens up the whole day for other things!

Give it a go

The number of events, socials and talks happening each week are endless. It can be very easy to ignore the posters and facebook invites and carry on with your week as normal. However I started the year with an aim to attend as much as I could and engage. Whilst for some people they won’t leave their flat unless it’s for a lecture (for some, lectures aren’t even enough), I wanted to fill my days with extra events. This has only ever turned out well.

For me, most of these events ended up being business and enterprise based. This opened my eyes to a whole new path which I’ve followed without looking back. If I was to only give one piece of advice to someone just starting university it would be to go to events and give things a go, you might be surprised by how much you like it!

Everyone has something to offer

Once I had been introduced to entrepreneurship I wanted to get involved straight away, however I didn’t feel like I had anything to add to other people’s work, especially if they’re older and more experienced. Often I would think, ‘how can I help, I’m only a first year!’. Once I’d built up confidence to ask to be involved in events and projects and put my knowledge to the test, the responses I got usually went something like this, ‘I can’t believe you’re only a first year!’. That wasn’t because people thought I was too clever to be a first year, it was because most first years don’t get involved.

I soon found that I could contribute as equally as anyone else and that when it comes down to it, age doesn’t matter. Even if you do know less, it is your attitude that counts!

 

In short, your first year at university is a time to try anything and everything, meet amazing new people and discover more about who you are and who you want to be!

 

How conversation creates remarkable change

Last month I was able to attend my first TEDx event – TEDxLancasterU

When I first sat down to see that I had 14 talks and performances ahead of me I did start to think I was in for a long night. However, by the end I was pleading for more. A huge well done must go out to the organising team for getting together a fantastic line up.

All of the talks got me thinking and I would happily write a blog reflecting on each one. However if I did that I would be in for a long night! Instead I have decided to give my view on the talk that was most relevant to me. That talk was by Fraser Williams – How conversation creates remarkable change.

 

In his talk, Fraser shares the three tools he has used to turn an idea into action.

Ignore your emotion

Fraser shares his experiences in competing in Taekwondo, he talks about the nerves he had before competing in the European Championships. Having competed in large sporting competitions myself I know this feeling all too well. The voice in your head that thinks everything will go wrong, that doubts your ability and wants you to back out just to feel safe.

Fraser believes that this emotion needs to be ignored. Compete or commit anyway, despite that fear. Whilst I agree that it is not good to take this emotion seriously, I believe it can be countered rather than ignored. The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters explains how these emotions are the instincts of the ‘chimp’ inside your head. They won’t go away, but they can be trained. Therefore I’d say, understand the emotion, know when it will appear but also understand that you can pass it and instead feel excitement.

chimp paradox

Fraser ended this part of the talk by modifying a quote from Winston Churchill, he said:

“Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal. It is the courage to start that counts.”

When I first heard this I had very little to add, other than YES, YES, YES.

Embrace the sceptic

Our friendship groups hold all types of personalities; pessimists, optimists and those in-between. Fraser emphasises the importance of recognising these people and embracing them all, especially the pessimist as they are the ones who will point out the flaws which can then be turned into challenges and opportunities.

This is an extremely valuable tool and I’m glad to see it included in this talk. I completely agree that the sceptic needs to be embraced, however I feel like a warning message needs to put beside this tools – Be prepared to feel annoyed and believe that the person talking is wrong.

Sometimes you don’t have to embrace the sceptic for them to speak, they may be the person you least expect and so whenever you talk to anyone about an idea you must be prepared to hear some negatives. If you are caught off guard, chances are your defence mechanisms will kick in and you will disregard what is being said. I say, always be prepared to hear negative views and then embrace those – evaluate them, evaluate the source and then decide how to act.

Turn motivation into momentum

“Have one conversation and then have 100 more!”

When you get that initial rush of excitement and energy for your project, take action instantly. If you hold back, your enthusiasm will diminish, acting instantly will lead to quicker results and even more energy.

When talking about this tool, Fraser does an excellent job at including all types of people when discussing who you can talk to. I believe this is the most important part of this tool. Reach out to anyone and everyone, they may contribute in ways you couldn’t have predicted. Too often people hold back discussing their idea, believing people either won’t get it or won’t have anything worthwhile to add. This may be the case but often it will not. Don’t judge what a person will have to say until they have said it!

 

I will end this blog the same way Fraser ended his talk, by asking:

“What action can you take in the next five minutes on the idea that sits in the back of your head?”

 

Why People Don’t Understand You

Now, you’re probably wondering why a blog titled “Why People Don’t Understand You” has a picture of Stephen Hawking. Well, this post was actually inspired by his book “A Brief History of Time”.

breif history of time


In this book Stephen Hawking talks about some of the most complicated theories known to mankind, as the cover suggests, it covers everything from the big bang to black holes. He talks in detail about scientific principles and theories that some of the greatest minds alive are still trying to understand.


My science knowledge is limited and although I enjoyed the subject at school I didn’t carry it on past GCSE’s, however I found myself engrossed in this book. I was amazed by the stories he told and the theories he explained. I listened intently to learn more and more.


The reason I enjoyed this book so much is the same reason it is a best seller – everyone can understand it.


As I listened to the audiobook I was amazed by the way he could make something so complex sound so simple and it opened my eyes to value in being able to communicate this way.


There’s nothing more frustrating than have an amazing idea or thought and attempting to tell someone about it but they don’t get as excited as you do. Chances are they don’t understand it as you do.


This reminds of me something my A-level tutors told me when we first began to write essays – “assume the reader is a beginner and explain everything”. Whilst this can be laborious it has value and ensures you get your message across.


If you want people to be engaged and excited by what you’re saying you must make sure that your wording is appropriate and your explanations are clear, otherwise they will lose focus. Just think back to the last time someone tried to explain something complicated to you and you couldn’t follow – for me that’s probably my last lecture! – I bet you lost interest and disengaged from the person talking.


So the next time you need to explain something complicated or share a thought you’ve had, just think ‘how would Stephen Hawking explain this?’ and you’re good to go!

Pitching – Control What They See


I recently attended a pitching event, organised by the Hive.

Two friends and I decided to pitch our new idea. This would be the first time we had properly explained our idea to others. We had three minutes to somehow make our rather ambiguous and flawed idea sound incredible. We had thoughts ourselves about where this idea would go, but getting that across felt like a big hurdle. Now, I will openly admit I was nervous, however I was keen to ensure that didn’t show during the pitch.

Our pitch was very well received and lots of people commented on the fluidity of our pitch and the confidence we portrayed – success!

Rewind a few weeks to when I was attending the IBM Consulting Experience 2015. The experience ended with all teams pitching their solutions. Once again, pitching to senior members of IBM in a room of very high potential students didn’t help my nerves. However every single judge commented on my confidence and pitching abilities in their feedback.

People are afraid of pitching. They are scared of making a fool of themselves, they fear messing up and not taking advantage of the moment. My advice – you can’t control what people think, but you can control what they see!

Before university I hated public speaking, my voice would shake and I would constantly be worried about being judged. Now, I still get nervous. I can feel my legs want to shake and my mouth drying up, but I enjoy pitching because my end result now brings in positive feedback.

How I pitch or present has changed hugely since coming to university, however that’s not because I have somehow found a way to become an emotionless robot when pitching, it is because I have learnt from others how to display yourself.

From watching others pitch and, crucially, having chances to practice, here are my top 3 ways to make your pitch appearance better:

1 – Voice

The natural thing to do when nervous is talk fast and have a shaky voice. Whether someone is looking at you or not, they will hear you when you talk and so your voice needs to portray confidence. Take your time and breathe.

For me, I can feel when my voice might be about to shake and so I will slow down and take a breath. This helps me relax, it allows me to take control of my tone and the audience won’t give it a second thought.

2 – Body language

This is usually unique and difficult to counter. Subconscious body movements are very common when pitching. I’ve seen everything from pacing rapidly to hip wiggles. Most of the time you don’t even realise it is happening, but the audience certainly do!

It is important to remember that some sort of movement is natural. An audience won’t warm to a robotic stance. Just as before, to counter it you need to identify your nervous movement. Once you know what it is, look out for it when pitching and avoid it. Once again, slowing down your speaking will help slow down your body.

3 – Content

Forgetting your lines is a huge sign of nerves. You knew it word for word the night before, but when it really counts it just slips doesn’t it!

The solution to this was put perfectly by a friend of mine recently – understanding, rather than learning.

When you learn lines, once you’ve forgotten them, that’s it! If you know and understand your topic inside out, a script isn’t needed. When I pitch I like to write a script to structure what I will say, however I then make sure I know what I’m talking about rather than the word for word script. This means, often when rehearsing, I will use different wording to say the same thing. When it gets to show time I am telling people what I know, using whatever wording comes to me at that time, rather than trying to remember a script word for word.

As with most things, practice will help a lot. However don’t practice with fear, go into a pitch with confidence and excitement for that adrenaline rush. No matter what you feel inside, it is what the audience see that counts!

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