Through UniSpeaks we are building a community of positive support where those new to presenting or nervous about speaking in front of an audience can learn strategies and techniques to develop their confidence. UniSpeaks offers an opportunity for students to develop their own style in a safe space and enjoy peer-to-peer encouragement in a welcoming environment.

To ensure that we continue to offer our students the best experience, we did some research! Public speaking comes in many guises and, for most, the road to becoming a confident presenter has been a long one. Lots of speakers who now appear confident will admit to starting out a bundle of nerves and even doubting their own abilities. With this in mind we felt it was important for us to attend some speaking events, where we could witness for ourselves how these skills are developed.

So, we began big… TED talks are well-known globally for being one of the leading public speaking platforms in the world and they are accessible to the public through independently organised TEDx events. With TEDx Manchester taking place on Sunday 3rd February 2019, it was too good an opportunity to miss! We were able to witness an array of topics, speakers and styles. From the bold and exuberant to the quietly confident, all the presenters captured our attention and inspired us in numerous ways. Having learned how the seasoned speakers engage their audience, we then moved to focus on how we could successfully facilitate a safe space for public speaking.

To do this we decided to tap into current local events with the same ethos. We spent an evening attending the brilliant Ignite Liverpool, which brings together a range of ‘creators, thinkers, innovators, makers and dreamers’ to present in front of members of the pubic in an informal and intimate setting. By attending this event we identified the value in setting up a space where students can come together and support each other without our intervention. We came away idea-poppingly inspired, not only by the incredible range of fascinating topics presented, but by the enthusiastic, supportive and nurturing environment. The event was so motivating, that we are even considered the possibility of delivering our own presentations at the next event in May!

The combination of seeing public speakers on the big stage at TEDx Manchester, and the small stage at Ignite Liverpool, helped us to really appreciate the need for a small, local Community of Practice where anyone can share their experiences, and develop their confidence alongside their peers.

It was at this point we decided to delve into the pedagogy, identifying that routinely getting likeminded people together to share their knowledge (Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, 2002) could reap benefits in terms of developing communication skills and even a bank of useful resources (Bing-You and Varaklis, 2016). We also discovered that Communities of Practice tend to function well when they’re left to simmer on their own – to grow organically as ‘a process rather than an entity that can simply be set up’ (Pyrko, Dorfler and Eden, 2017: 390). For this reason, we’ve held back on some of our usual marketing, trusting instead in growth generated through the community’s own outreach.

We are proud to be creating UniSpeaks at Edge Hill and look forward to welcoming more students to be part of this innovative new venture. If you’re feeling inspired to join us book your place here (sessions take place on the last Wednesday of every month).

BING-YOU, R. G. and VARAKLIS, K., 2016. Organizing graduate medical education programs into communities of practice. Medical Education Online. 21 (1), pp. 1-6.

PYRKO, I., DÖRFLER, V. and EDEN, C., 2017. Thinking together: What makes Communities of Practice work? Human Relations. 70 (4), pp. 389-409.

WENGER, E., MCDERMOTT, R. A. and SNYDER, W., 2002. Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.