Law Firm ‘Culture’

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No matter where you go in the legal industry, law firm culture is something you will have to be mindful of, even after you are a qualified and practising solicitor. This is something I have been thinking about in the past few months, building up to securing that training contract. But with it being such a vague word, we ask what does it mean and how does one measure it? I have teamed up with Shoosmiths’ own graduate recruitment manager, Samantha Hope, to explore this concept.

What is meant by ‘Culture’?

Culture is an umbrella term, referring to ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’. Swap the last few words with law firm and you are nearly there. You need to think beyond the salary, work, target hours, clients and health benefits which is the day-to-day information that you can find in the job description. The culture is how you feel about your firm, it is what makes working with your colleagues enjoyable, and it is what will make you get out of bed each morning, so it is very important to your future career.

Law firms are inviting aspiring solicitors past their reception desks and into their fancy seminar rooms, filled with all the canapés and posh refreshments that you could consume until you are blue in the face. The whole reason why they do this is so that you can get a feel for their culture, and hopefully, you will find the firm you can ‘settle down’ with. For them, it’s all about securing the top talent and retaining it!

You will have the opportunity to ask the recruiters, partners and trainees some questions, they get to ask you some back, and hopefully that sparks a meeting of minds. Firms set aside thousands of pounds a year and lots of time for all those prestigious events like Pure Potential and National Law Live, simply so that they can get young talent through the door. I do not mean to romanticise the situation, but it is a little bit like dating. It is definitely not a one way street and it requires an equal amount of effort from both sides.

Next you need to have a think about what questions you might want to ask firms. Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as one might have hoped it would be. It all depends on what you want to know. Being able to think about some of the situations which would really make you want to walk away from a firm after completing your training contract is a skill which you can develop from meeting other trainees who have ‘been there – done that’.

My story

In March, I was fortunate to be invited to an insight evening at Shoosmiths. As usual before the event I was conducting my research into the firm, and as I was halfway into reading the ‘Our values & culture’ page, I paused for a moment, threw my head into my hands and thought to myself ‘sh*t’. The words were a muddle, the phraseology was all so familiar; it was all beginning to sound the same as every other firm I had researched in the past.

Taking a step back from that approach, I realised that this is exactly the problem which only open days and insight evenings could provide the solutions. So, not normally being a person who likes to ask questions to the panels at open evenings, I had a long think about the kind of firm I would see myself working for in the long term, and I manipulated those features into three simple questions which I wanted to know the answers to, and which I would be able to ask during the event.

  1. Do trainees have personal relationships with their colleagues, and what does the firm do to facilitate this?

I am not just looking for firms that send a nice joke in an email every now and then. I like to see that firms are celebrating individuality and holding events such as competitive sports and social outings to bring employees together.

  1. Do trainees receive appraisal for the work they do, and are they being motivated to hit targets and develop professionally?

Who really cares about sitting down once a month to fill in a PDP? What I really want to know is that supervisors are always within arm’s length, providing truthful and constructive criticism and giving thanks when thanks is due.

  1. Do trainees have access to the support they need, are there effective channels for communicating with the management?

Some firms will have an appointment based system, whilst others are usually happy to have a quick chat in their office as and when. What is important is that those lines of communication are clear, efficient and effective for getting the job done.

I was able to weave these questions into my conversations with partners and trainees at the networking session that evening, and I got exactly the answers I needed. I now had an insight into the culture at Shoosmiths and this allowed me to move onto the next stage with my application.

Shoosmiths’ Culture

Whilst speaking to Samantha Hope, graduate recruitment manager at Shoosmiths, at the event, she agreed that all law firms say the same buzz words; quality work, high client contact, supportive training, and a great culture – but that it really is meeting people that enables students to work out which firm is for them.

“It’s certainly a two-way street! In the same way that it can be hard to understand our culture from our website, nothing is quite like meeting you to bring your application to life.”

Shoosmiths tries to show its culture at insight events by providing an informal environment to network which makes students feel comfortable to ask any question, and they emphasised the importance of their values in their recruitment process from application stage to assessment centre.

The trainees talked highly of the supportive open-plan teams they work in every day, and how they felt they could ask anyone in their team, or office, any question knowing that they would receive an answer and would not be overlooked as “just the trainee”.

Shoosmiths only served soft drinks at the event using this as an opportunity to further emphasise the importance they place on attracting a wide variety of candidates to the firm, and in support of the recent health & well-being challenge the trainees have been set. “At some point you will need to decide the appropriate amount of alcohol to drink at a professional event, hopefully there’ll be lots of awards events to attend, but for tonight, we want to take away that decision for the attendees and be able to enjoy the networking without anyone worrying about whether they’re overdoing it, so instead we‘re serving a variety of smoothies, juices and retro pop!” Samantha explained.

So, whilst learning about the culture of a firm might not seem important to you now, it will be during your career, it really will be the difference between enjoying your job or not. Getting to know people so that you can understand the culture will be something which comes naturally to you as you attend more events in the industry.

Putting Yourself Out There

Samantha gave some of her top tips for students looking to embark on a career in law and she said

“Attend events, build your networks and put yourself out there. It can all seem a little overwhelming when you don’t know what the event will be like, and you might not know anyone, but the more events you attend, the more friends you’ll make and the more you’ll learn about what type of firm is right for you – and that won’t be all of them!

 You’ll become great at professional networking, and that’s a skill you’ll need right through your career, so it’s good to start now.

 Ross’ blog is a great example of a student going above and beyond to develop their own networks and to share tips and advice to his peers along the way.

 You can start by setting up a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter account, and start following some of your favourite companies and recruiters – then engage with them by asking questions, sharing posts and inviting your friends to get involved too. Perhaps you could start your own blog too. You’ll soon be able to work out which firms you want to learn more about simply by following them on social media, then you can attend their events and meet them in person.”

 My final tip for you to improve your understanding of ‘culture’ is be active in attending open days and insight evenings, I really cannot stress enough how valuable these will be when it comes to the next stages in the recruitment process. Now when I look back at the Shoosmiths’ website, I really can see that the culture and values are ingrained in the people and the firm. If I had not attended the event, I may not have realised that and would have just thought they were the usual culture-driven buzz words.

Special thanks

 It was a pleasure to work with Samantha Hope, who has taken time out of her busy schedule to contribute her thoughts in this piece. We are hoping to collaborate in the near future on my next article all about the use of social media to enhance career prospects!

Check out Samantha’s blog here

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Business & Law Workshop

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Just as Preston College had thought it had seen the last of me, I returned again this year with long-established friend with whom I had also studied law with at the College. It was all thanks to a fantastic team effort that we managed to successfully deliver a quality workshop in a bid to persuade business students into the legal profession.

The afternoon session took place in the college’s new STEM building. I was camp as pink when I found out that we would be given the opportunity to use the new facilities to deliver this workshop.

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We’ve got some useful brochures courtesy of LawCareers.net

So the plan for the day was to first outline the role of a lawyer, break apart all of the LPC GDL BPTC jargon and then talk a bit about the practice areas. There was a heavy emphasis on the distinction between personal and business services, so as to cater for our students with a particular interest in business.

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What does a lawyer do?

 

We wanted to come up with a practical activity for the students so that they could get a real feel for what being a lawyer or law student is really like. So after hours of brainstorming on all sorts of topics which fall within contract law, we came up with this idea of a ‘frustrated contract’ scenario.

The students were provided with the abstract of some relevant case law, a general outline of the principles of contract law (Offer and Acceptance, Privity and Consideration), a Practical Legal Research template, and a bundle of documents with which we weaved our scenario into. In a nutshell, this was a hypothetical dispute between a college and a supplier as to the sale of furniture which was delivered late.

 

CaptureThe students had to analyse an email from a partner, a telephone attendance note, a letter before action, emails between the claimant and defendant and a purchase order. We wanted the students to use their skills of analysis and work with attention to detail to figure out what exactly had gone on. We moved around the groups to talk about some of the potential legal issues; we helped them to extract the ratio of cases and experiment with the potential outcomes each precedent might manifest.

The students had really engaged with the scenario and cases. In fact, we were so impressed with some of the discussions we had engaged the students in, to the extent that we really could not pick an overall winning team!

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

It was so rewarding to see students engaging in material that I had created for them. They were provided with everything which I felt that I would have needed had I been in their position. We were able to outline LPC, MLaw and GDL routes and provided them with some practice of the basic skills expected of a lawyer.

With the help of multiple organisations, we were able to disseminate leaflets, brochures and information which would really help them to make an informed decision about a career in the legal profession. It was also a pleasure to have students come and talk to us at the end of our workshop.

We received some positive feedback from our liaison – formerly our law tutor (pictured below). We were pleased to receive an email shortly after our departure; “Thank you so much for today, it was wonderful […] I will get you back in next for the next A levels!”.

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

I am hoping now to streamline our workshop, make the necessary improvements now that we move into a BETA stage, and ultimately return next year to deliver our workshop in front of the next cohort of students.

In summary, this has been an experience which has really paid dividends in respect of all the effort that we had collectively put in to the project. We look forward to our return – see you next year Preston College!

A special thanks to Humera Patel for all the support in this endeavour and to Rukhsana Ahmad for facilitating this event.

 

我想去中國

The title reads ‘I want to go to China’10268890_140076496366473_1421773792_n

This is the biggest piece of news I have been looking forward to sharing with you all the most. I am delighted to announce that I have been granted funding for an internship in Chengdu, the business capital of Sichuan province. It has been a month now since I received the good news, and now that most of the reservations have been made I am eager to tell you all the details.

What exactly is the internship?

Generation UK funding, which is awarded by the British Council, is available to UK citizens to complete an eight week internship in their chosen field. However, there are some other eligibility requirements which you should read through on the Generation UK website. There are various seats, from commercial law firms to business consultancy agencies. There are three prime locations where internships are offered – Qingdao, Zhuhai and Chengdu. Interns share apartments during their stay with other interns on the programme, and are provided will full support from the agency. The GUK funding covers some of these costs. As we speak, the agency is currently sourcing firms from their panel for me to complete my internship with, so where I will be next summer I am still not quite sure (Big up Clare Pearson from DLA Piper, Asia!)

Who is Intern China?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAV_AAAAJGQ2M2Y3MWE5LWU5ZWUtNDIyZC1hOWMzLWZlZjgyNzgxZWU5MgIntern China are one of two agencies (the other is CRCC Asia) selected by the British Council as an Internship provider. Whilst CRCC Asia focuses on the more westernised parts of China, such as Beijing and Hong Kong, Intern China offers opportunities in more cultural parts of China. They have an office in the UK, and an office in each of their destinations.

What is Chengdu like?

Chengdu is famous for three things: spicy food, pandas and rice wine. It has an urban population of eight million people and a suburban population of fourteen million. The economy in Chengdu is attractive; in 2007 Chengdu was surveyed by the World Bank and declared the “benchmark city for investment environment in China”. There are thirty of the Fortune 500 companies present in Chengdu, such as Microsoft, Nokia, Semiens, HP, Intel and IBM. These technology giants give Chengdu its position as a national base for the electronics and IT industry.

What about language barriers?

At present, I am currently using a mixture of textbook and software based learning for Mandarin. I am currently taking advantage of the Worldwise Learning Centre, which offers UCLan students access to Rosetta Stone. Whilst Mandarin is the worlds most natively spoken language, it is not the only language spoken.Man-woman There are many dialects in China, such as Cantonese and ‘Sichuanese’. But, the written language is consistently Simplified Mandarin, and most of the younger generation are fluent in Mandarin.

 

Mandarin is a language which is heavily dependent on context. Words can instantly change their meaning when more words are added to the sentence. As well as this, there are different ‘tones’ which change the meaning of a word. Just like when you ask someone a question, you bring the tone up by the end. There are four tones: mà mǎ mā and má. Note that all these words mean different things because of the tone. The pitch of the tone is the little line above the vowel, so for example ǎ, the pitch drops down and then rises back up again. Yes, it is all very complicated and I am nearly through to Level 2!

Why did you apply?

As a student with not so fantastic academics, I am what I like to call myself a ‘late starter’. Although my grades have been improving as my passion for a career in law grows stronger and stronger, it is because of my average A-Level grades that I am facing significant rejections from law firms for vacation schemes and training contracts. I do not think that rejection means time to quit, but time to find another open door. They say that “people who really want something always find a way to get it”, and I guess this internship opportunity is my way of finding a way around. I am hoping that this opportunity will launch me ahead during the next round of training contract applications, where I will be able to demonstrate to employers: a knowledge of another (and increasingly popular) legal jurisdiction; the soft skills  required of a good lawyer and more importantly my ‘well-rounded’ personality.

How do I apply?

CaptureNow I have recently spoken to the guys at Intern China, and I am informed that a high volume of applications for funding are coming through for the limited funding which is available. It might be a good idea to press on with your application as soon as possible, and if you get cold feet there is always an opportunity to back out before signing the paperwork. There are a few documents you need to have ready, including a reference and a valid UK passport. There are some other requirements and terms and conditions which you should always read through on the Intern China website. Do not forget to mention me in the ‘How did you hear about InternChina?’ section!

Apply here – Best of luck!

Please note that the above should not be construed as an offer and terms are always subject to change. Always to the official guidance notes on the British Council website.

NationalLawLive 2015

In early December last year, I was given the opportunity to attend the NationalLawLive conference. There were 138 delegates selected to attend this prestigious event. But unfortunately, that meant that many were unable to benefit from this opportunity. I am hoping that by writing this article you will gain an understanding of what the event had to offer, and that it encourages you to put yourself forward for future NationalLawLive and CityLawLive events.

A video from the day – can you spot me?

Who attended?

We were conveniently provided with a list of all 138 delegates attending. I have used this information to produce some interesting statistics for you all.

  • 10 MLaw Students attended (whoopy!)
  • 21 Non-Law Students attended
  • 21 Graduates

To my surprise, there was a very diverse pool of students contrary to what I had originally envisaged when I applied. As you can see, this event is not just for undergraduates, or law students in particular, so please do not be deterred from applying!

Conference

The morning session was with the keynote speaker Andrew Davies, a partner in DLA Piper’s finance and projects group. Andrew gave some useful advice on vacation schemes – what are they and how to secure them. He spoke of the training programme at DLA in Manchester. He felt that the training was of better quality as opposed to training in London where the all too familiar situation of being “tied to a photocopier” might occur. Andrew also reminded us all to “try and stay open minded” as there are “low lights” of commercial work. He commented on the disastrous situation of spending “38 hours in the same pair of shoes”. Andrew describes the firm as very client focused – growing relationships with clients and introducing them to other practice areas and other jurisdictions that DLA has to offer. He describes the firm’s culture as dynamic, enthusiastic, driven and fun. People at DLA are fun, there is a good quality of work even in the northern territory. You can find out more about Andrew Davies on the LawCareers.net website here.

Following our keynote speaker, we had a panel discussion with partners and firm managers from Addleshaw Goddard, Squire Patton Boggs, Irwin Mitchell and Osborne Clarke. This was a brilliant opportunity for the delegates to put forward their questions in relation to the future issues which the firms will have to tackle. Alternative Business Structures and BREXIT were some of the hot topics for discussion.

Firm-Led Workshops

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Each delegate was given the opportunity to select firms for morning and afternoon sessions. Every delegate was allocated to at least one of their first choices. These were:

Morning Sessions

  • DLA Piper – Corporate
  • Nabarro – Real Estate
  • Osborne Clarke – Litigation
  • Squire Patton Boggs – International M&A

Afternoon Sessions

  • Addleshaw Goddard – Banking
  • Eversheds LLP – Commercial Awareness
  • Irwin Mitchell – Personal Injury
  • Shoosmiths – IP and Creative Industries

Most delegates received pre-reading for the workshop via email. This was a brilliant opportunity to prepare for the workshop, and allowed us to move swiftly through each of the activities.

Nabarro on Real Estate

The Nabarro workshop was led by Maria Scott, a real estate partner who joined as a trainee in the late 90s. The workshop evolved around a practical due diligence task which required delegates to work in groups on a hypothetical transaction. As a second year law student with no expertise in land law, I was lucky to be allocated to a group of fabulous LPC students who really knew their stuff. We were tasked to look through a title register, heads of terms, memos and correspondence with the client and consultancy firms, to identify the issues the client might face as a result of acquiring the land. With the guidance of Maria and one of the firm’s trainees, we were able to identify the issues which the client might want to discuss with the vendor before purchasing.


Addleshaw Goddard on Banking

The AG workshop was delivered in groups by NQs with experience in Banking. This was essentially another due diligence activity which, in particular, demanded a high level of intellectual rigour. To break it down, a company sought to acquire another company, but it needed the funding to back the transaction. Finally the years of A-Level accounting were paying dividends! There was lots of lingo to grasp, from revolving credit facilities through to bullet loans. But, I assure, it all fell into place when put into practice. We considered the sources of lending, debenture agreements, the financial institutions and the implications which these elements of the transaction might have on the client.

Reflection on Skills

Throughout the day I had the opportunity to speak with partners and trainees about the culture, ethos and strategies of the firms. I had jotted down a list of qualities which the firms believed were valued in prospective trainees.

  • Show your personality – everyone will be trying the same tricks in their application, they want to know what makes you who you are.
  • Show a commitment – you need to be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to law, be it staying behind at the office, or turning out the grades.
  • Get to know the firm – law firms are similar in nature, but they all have their own USP, their own culture and their own strategy.
  • Do not exaggerate yourself – of course if you work part time, mention it and draw out the skills you have gained. But be careful not to exaggerate these examples, you need to back it all up with real situations.
  • Have stability and longevity – ultimately these are the qualities that will carry you through your training contract, so get organised and get a feel for the different practice areas.

Conclusion

NationalLawLive is a fantastic opportunity for students with ambitions vested in commercial work, but it has also opened eyes to commercial work in the north, a territory which is thriving and expanding. The important point is that not every aspiring commercial solicitor has to migrate south for exciting and stimulating work!

Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to talk in detail about every last detail. Nevertheless, I hope you found this article useful when you come to consider your career trajectory and I hope it encourages to you put yourself forward for future opportunities such as NationalLawLive!

Find out more about NationalLawLive here

A special thanks to LawCareers.net for making this opportunity available

And if you did not spot me in the video, here I am!

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Allen & Overy Insight Day

I am delighted to inform you all that I had the pleasure of attending the Allen & Overy Commercial Awareness event in London a couple of weeks ago. Thank you to The Student Lawyer who made it possible! This was an exciting and insightful event, and here is what I made of it.

About the day

The day kicked off with the usual networking in A&O’s conference suite. We were welcomed by Claire Wright, the firms’ Graduate Recruitment Partner who advises clients such as Amazon. Claire gave an

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Outside the A&O London HQ

insightful talk about who A&O are, what sets the firm aside from other magic circle firms, what types of clients they advise and the types of trainees they are looking for.

 

After a short break, we were introduced to Talent & Development Specialist, Madeleine Spence, who gave an enlightening networking skills session focusing on issues such as: the right handshake; use of body language; growing and nurturing your professional network. This was particularly useful as a second year law student with the view of attending future networking events.

Shortly after the skills session, we were introduced to trainees from Banking, Corporate, Tax and International Capital Markets (ICM) to name. I had the opportunity to speak to A&O trainees about their experiences as an aspiring commercial lawyer. From what I had gathered, the trainees really enjoy their work, the people they work with, and the quality of training they receive.

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Program for the day

Although, if one thing can be improved; the firm needs to be more ‘open’ about the way in which partners make decisions. Whilst leaving no stone unturned, generally A&O is an exciting place to work, hard work follows and the trainees are duly rewarded.

 

After lunch, the trainees stayed at our tables to help us with the A&O ‘Business Game’, which looked at the anatomy of a deal. We had the opportunity to apply our commerciality and knowledge of the law to a hypothetical scenario whereby company A sought to take over company B. There were news bulletins, reports and various other artefacts which had to be considered in advising the company. Essentially, this was a due diligence operation which required a level-headed common sense

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More freebies!

approach. Despite this, it was a very intellectually stimulating and enjoyable experience for all of us in the team. I might also add, it was a brilliant opportunity to practice our skills for future assessment centres.

 

The day was closed by Hannah Salton, the Graduate Recruitment Manager at A&O. Hannah was very helpful in explaining issues surrounding the application process including, inter alia, vacation schemes, training contracts, LPC and GDL funding.

BULLETIN for MLaw students. Yes – you are OK to apply to A&O – but it must be noted that the firm likes candidates to attend BPP to complete the MA (LPC with Business) course. I spoke to the course leader at BPP who advised that MLaw students would simply be exempt from having to retake particular LPC modules.

A thought for diversity

As a student who describes themselves as ‘northern and proud’, you can understand that this being my third time travelling to London this year (and in my life) is quite a significant thing for me. Including other factors such as my; accent, state educated background, sexual orientation, and low income 12274379_537418159767781_3946422286969550423_nbackground; making it to a magic circle law firm in the city is my proudest achievement to date.

Although there is still great progress to be made in the industry, and whilst organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors and Rare Recruitment are helping to open doors to individuals from all walks of life, you should never let who you are bring you down! We are always drawing closer to a society which lets individuals pick their own hand of cards. Celebrate your skills, focus on your weaknesses and you will get there. With a little support from your university careers service and other external organisations such as above, that one small drop in the ocean can create waves of opportunities.

Reflections on the day

I am still as excited and passionate about pursuing a career in commercial law. I have had this fantastic eye opening opportunity which has allowed me to ask my questions and get the answers I need to proceed onto applications for further open days and vacation schemes in 2016. Over the short term, I will now need to consider ‘how big’ I am willing to take my career. Can I imagine myself clocking 36 hours of straight working on high profile cases, in potentially what will be the next stage of my career?

Well, next month, I will be attending the NationalLawLive conference at the MOSI in Manchester to have a look at the smaller UK commercial firms based in and around Manchester. I am hoping that I can answer the aforementioned question and ‘sniff out’ the pros and cons of working for the more national firms such as Shoosmiths, Nabarro and Irwin Mitchell.

** Post was written 21st November 2015 – apologise for delay in publication.

Guest Speaker at Preston College

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Visitor coming through!

Well this has been quite a busy few weeks for us all. Settling back into university, adjusting to an increased work load, taking on extra hours at and then those dreaded applications for vacation schemes and open days! Never mind, I am sure the hard work will pay off in the end. I hope all are well, and my apologise for not keeping in touch recently!

Me and my former law tutor
Selfie time – Me and my former law tutor

On the bright side, I was delighted to be invited to return back to Preston College, where I studied my A-Levels in Law, Accounting and IT. I just can not describe how nostalgic it is to be stood in front of a group of students in a position where I was once just two years ago. I had the opportunity to catch up with four of my previous tutors who had all given me the best guidance in pursuing my career trajectory.

Public speaking is an ‘ad hoc’ skill which a lawyer could expect at any point within their career; whether it involves pitching to clients or reporting to partners. This was the perfect opportunity for me to put my skills to the test and really submerse other students on a topic I felt confident on.
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That aside, finding confidence when you are stood up infront of 15 gazing eyes can be a quite difficult. Naturally, adrenaline is rushing, a thousand thoughts are running through ones head and then the legs suddenly turn to jelly; just what happened to me. Meanwhile, you’ll have to be concious of the time, the tempo and volume of your voice, keeping everyone in the room focused and operating a digital presentation.

I admit, I did feel foolish when 10 minutes after that I had forgotten to explain to the group what BPTC stood for. But thankfully my efforts shined through and my tutor described the presentation as “fantastic”. I spent an awful lot of time on preparation, and here were some tips that helped me the most.

  • Practice until you feel confident in yourself, this is the best opportunity to ‘iron out all the creases’.
  • Notes are distracting, they should contain minimal information like statistics.
  • The adrenaline can only last for so long, push past it and the next thing you know you’ll be a born natural.
  • If you make a mistake or if a word comes out the wrong way, do not be afraid to laugh it off and hastily move on from it.
  • Take a bottle of water, this is brilliant trick if you need to buy yourself some thinking time or you get a croaky throat after the first 10 minutes of talking.
  • Do not lecture at the audience, instead keep them engaged by making eye contact and encouraging questions.
  • Be concious of time, if you need to move it along then just simply say “I’m concious of time”. It is far better than rushing through.

Remember that there is always room for improvement, so if you missed something out or you made yourself look like a bit of an idiot, just make sure you can learn from it. The more experience you gain, the easier it becomes.

Over all, this was a brilliant experience. It was emotive, nostalgic and reaffirmed my career ambitions. I am thankful to my host and I will be back again to speak to a larger group of business students, so watch this space!