Write well, present well: Sharing your ideas in the ADF

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Someone I admire once told me that you will not always have a stage on which to speak, but the best thing you can do when you don’t have the stage is to work hard on the foundations. Read, listen, learn, and have conversations, to ensure your voice commands and holds attention when it is your time on the stage. 

The Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series has offered valuable guidance on fostering and building ideas, as well as the importance of sharing them with the ADF community. To build on this, I offer my tips and resources to strengthen your face-to-face presentation and writing skills. These skills will help you share ideas and inspire others, whether it is pitching an idea in a meeting, briefing colleagues, or writing for Professional Military Education (PME) platforms – the principles are similar, but practice is the key!

Face-to-face (meetings and presentations)

Evidence shows that women are less engaged in meetings and general conversation in workplaces, and that they speak less than their male counterparts in workplace meetings despite being conceived as speaking more. One explanation of this is that women are often being faced with the double blind. A term used to describe the situation where women who take charge are often viewed as competent but disliked, and those who take care are more liked but viewed as less competent, leaving them way less likely to be viewed as likable and competent at the same time. Many women have been in positions where they have been accused of being too aggressive if they share their opinions or speak in an authoritative manner but then get left behind for development opportunities if they are not seen to be involved.

There are times when women are speaking though, and just not being heard. Julie Bishop spoke of times when she would speak and it was if no one had heard her, only to have her ideas repeated by someone else, an occurrence that many have bought to light. Women are also interrupted at a greater rate, and they stop speaking more frequently when they are interrupted.

As easy as it sounds to speak up in a meeting or give a presentation, for some people (including myself) it can feel like stepping into a cage with a hungry grizzly bear. Here are some tips for taming the bear and preparing to present:

  • Play the pre-meeting by including the topic on the agenda or speaking to key stakeholders in advance to gain some prior support. Come prepared with notes on what you want to say, keeping it as succinct as possible.
  • Engage the audience through the use of pictures and video and consider trading in the PowerPoint for Prezi which can be more dynamic.
  • Practice it in front of trusted peers for feedback and to iron out any peculiar idiosyncrasies or nervous twitches. For me, it is physically shaking and speaking like a chipmunk that has had too much coffee.
  • Understand that questions allow for clarification or further development of ideas. A simple “I’ll take that one on notice and get back to you” is an easy option if you don’t have an answer on hand (and make sure you follow through with the answer once you find out!)
  • Own your ideas. If you are faced with the challenge of someone taking your idea as their own, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is not to assume it was done maliciously and start making accusations. Take time to cool off, then ask questions. Keep written records where possible of things you have come up with during an idea’s development and you can ask trusted colleagues to mention your name when the idea is spoken about if the recognition is going elsewhere.

From a leadership perspective, supporting those you work with in presenting their ideas is key to both their development, the success of the team, and your success as a leader. A routine of having Junior Leaders prepare and present to the team on a topical issue, a change in policy or a PME subject creates an opportunity to build confidence and resilience. It is also encouraging the support of peers and building a continual learning environment. There is also a leadership imperative to amplify any quieter voices and ensure subordinates are acknowledged for their ideas and contributions.

Formal writing

Writing can be the most intimidating platform to share ideas, but the good news is that no one decides one day to be a writer and starts effortlessly producing literary masterpieces. As I write this, I know that Lyndsay Freeman and Shamsa Lea are going to have their work cut out for them in the task of editing. There are a lot of writing guides and resources out there, but here are a few things just to start:

  • Begin with approaching a publisher. All Military PME sites have information on the types of topics they cover and an email address to make contact. Send in your idea and see if it suits their theme.
  • Make sure you understand your left and right of arc by reading the submission guidelines for that particular platform.
  • Remember your intended audience and keep a clear argument with supporting evidence, if required.
  • Work with the editors and know that any feedback is helpful to get the most out of your idea. If their changes don’t fit with your personal values, perspective, or intent, be bold and let them know.
  • In moments of self-doubt, remember that it is not all about you. It is about the idea/concept and your unique contribution to the conversation and our profession of arms.

As a final point, be prepared for criticism from all directions and on all platforms. Recognise that constructive criticism can assist in developing and strengthening your ideas or improving your presentation style. When criticism is of a personal nature though and it does not come with any helpful suggestions, it may be more about the person delivering the feedback than you or your work. Sharing feedback that you receive with mentors and peers can help distinguish between what advice to heed and what to disregard.

No one is perfect and everyone gets nervous. But if you get up on the stage and share your ideas, it is a step towards building a more collaborative work environment, and who knows, you may be inspiring others in the process.

Handy Resources

About the author

Kristi Adam is a Pilot Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, and is currently undertaking a Bachelor in Business through University of New South Wales in addition to a Bachelor in Global Security through Murdoch University. She is the proud (and busy) mother of twin four year old girls.