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  • Writer's pictureLucy Dinsmore

Headshots & Public Speaking

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

On Groundhog Day 2019, a great group of women turned out on a Saturday morning to do things we seldom or rarely do, some of which we dread doing: getting professional headshots of ourselves and engaging in public speaking exercises. The day was orchestrated by Women in Horticulture’s Cat Meholic in conjunction with Martha Stephens at Kendal Crosslands Arboretum, which generously provided us the space.

An incredible group of women turned out for the event and represented a smattering of public gardens and private businesses. The gardens represented were: Mt. Cuba Center, Meadowbrook Farm, Tyler Arboretum, Chanticleer Gardens, Delaware Center for Horticulture, Morris Arboretum, Longwood Gardens, and Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden. The private industries represented were: Gale Nurseries, Verdant Earth Educators, Serene & Green, Colorstone Gardens, and Northview Gardens.

Andy and Rachel Hollen ready the camera for Liz Fite

Photographer Andy Hollen and stylist Rachel Hollen made an impressive duo as the husband and wife team taking our headshots. Each woman could sign up for a five-minute shift with them at a much reduced cost. Andy and Rachel’s humor and professionalism made the process more fun and less like the school portraits many of us dreaded in grade school.

Mackenzie Fochs reviews her photos with Andy

The program part of the day included a number of short activities that engaged different parts of the brain. One of those was a speed networking exercise, which enabled us to practice giving a 60-second elevator pitch to a partner, who then had one minute to provide us feedback. The activity then reversed so that each partner had the same opportunity to give and receive feedback and their speech. This was a great way of getting us talking one-on-one before we began the group activities.

Speed networking, or musical chairs?

Next, a dictionary-type game stretched our vocabulary and forced us to present without even realizing we were public speaking. Cat broke us into small groups with an envelope of single words on slips of paper. She explained that they were words she had come across while researching for her graduate thesis. These words were not the kind you’d see on a daily basis. They were ridiculously abstract botanical terms many of us had never before heard or read. Each individual was tasked with presenting to their group a believable, botanical definition for each word. This exercise gave us practice in thinking and speaking on our feet when put on the spot and presenting clear ideas to a group. It was also hilariously fun, and the room quickly became full of laughter.

Women work in small groups to come up with plausible definitions for Cat's crazy list of botanical words

Another set of exercises forced us to be promoters and commercials for one another. Each woman paired up with a partner and interviewed them before presenting their findings to the group in one minute or less. It was another great way of getting to know one another, and practicing public speaking by giving concise presentations about our partners. As a presenter, I tried to “sell” the group on my partner and all her accomplishments. As an audience member, I learned a great deal about the other women in the group, even people I knew pretty well.

The last series of exercises provided more ways to practice speaking in front of a group. First, we were tasked with giving a 1-minute speech about the pros and cons of a controversial topic. We could choose any topic we wanted, as long as we explained the arguments both for and against that topic in 60 seconds. To get us brainstorming, Cat ran down a list of ideas she had come up with the night before, and it was an impressive list! We had five minutes to prepare our arguments before going up to the front of the room. The topics chosen were incredibly diverse, and the presenters gave very compelling arguments for and against these 13 unique topics:

  1. Artificial sweeteners

  2. Pushing STEM

  3. Hiring people with criminal backgrounds

  4. SATs

  5. Beneficial insects for pest control in the greenhouse

  6. Single-gender education

  7. Legalization and criminalization of marijuana

  8. Standardized testing (elementary to high school)

  9. Seasonal employment

  10. Native plants

  11. Deer fencing

  12. Nursing in public

  13. Street trees

It was fascinating to hear a room full of horticulturally-inclined women speak on such diverse topics, which are all so relevant to our society at large. Each woman provided information on both sides, and argued convincingly on such topics as the benefits of legalized marijuana to the inherent racism involved in the writing of SATs and the people behind them. This exercise taught us how to present difficult topics in a quick way, either with a biased or unbiased approach.

Hanna von Schlegell weighs the pros and cons of single-gender education

Dianne Walker uses body language to convey her point

Judy Magee smiles through her presentation

By the time the last exercise rolled around, everyone had tried and done their best at public speaking, and some of us were glad it was almost over! The last step was to finally present our 60-second elevator pitch about ourselves to the group. Again, this was a fun way as an audience member to learn about one another. I should also note that during this final speech, we were filmed! While each of us presented, a volunteer (Julie Bare) recorded our minute speech on our phones to watch in the future.

A recording like this provides a baseline that we can refer back to as we improve our public speaking skills. Even though it can be embarrassing or painful to watch yourself, it’s a great tool for learning how to improve. If you haven't done so already, go back and watch your speech now. Try not to be too critical of yourself, but observe the following: How are you standing? What are you doing with your hands? Are you speaking to both sides of the room, or are you just looking at one side? Do you move your head and your body, or are your eyes shifty and darting back and forth? Do you finish on a strong note, or do you trail off at the end? Do you say ‘um,’ and ‘so’ or other filler words? If so, count them! Lastly, are you smiling? These are just some of the things to observe as you become a stronger public speaker.

Cat Meholic and her sister Rachel Hollen

All of the exercises that Cat orchestrated challenged us in ways we perhaps aren't challenged on a daily basis. It gave us food for thought on how we present ourselves, how we introduce others, and how we think about topics we usually have biases towards.

Thank you, Cat, and thank you everyone for doing your best at some uncomfortable tasks in a safe space - that is Women in Horticulture.

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