March 8 is International Women’s Day. We decided to mark the occasion by setting up a virtual meeting with Catherine Fitzsimon, Regional Director APAC Audience based in Singapore, to talk about the joy of mentorship, the power of community, and creating meaningful change that benefits everyone.
As Catherine pops up on screen, the first thing we notice is the unusual backdrop. Sitting in her daughter’s room rather than her office (working from home means sharing the home office), she is framed by butterflies and brightly coloured stationery on one side and posters of Wonder Woman and Rey from Star Wars – both with their weapons drawn – on the other. It’s no surprise that we start by talking about female role models and mentors.
We learn that one of Catherine’s early mentors had an impact on her career and also inspired her in what she does today.
“Early in my career, I was sometimes hesitant to speak up in meetings with my peers or executive leaders. Part of the reason I held back is that I wanted the perfect statement, answer or contribution. I always wanted to be 100% ready rather than taking a chance and sharing a thought that was only 80% worked out. I think I was worried about being judged or making a mistake. I was very lucky that my mentor recognised that holding back was holding me back! She helped me to overcome the barrier and still be my authentic self. Learning what worked for me with support and challenge from someone I admired and trusted has really helped me. I still consider her a mentor today and have learned so much that I want to pass on to others.”
Catherine is passionate about passing on what she has learned – especially in helping people have the confidence to speak up and make a meaningful contribution to their daily work in all situations.
We tend to take it for granted that, at Audience, we work in a supportive environment with a strong team focused on listening. We realise that not everyone has the same experience at work. That means that there are a proportion of people in the world who are holding themselves back rather than making a meaningful contribution to important conversations. Many of those people are women.
“Hearing all the possible options and solutions up front is what helps us to make informed decisions,” says Catherine.
“Great ideas can come from anywhere. The key is unlocking those to get to the heart of the matter. That means ensuring everyone has the skills and the courage to speak up whatever their natural tendencies. We also need to support leaders in recognising and acting on the fact that, whether it’s a room or Zoom, some people will talk a little and some people will talk a lot. Making sure everyone has time and space to express themselves helps create the safe space everyone deserves. Give the quiet ones a voice! That’s how we hear new ideas and create meaningful change.”
And Catherine is on a mission to make that happen! Hearing her speak, it’s clear just how passionate she is about her mission and what her strategy is to support her colleagues, her clients and the wider community in delivering on it.
“We’ve worked on quite a number of projects in Asia markets recently where the specific focus has been on speaking up. We’ve conducted focused workshops on this topic and weaved it into breakout sessions as part of larger events. With many of our attendees speaking in a second language, we’re really conscious of making that time and space for them to feel comfortable sharing.”
Catherine visibly lights up as we talk about these meetings and the difference she and her team have seen in the attendees throughout the day or across a range of sessions in a learning journey programme.
The fundamentals of the way Audience works and the services we offer our clients are one factor that drives Catherine’s passion for hearing other opinions and stories. The other is part of her mission to share what she learned from her early mentor.
Catherine is an active volunteer at KeyNote, a non-profit global women’s speaker directory run out of Singapore. The purpose of KeyNote is to bring diversity to speaking stages around the world. She believes strongly in getting more women on stage to tell their story, share their knowledge and experience. For those who may not be quite ready, KeyNote helps with teaching the right skills and building the confidence to get there.
Many women at KeyNote are already established speakers who are looking for more opportunities at larger events to share their stories. KeyNote finds them that stage. Some have just started their speaking careers and need some mentoring or coaching to reach the next level. This is a great opportunity to dive in and sharpen their skills. Then there are those women who want to speak either on stage or at work events but don’t know where to start. KeyNote offers an in-depth training course to help them get up and running. The different backgrounds and levels of experience is what makes this a great community, a place where women can support each other – whatever stage they’re at in their personal speaking journeys.
Through allyship, an ever-growing list of male speakers also play an active role in supporting the KeyNote community, giving their support to the KeyNote message of bringing diversity to speaking stages around the world. It’s a setup Catherine believes strongly in and is proud to be a part of.
speak up, build their confidence, tell their stories and have their voices heard
As a leader and mentor, what are Catherine’s recommendations to help others speak up, build their confidence, tell their stories and have their voices heard?
Creating a safe space for everyone is absolutely essential. So many people are used to starting to speak and being interrupted and that can have a catastrophic effect on confidence. Always let speakers finish. We can comment or refine or react afterwards but hearing the point in full first is absolutely key. As a listener, that also gives me time to consider my own opinion rather than jumping in halfway through. Bringing that mindset to your regular team meetings makes them a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions and you’ll notice the positive difference it makes.
Strength in numbers
Spending time encouraging and promoting a strong community benefits everyone. More conversations mean better relationships which lead to greater confidence and a true feeling of support and allyship. It’s win-win and it’s a whole community contribution.
A push in the right direction
Not everyone feels able to take the first step, but your life and work won’t change if you just sit behind your computer. You have to get out there, take the leap of faith and be a part of life! If someone talks to me about an idea or asks for advice, I will always follow up with them and check in to see if they’ve done it. A gentle push often makes a big difference. The next time around, that first step gets just a little bit easier.
Curate your own comfort zone
Making progress of any kind is all about meaningful relationships and I’m constantly building mine. Start small, curate groups of people you feel comfortable with and you find interesting. I’ve been doing this for years and am always surprised how much I learn from bringing people I admire together. Having no specific agenda is often a real help, too. Over time, you build your own community as well as being part of others’. I’ve met so many great female role models in these small groups I might not have met in a larger group setting.
Many people find it really helpful just to be listened to when they talk about the challenges they face. Focus on listening first, it will make a difference.
“Through the work we do at Audience, I’ve seen the positive effect confidence has on presenters and speakers of all levels and abilities, and how that confidence translates to everyday working situations. Confidence comes from training, building skills and presenter coaching. We’re all responsible for making sure as many voices as possible are heard and that we make the most of the resources in the room. I learned that from my mentor and it’s something I really want to pass on.”
As we bring our meeting to a close and sign off, along with Wonder Woman and Rey, we just added Catherine to our own personal list of female role models.
Would you like to learn more about how Audience can help you communicate with confidence? Discover our communications skills workshops today. Do you need help standing out as a leader and making your mark as a mentor? Discover the Audience Leadership Training programme today.
Audience is a proud supporter of KeyNote.
Catherine’s reading recommendations: Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez