I joined Parliament nine years ago last month. My Parliamentary career has been varied, challenging and given me something I value. I've been able to change careers, try different things, and learn from my experiences.
I’ve also worked in various parts of Parliament. I started in Visitor Services, moved to the Education Service then the Commons and Lords Information Offices, and the Digital Service before it became the Digital Service. I now work in PDS as a senior content designer.
I never expected to be in Parliament this long and recently I was reflecting on what I’ve learnt during my time here.
One of the biggest challenges during my time as a visitor assistant was learning how to deliver tours to the public. The training involved learning a script as well as attending workshops where you’re filmed to see how you come across.
It’s never pleasant seeing all your mannerisms on screen but it’s a great tool for identifying where you can improve. It was clear that I had the knowledge but I looked mildly terrified when I spoke. My nerves and fixation on cramming everything in had turned me into a robot. It explained why my groups didn’t look entirely engaged. They were picking up on my anxiety.
I learnt that a smile, good eye contact and taking my time all helped me appear confident even if I didn’t feel it. Confidence breeds confidence. When I saw people relax, I relaxed.
The right words
My experience with delivering tours gave me the confidence to apply for a six month secondment with the Education Service. I joined a team of six with the task of writing a tour script for school children of all ages to explain the work of Parliament.
This was where the importance of choosing the right words to clearly explain complex ideas really hit home. Children take no prisoners. If they don’t understand, they ask you question after question and if they aren’t interested they don’t hide it.
Actually, I don’t know
A lesson that took longer to learn was that it’s okay to not know the answer to a question.
It was quite a leap from supporting meetings to leading on projects when I moved from being a web assistant to a digital account manager. In those early days I didn’t like attending meetings on my own. I felt pressure to know everything about a subject. I can still remember my first couple of meetings where I started answers with ‘I think’.
It was only by observing one of my senior colleagues admitting that he didn’t know, that I realised it was fine to do this. If you’re embarrassed when admitting you don’t know something it's more damaging to your credibility than just saying you don’t know.
The stuff you don’t know can sometimes outweigh what you do know, particularly in digital which moves so fast.
Plan to be flexible
In my personal life I’m a meticulous planner, particularly when it comes to holidays. But when the holiday arrives I’ve learnt to accept that sometimes the daily itineraries need to yield to how we feel on the day, and my husband’s sanity.
The same is true for running workshops. It’s helpful to have a plan and a structure but you also need to be responsive to the needs of your group.
I recently ran a series of workshops for the Education Service. For each workshop I drew up a plan of questions to cover, guidance to include and exercises for the attendees. Yet in the first workshop, other questions were brought up by the attendees which I hadn’t planned to cover. By being flexible it created a more collaborative session.
Some things don’t change
In my current role I regularly train people on digital content. For the first few moments when I run a session, I worry that it’s going to disintegrate.
Even though I’ve delivered the training countless times, I still get nervous. I fear and thrive on the experience of standing in front of a group of strangers and the expectation of imparting some useful knowledge.
I’ve slowly come to accept my nerves as a part of my personal make-up. It doesn’t matter that I could probably deliver the workshop with my eyes closed. I’ll always spend an hour the day before reading my notes and practising my delivery. It helps to combat the nerves and makes me feel prepared.
It can be easy to look to people in your own team or senior colleagues for guidance and ideas but it pays to be open to advice from anyone.
We’ve just had our bathroom redone and our builder told me his first boss advised him to listen to everybody because you never know what you’ll pick up. In our situation this turned out to be true when the tiles we’d chosen didn’t work with the pattern we wanted. We chatted about it and found a solution, and I’ve never tiled in my life.
As he said, you never stop learning and that’s a good thing. I feel the same about my career in Parliament.
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