Meet Fiona Watt: Company Director
Most visitors will have met our club’s cheerful VP Education, Fiona Watt. I asked her what brought her to Ipswich Electrifiers and what she gets out of it.
Tell me more about your background?
After graduating with a degree in politics I became a chartered accountant with KPMG. My husband was in the forces and I took a break from that to go with him when he was posted to Germany. When we came back I went into pension audits which was a technical but not very client-facing role. I left KPMG when they closed the local office and found a part-time bookkeeping role with a software company – Suitcase TV. My confidence was quite low at that point.
What brought you along to your first meeting?
Soon after I joined Suitcase TV it became apparent that they needed more input from me and I was promoted to the Financial Controller. As I started getting more involved in higher-level strategic issues I realised that my soft skills weren’t adequate for what was needed; for the company or my career. Aware that they didn’t have a large training budget, I was considering how I could do my own personal development when one of our software developers, Stefan, sent an invite around to a guest evening at Ipswich Electrifiers Speakers club. It wasn’t the first he had sent but this time I thought I should go and see what they had to offer.
When did you decide to become a member?
When I got there and heard about their educational offering, how it was about confidence, leadership and organisation skills just as much as it was about standing up in front of people and speaking I realised that was exactly what I was looking for. It was immediately obvious to me that I was going to join, so I joined on the spot. I haven’t regretted it at all, it’s been brilliant.
What was your first impressions of the club?
There was such a mix of people: members who were obviously very experienced in local business and others who were on their path up. It was such a friendly, welcoming, and supportive environment where you could get really good positive useful feedback that you could use. It wasn’t just someone saying ‘oh yes, that’s fine’.
What’s the main benefit you’ve found from being a member?
The main benefit has actually been on the evaluation side; feeling happier about receiving feedback on my own performance and using it as well as giving feedback to other people which is part of my job. In the working world that’s massively important and gets you noticed for the right reasons. From a personal day-to-day point of view, and my confidence, it’s more the speaking and meeting chairing roles which has had the biggest impact.
How have things changed for you since you’ve been coming along?
Shortly after joining the club I was promoted to finance director. A position which involves a lot of communicating highly technical ideas to a lay audience, both written and presentational. I would have been completely lost without the confidence I was gaining by coming to our regular meetings. Now I’m much more confident to speak out in a work meeting when I wouldn’t have done before. It’s become instinctive to give a summary, expand out and finish strongly. I can give an off the cuff talk to management or external investors about the business more effectively as I’m practising all the time.
So has everything gone to plan and how do you cope when it doesn’t?
Most of my speeches have gone fine but there was one I wasn’t happy with. I’d committed to it but didn’t have enough time to prepare; it wasn’t up to the standard of my previous speeches which annoyed me so I learnt from that.
Failure is part of how you learn, it’s an iterative process, you do it you try it, it’s not quite right, you try again, and ultimately you get there. I used to find any element of failure very personally difficult. Having this space to fail safely, and learning how to cope with that, has actually been very important. It’s a very positive part of the Toastmasters experience.
What do you most enjoy
I love Table Topics, it’s so fun hearing the different ideas that people come up with. Sometimes you find you can freeze and stutter and sit down in less than a minute; but more and more I can stand up and talk. Even when it goes badly the people in the room are so supportive that it doesn’t feel like a terrible failure, it’s just fine. When I hear the feedback on what members did well and areas that they could work on I often think “that’s an idea that I could try and incorporate”; so you’re learning the whole time. Plus, some of the speeches are just hilarious; we’ve got some really good storytellers in the group so you can have a real good giggle with it.
Tell me about your role on the committee?
I don’t think you get as much out of something by sitting back and just letting it pass by. So when I joined I decided that I would be an active member right from the word go. Before I knew it, I was VP Education. It’s been really useful for me to get involved; I’ve been able to make the meetings as I want them to be, with different members doing roles and speeches, each giving different perspectives. Having members using different ways of evaluating, techniques for capturing audience interest and building a speech.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished level 2 on the Persuasive Leadership path. I want to be the first in our club to reach pathways level 5 and complete a path.
Good luck Fiona, I’m sure you will achieve your goals
Note: Pathways replaced the traditional education program for all new members in the UK in March 2018. Existing members have until June 2020 to switch
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Read about our other members here