4 Things I Learnt When I Spoke To 30,000 Premier League Fans About Domestic Abuse

I was honoured to be asked to speak on behalf of domestic abuse charity RISE, at a recent premier league football match in front of 30,000 fans.

Not only is RISE a charity close to my heart but, having had to seek sanctuary in a women’s refuge myself to escape an abusive ex-partner, the opportunity to reach an audience perhaps un-used to hearing stories such as mine, and deliver RISE’s message that domestic abuse is #everyonesbusiness, was too tempting to miss.

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It was my first engagement at a sports stadium, although I've previously spoken at a huge variety of events including on TV and radio, and I was really looking forward to the challenge. I arrived, my brain topped up to the max with my speech and the stats I’d genned up on, and my nerves at a manageable 7/10 (fully aware that they’d hit eleventy thousand out of ten the minute they realised it was show time but hey, I’m a pro and nerves are an important part of the speaker process); and ready to represent RISE the very best I could.

It wasn’t until I met the organisers, that I found out I was speaking pitch-side. Having watched a number of half-time interviews over the years, this wasn't something I’d bargained on; not least because I was wearing very high heels, and I was concerned that I might sink in the turf!

Learning Point One: Always ensure that you know exactly what the speaking set up will be. Never assume that an interview will be a cosy little chat in a box somewhere which is then transmitted to the audience, as I had thought; it may well be held right in front of them (wherever they are!). Remember to ask whether you have a seat or will be standing; whether you’ll be called to give your talk from the audience, or will be out front for the entirety of the event. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.

Of course, getting pitch-side meant walking through the players tunnel. This was a moment of joy and achievement beyond my wildest imagination; going out from the relative silence of the changing rooms, through the tunnel, to the roar of the crowd in the stadium and out onto the pitch was a truly extraordinary experience, and my adrenaline was buzzing.

The presenter shook my hand and then asked if, having considered the interview further, if I'd not talk about the specifics of my experience; rather give an overview of how a refuge had helped me. I'd planned my three minute talk around those experiences, so it meant some fast thinking and adaptation of my original material to accommodate his request.

Learning Point Two: Always make sure that your talk is audience specific, and content appropriate, and that, if you’re speaking on behalf of someone else, they’ve signed off what you’re planning to say before you say it. I’d given this talk many times before, so making changes to it wasn’t a problem; I was able to think on my feet and deliver an interview that all parties were delighted with. However, sometimes plans do change last minute, so always be prepared to tweak your talk accordingly – just in case.

He then also told me that I would hear the echo of my voice as it bounced around the stadium, perhaps even a slight delay in what I said compared to what I heard, and that I should just carry on. And he was right! It took a few seconds to get used to but once I did, I didn't even notice it.

Learning Point Three: The technical side of giving a talk or speech can sometimes be what brings you down. We’ve all been there; your PowerPoint presentation freezes, your microphone develops feedback so frenzied that dogs for miles around start barking, or the sound system stops working and you have to resort to using your outdoor voice. Always remember, the show must go on; technical schmechnical. I remember when I was playing Maria in our school rendition of West Side Story back in 1982, and the guy playing Bernardo reached the part where he had to shoot Tony. He squeezed the trigger, the gun didn’t go off, he shouted bang, and then it went off. Everyone sniggered, but Tony and I carried on as though nothing had happened. This is the same. People are interested in you and your message, less interested in the technical stuff; and it can always be worked around.

It wasn’t until I was in my car, driving home, that the enormity of the evening started to sink in. It had gone past in a whirl; say hello to the organisers, go onto the pitch, see and hear the crowd, answer some questions, smile at the cameraman, be overwhelmed by the fans applause, go back inside the stadium, and then make your way back to the car park. And it reminded me of…

Learning Point Four: Always take time to enjoy the moment.  It’s easy to get so swept away with the operational practicalities of your speaking engagement that you forget to enjoy it! Whether it’s a networking panel, a keynote conference speech, a dinner, or a high-profile sporting event, it’s something to savour and remember. You could give the same talk ten times, but it would be different each time; the people are different, the venue is different, and the ambience is different. Remember to enjoy your part in it.

You can watch the video of my talk below!


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