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The Speakeasy Club is here to tackle your fear of public speaking

Gopal Sathe

20 أكتوبر 2022

Two women team up to build a tech-enabled platform, The Speakeasy Club, that boosts public speaking skills.

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KATHARINA HICKER, whose career in communications lists notable companies worldwide, including McDonalds, Google, and Careem, has been working in the Middle East’s public relations sector for a long time. She eventually felt it was time to start her own company, and so, leaving the world of Big Tech, she founded her own startup alongside Rachel Pether, a journalist who previously worked for the BBC.

The two founders launched a course on public speaking and leadership skills that was made accessible through the web and an application. The Speakeasy Club was started to tackle problems with public speaking, claiming that it is one of the biggest skill gaps for professionals.

“As a communications specialist at companies like Uber and Google, I’ve trained top executives, such as Philipp Schindler, SVP and Chief Business Officer at Google, for a speaking interview at the biggest European Marketing trade show (DMEXCO),” recalls Hicker, adding, “On the other hand, what I often see is that managers at a lower level don’t realize that public speaking doesn’t just come naturally to people, and they would just wing it, and then it would not go well. That’s why I keep telling people that passion is good, preparation is better.”

The Speakeasy Club launched its first online course, the “Public Speaking Masterclass” on June 7 this year, and one of the things that sets it apart is that the team is accepting Bitcoin as payment. This might seem like an odd move, but the client — who has a background in covering finance — pushed for the decision, as noted by Hicker. “We are big believers in the power of technology to improve people’s lives. It made sense to have an online course accepting payment using Bitcoin,” says Pether, who is, aside from being co-founder of The Speakeasy Club, also on the Executive Board of three cryptocurrency companies.

Stemming from anxiety jitters and lack of confidence among MENA professionals the duo has worked with, the new eCourse offered a means of unlocking potential public speaking skills. These people realized they had an opportunity to grow in their fields, and reached out to the club for help. “Throughout my career training executives, I kept running into the same problem. Highly qualified (often times female) talent that cannot grow in their career due to a lack of communication skills. They have the skills, they have the ideas – but they lack the confidence to present them successfully,” says Hicker, who is also the MD of PR firm Castleforbes Communications.

The lack of effective tools to help develop their public-speaking skills left many professionals feeling embarrassed and suffering from stage-fright, leaving a sub-optimal impression among their peers and stakeholders.

The launch

Combining their separate paths into one, Hicker and Pether decided that joining forces could breed a dual effect. Hicker had been working with Careem while Pether was a television host at FintechTV, and they worked together throughout until Hicker made the decision to take a step forward in her career. “When I quit Careem with the idea of launching my own business, I sent out a round of emails to people to let them know that I was moving on, and Rachel sent me a reply saying that whatever I did next, she was there with me,” offers Hicker.

Pether had been acting as MC at multiple international events, noting that people often asked her if she could train them in public speaking as well. When she spoke to Hicker, she saw how their skills could complement each other and how they could create a scalable solution. “I made the move from journalism into finance as I had always had a passion for numbers,” she says, explaining her decision to leave the BBC.

With a drive for passion, but also a goal of creating a more confident community in the public speaking realm, the two founders figured it was best to muster up an online, on demand course.

Gender pressure

According to Hicker, the course is of benefit to any executive, but the stakes are usually higher for women. Public speaking is often seen as a soft skill that women are simply expected to be good at — something Hicker saw firsthand when she moved from Google to Careem. She hadn’t had to speak in public for some time, and at her first internal opportunity with Careem, she shares, “I was so nervous. Even as a communications professional, you need to practice, practice, practice. But women usually don’t get as many opportunities, which is why it’s so important to look for other ways to build up this skill.”

Taking her personal journey with public speaking into the public to address the effects of a lack of opportunities for women, Hicker also explains how one bad experience dramatically drops a woman’s career. The pressure is especially vibrant when analyzing women’s use of language, not just their mannerisms. “A lot of women are socialized to use weak language, like starting with an apology by saying, ‘I’m sorry but,’ rather than directly confronting someone, by making themselves smaller. This can reduce the impact of what you’re saying,” explains Hicker.

This is particularly true in the Arab world, Hicker says, noting that she recently worked with a group of Emirati women who were high level executives in their professional lives, but who needed help in being more assertive in public speaking, and in communicating unwelcome news.

Granting opportunities and a definitive push into a self-assured career, The Speakeasy Club fixes the issue of public speaking at its core, acknowledging that everybody has to start somewhere before climbing the ladder.

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