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We all know the feeling.  The speaker at the front says breezily “I’ll be taking questions at the end so do be ready to put your hand up!”  And your first thought isn’t what your question might be, it’s whether you’ll have the courage to put your hand up.  In front of everyone.  Including, perhaps, your boss.

It still happens to me.  As a journalist, my default position is curious — but that pit-of-the-stomach feeling is never far away when it comes to raising your arm, and showing your hand, in front of a crowd.  It’s something we have a lot of fun tackling in my workshops.  Which news story do you think should be the lead story tonight?

Here’s my tip.  I remind myself of a corporate away-day I was at many years ago as a very junior member of the newsroom — something about Step Change, I think — and I had a blinder of a question.  The moment came.  I hesitated.  Someone else broke the ice with a different question … my moment was lost.

An hour later, standing at the gents, I shared my blinder of a question with the colleague standing next to me.  We agreed it would really have hit the spot.  And so too, it turned out, did the boss.  He told us so as he emerged from the stall behind us.  “Believe in yourself a little more”, he smiled at me as he washed his hands.  “You might find you’re saying what everyone else is thinking … including the boss.”

There was no champagne, no gowns or mortarboards. One or two of the students had dressed up for the occasion, but most had not. Parents stood in small groups, unsure quite what to expect perhaps, but expectant nonetheless.

We were at Heathfield’s Community Centre on a foggy evening for a graduation ceremony with a difference. It marked the end of a training scheme specially designed for young people who didn’t fit into college or university, and — deep in East Sussex — simply couldn’t easily reach training anywhere else. The projector was playing up a bit, but nobody seemed to notice. A couple of councillors gave speeches. And then, as awkward as it was wonderful, the purpose of this gathering came to pass.

One by one, the graduates came to the stage to receive the certificates that marked the end of their ten week training scheme here. Thomas, who had thought the future held nothing, now had a job logging and he loved it. Emanuel Louis, softly spoken, revealed his plan to join the ambulance service. Bryony, so scared she could hardly ascend to the stage, smiled at the clapping audience as we heard about her job at Waitrose!

I’d been invited as a guest after running one of my employability skills workshops back in April — brought in with my video camera and autocue to give them a jolt and show them that they could do something that scared them. If I’d played the smallest part in that, it had been a privilege. Heathfield Works! , this scheme calls itself, and it deserves the exclamation mark.

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