BBC Expert Women's Day Scotland

Friday 30 August 2013, 08:04

Joanne Heng Joanne Heng Post-Doctoral Researcher, Glasgow University

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The BBC Academy held Expert Women's Day Scotland on 28 August in Glasgow. Post-Doctoral Researcher Joanne Heng shares her experience of attending the event.

Expert Women Training Day Glasgow Participants of an Expert Women's Day earlier this year

It had been a fitful night. I was anxious yet excited about the prospect of attending the BBC's Expert Women's Day Scotland.  This was a chance for women with an expertise in their respective fields to meet the big names in the media industry and get some hands-on experience for both camera and radio. Being a dry Glasgow morning, I decided the brisk 30-minute walk from my flat would give me some fresh air and a chance to calm my nerves. 

When I was first alerted to the event, it did sound like a fantastic opportunity, one too good to simply disregard. But could I really regard myself as an expert in my field? As a Research Associate, I still had plenty of rungs to climb on the academic ladder. I dismissed my chances and decided against entering. However, the application niggled away at me for weeks. With the submission date looming I decided I had nothing to lose by entering. Given the last minute decision, I had to make my two-minute application video whilst attending a conference in Oxford. Having to film it in one of the student dorms at St Catherine’s College, the brightest spot in the room coincided with a rather unsightly stain on the wall behind me. It would have to do. I positioned my head accordingly to obscure it and practised talking to my webcam.

That was a few months ago, but now the big day had arrived, and I wanted to ensure I made the most of this wonderful opportunity. Taking a deep breath, I made my way up the steps and into the BBC Scotland headquarters to be warmly greeted by the organisers of the event. I was instantly put at ease. 

With an official welcome by Expert Women’s Day host, Hazel Marshall and BBC Director, Ken MacQuarrie, we also received words of advice from Controller of Factual Productions, Natalie Humphreys, and well-known presenter and producer, Jackie Bird. Both highlighted the importance of conveying passion and enthusiasm when approaching the day’s events. Jackie’s urge for us to take a: “nuanced and compelling approach,” were eloquent words spoken by a truly accomplished media professional.

Breaking off into our sub groups (I was in a group of eight with specialisms in Science and Natural History) we set off to tackle our jam-packed schedule. First up was the TV studio session – one most of us were silently dreading. With a brief tour of the studio and the control room, we were given a few ‘dos and don’ts’ for TV before getting thrust right into it. In pairs, we were each interviewed for four minutes by Gwenan Edwards (we had been given the interview questions beforehand). Despite little to no prior experience in front of the camera, I was very impressed with each of the members in my group – I was in the company of some very articulate ladies. Gwenan was fantastic too, she put us at ease and exuded an energy we could all feed off. Her ability to multi-task, having to take cues from the producer in the control room whilst still directing our interviews, amazed us all.  Reviewing our interviews, it was hard not to cringe when seeing our faces on the screen for the first time. We received some very informative feedback and came away armed with plenty of handy tips should we ever have the opportunity to be interviewed again.

A swift coffee break and it was then straight on into a ‘Business of the Business’ panel discussion - a chance to sit in with some stalwarts in BBC radio, TV and producing (not forgetting an STV representative) and discuss the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes in the media industry. Chaired by our lovely host, Hazel, we had a roundtable discussion. The importance of telling a story and the need for authenticity and passion were the big take-home messages. A networking lunch gave us yet another opportunity to approach industry professionals as well as to share our morning’s experiences with each other. 

Following lunch, and adhering to the tight schedule, we were shuttled off to the next session at the radio studio for a chance to record a 20-minute panel discussion on a pre-arranged topic. Hosting the radio interview was the very talented and smooth-voiced, Pennie Latin. As the first group of four went in for their turn, the rest of us gushed at how eloquently the others spoke and sat enraptured. Swapping over, we were then led into the recording studio to begin our group discussion on the challenges of scientific communication. I did not want the lively discussion to end, but we still had one more session to squeeze in.

Our final taster of the day was a piece to camera. We had each been asked to prepare a 30 to 40-second script that would give us some experience of talking directly to camera. TV performance coach, Francesca Kastelitz was wonderfully patient and gave each of us very effective feedback and suggestions to help enhance our performance. Upon reviewing our camera pieces as a group, I was truly impressed at the high calibre of professionalism each of my fellow delegates displayed.

It was an adrenaline-packed, energy-sapping day as we were thrust head-first into so many facets of the media. However, at the concluding drinks session the room was filled with a palpable buzz. Media industry experts mingled with the 24 women who had just been given the training opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you BBC, I am sure you have not seen the last of us ladies.

Joanne Heng is a Post-Doctoral Researcher studying parasites at Glasgow University and is a graduate of Expert Women's Day.

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