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June 8: Politics & Presenting

By Leaders Forum 2017 participant Serena Ioannucci

The expectation from our latest Leaders Forum program evening is to gain an understanding of the role of federal parliament and the etiquette and requirements expected of citizens when visiting. It’s also to consider and develop skills in public speaking, storytelling and advocacy. What actually unfolds could be simply summarised as so much more.

Our evening starts with a visit from Federal Member for Ballarat and Shadow Health and Medicare Minister Catherine King. As we prepare for our upcoming Canberra trip, she helps us with invaluable information on what to expect at Parliament House, how to interact and behave with politicians, and the role we play as representatives of our local community. Leadership at this level most definitely has its own challenges, for both the politicians in power and in opposition. It’s so insightful to hear an insider’s view, particularly that of a woman.

I am glad to discover I’m not the only person who needs a quick “How Parliament Works 101”. Thankfully, Ms King kindly obliges and ensures we all understood the three levels of government and, in particular, the roles and responsibilities of federal parliament.

As I sit and absorb all that Ms King so eloquently shares, I can’t help but fixate on my lack of knowledge about the workings of my government. I wonder if I can still be politically involved and responsible whilst not understanding the mechanisms at work? Is it enough to simply vote for our leaders and leave the bureaucracy to them?

Whilst pondering this idea, Bryce Ives, director of the Federation University Arts Academy and Gippsland Centre of Art and Design, bursts into the auditorium. He tells us we are all storytellers and we all have a valid and interesting story to tell. But Bryce forgets that he is witty, articulate and charismatic – I, on the other hand, am not. I’m about as interesting and enthralling as a discarded wad of kitchen paper. He has his work cut out for him.

We start by deconstructing Shakespeare, emphasising and pausing to create diverse outcomes. We call out, we whisper, we make ludicrous gestures, we stumble through Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Prologue. I can see where he’s heading, helping us develop the skills and approaches we will need for public speaking. But still I struggle.

Our next activity is to pitch ourselves for one minute to our fellow Leaders Forum participants. We’re given 15 minutes to create a piece, time I waste on fretting. Upon the first few minutes of the first brave soul baring all, I realise I have misunderstood the directive. Panic joins the party of emotions ravaging my stomach pit as I quickly try to fix the mess I have made of my piece. As each speaker stands tall, I somehow manage to sink lower into my seat, hoping that, by some act of God, no one will notice I’m there or that Bryce will announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately we have run out of time. Goodnight”.

But no such announcement is made. It boils down to the thick syrup of those who are terrified and find it so difficult to tell a personal story. We all rise as a group, safety in numbers. We walk an eternity down the steps to the front of the auditorium. Can I be this brave? What was it Bryce said? Plant both feet on the ground, use the words in the sentence to enhance my capacity to persuade and influence…

Why Bryce, you clever man, I do believe I just told a story.