Bigger and Better Things

After her sterling performance at #EUdebate2014, we asked Jenny de Nijs a little more about herself and how she handles being often the only woman, let alone young person, speaking on expert panels. Prepare yourselves for some very useful tips from this Brussels Young Woman to Watch who certainly gets our vote!

Jenny de Nijs, Senior Consultant, League of Young Voters
Jenny de Nijs, Senior Consultant, League of Young Voters

How did you develop the League of Young Voters?

“In summer 2011, I researched and wrote a study for the European Youth Forum on why young people keep abstaining from European elections in such high numbers. Rather than just doing desk research, I went out and contacted a broad range of organisations, spoke to political parties and youth wings and, in general, started getting the feeling that there was room for a European project related to elections and young people. I was happy to provide the Forum with a fully-fledged project proposal when they asked.

I’m not ashamed to say that I spoiled my ballot

I drew a lot from my own experience as a young voter. As a Luxembourger, it’s compulsory to vote and knowing that I was in Brussels at the time of our elections, I had arranged for a postal vote. When my ballot arrived, I tried for hours to find any information online about the candidates on my ballot, but to no avail. There I was, ready to inform myself of the candidates, their parties and positions, but there was no information for me to learn from. I didn’t want to vote for someone if I didn’t know what they were planning to do, so I’m not ashamed to say that I spoiled my ballot.

It dawned on me then that there just wasn’t enough accessible information available on the elections and the candidates. It seemed like the political parties and candidates didn’t really care about targeting me as a young person.

The mission of the League of Young Voters is to inform young people about the European elections and to push political parties to communicate with young people, proposing concrete solutions to them on issues that affect their daily lives.”

What was it like to moderate the Brussels #EUdebate2014 screening?

“It was a lot of fun! It helped that the presidential debate itself was very entertaining to watch and that the mood in the room was laid back and amused.

The moderation I have done before always involved MEPs, during which you always have to meticulously prepare your questions and be alert during the entire discussions of your panellists. With an event like this one, there is no need to prepare uber-detailed questions, you can just see how the discussions are going, feel the vibe of the audience and go from there.”

If I could give only give one piece of advice, it would be to realise that the mere fact that you have been asked to speak in public means that someone already thinks you can do it, therefore, you can!

Jenny de Nijs at #EUdebate2014 Brussels
Jenny de Nijs at #EUdebate2014 Brussels

Do you have some tips for speaking on panels or in public?

“I have plenty of tips that I seem to have amassed over the years. If I could give only give one piece of advice, it would be to realise that the mere fact that you have been asked to speak in public means that someone already thinks you can do it, therefore, you can!

1)   Check your facts. This may seem like a no brainer, but know what you’re talking about. The key to not feeling nervous and being confident when you speak in public is to know your topic inside out.

2)   Who are you talking to? At the same time, prepare your presentation/speech according to who the audience will be. Will it be a room full of academics who love to hear statistics? Is it a group of young people who are interested in the practical side of things or even want to hear your personal story related to the topic? Thinking about these things beforehand can help in preparing a presentation where the audience will be hanging on every word you say.

3)   Make eye contact. Whatever you do, please don’t read off a piece of paper with your prepared speech. This way, you will loose your audience in the space of 1 minute. Make eye contact with several people in the audience (not the same ones or it will seem creepy) and speak freely. To help you remember your speech, write down short bullet points on a piece of paper in case you have no power point presentation.

4)   Don’t overwhelm the audience. When you start speaking, prepare the audience with what you’re going to tell them. In my presentations/speeches I always tell the audience what I will be covering (first the history/statistics, then solutions, etc) and make clear to which point you’re moving on to when you are done talking about one thing. For this simple thing, I keep getting positive feedback time and time again.

Similarly, if you’re using a power point, don’t overload it with text. Use short bullet points, and try to use interesting visuals. You want the audience to listen to YOU and not to read the power point.

5)   Intonate: Again, this seems like a fairly simple tip, but make sure to speak clearly and in a good pace (not too fast, not toooo sloooowwwww).

6)   Be prepared for tough questions. Q&A panel discussions are often a tough gig for a panellist, as you never know what can be thrown at you. If, as in tip 2 you have mapped your audience, you can often gauge the types of questions that the audience may have. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something (you are only human), but do try to direct the audience member to a source which can give them the answer (statistical office of a certain country, etc).

7)   Be funny. And by this I don’t mean to crack one joke after the other, especially not when speaking about a serious issue. Don’t be afraid to make a sarcastic remark or make a funny joke during your presentation. This can help the audience in remembering something that you tried to explain (which may have been complicated) and not to forget, to remember you.

8)   Don’t be nervous. Nerves always impact your performance, blur your thoughts and will make the audience feel uncomfortable. Of course, nerves can often not be helped, but calm yourself down beforehand by telling yourself that you have been asked to speak for a reason (someone believes you can do it) and that YOU are an expert and deserve to be on that stage/panel. People want to hear what you have to say and essentially, you are just having a conversation, only with a large number of people. With practice, you’ll eventually no longer feel the nerves.”

The more you do successfully, the more it will lead to bigger and better things.

Jenny de Nijs, Euronews Election Night Coverage
Jenny de Nijs, Euronews Election Night Coverage

What is one tip you would give to young women who want to be noticed for their expertise?

Just be yourself and take every opportunity you can, even if it’s challenging. If you have a genuine passion for what you do, this will come across to the people that you meet along the way, be it your colleagues, your boss, meetings that you attend, etc. Most of all, be vocal about your opinions, with sound reasoning you will be respected for it, even if you disagree with the majority. Take all the opportunities that you can get, even if they start small (presentation to your colleagues about what you’re doing). The more you do successfully, the more it will lead to bigger and better things.

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