Davina Whitnall and her great big ‘Confidence Roadshow’

Confidence is one of those slippery concepts, isn’t it? Everyone’s looking for it, but no-one can put their finger on what it is…

Coloured spirals on head outlineThe number of times coachees present with an issue they relate to ‘confidence’ is phenomenal, especially given that it can be well-nigh impossible to pin down exactly what ‘confidence’ really means to them. It’s like a wet bar of soap – smelling lovely when it’s firmly held in our hands, but unsettlingly prone to slithering right out of our grasp…

The other day I had the good fortune to participate in Davina Whitnall’s ’60 Minute Confidence Roadshow’ along with what seemed like dozens of university-based Professional Support Staff (PSS). What an exhilarating experience! Having specialised in researcher development in Higher Education, Davina now runs her own consultancy and is a Fellow of The Higher Education Academy. She’s more than well placed to offer insights into tools that can help anyone (not just researchers) define aims regarding the kinds of confidence they need to acquire, and put practical plans in place which can take them towards generating the confidence they seek.

In a previous post I shared my impressions of Hugh Kearns’s work on ‘Impostor Syndrome’ and writer procrastination in academia. You won’t be surprised to be told, then, that researchers and academics are also plagued by a deep-seated lack of confidence. Hugh’s tips and techniques can be used by anyone in any profession who needs to write. And Davina’s are similarly useful to anyone and everyone that needs a systematic approach to identifying and growing their confidence.

The approach

Davina’s approach is simple but profound. Knowing that everyone these days is time-poor, she’s devised ways of delivering learning with impact, based around small, easily digestible ‘bite-size’ training sessions. Delegates are taken through a carefully-crafted set of activities which challenge underlying limiting beliefs, whilst simultaneously encouraging the production of achievable outputs. Learning is relevant, timely, and can be applied immediately.

Top three things I took away

1. A lot can be achieved in a short time     We always think we need to allocate vast expanses of time to thinking about goals, purpose, plans and the future. That’s why we usually don’t get around to doing it.

words - idea, plan, actionConsider this. Davina’s session lasted exactly 1 hour. And in that hour we covered all the material listed below. Yes, in that short window of opportunity she helped us understand and make informed decisions about all these matters – allowing 1 minute (yes, 1 whole minute!) for us to ponder each point once she’d explained what we were going to do and the theory behind it.

I have to say I would not have believed how much genuinely insightful, useful thinking could be done in 1 minute. But now I’m a firm believer that setting aside even that smidgen of time to think in a focused, concentrated way about a targeted issue is more than enough to move one well and truly forward. Give it a try!

Here’s Davina’s menu:

  • Identifying Our Confidence Target     What confidence means to us, leading to the identifying and setting of our confidence goals.
  • Identifying Competence     The crucial difference between lack of confidence related to competence issues, and the gut feeling of lack of confidence related to psychological/emotional issues – leading to deciding what exactly we need to achieve in terms of competency in our own confidence journey.
  • Awareness of Training Approach     Identifying our own particular point of access on a spectrum of training/learning (The Training Triangle). The key distinction to make is between Supported and Self-Directed Learning. The spectrum ranges from 1:1 support, workshops and formal teaching, to talking to/shadowing others, online learning and self-initiated projects. Making informed, relevant choices here is crucial. It can mean the difference between achieving our aims or failing.
  • Consider Opportunity to ‘Do It’     Are there circumstances in which we can learn by ‘doing’? Only by rolling our sleeves up and getting stuck in can we really push ourselves through to our stretch zone.
  • Developing GOAL strategies     Planning our way forward by Generating ideas; considering Options and Opportunities; factoring in the cause of our own particular Atychiphobia (ways we are paralysed by ‘Fear of Failure’); charting our own Learning Curve (each pathway to proficiency being different)

2. The value of bite-size learning in peer-support groups     Why bite-size learning? And why encourage delegates to partner with other participants during and after the session?

Acting on research findings which show that bite-size is the optimum size for learning, Davina has designed her offering carefully to capitalise on the effectiveness of providing relevant, timely and immediately-applicable learning opportunities which reinforce and augment each other as the hour goes on.

stylised figures in a groupThe researchers for whom she originally delivered such sessions are a notoriously time-poor bunch who very often work in isolation. Davina therefore built in the encouragement of peer-support networks among participants, alongside ‘buddy pairings’ of individuals. These individuals undertake to meet up periodically to report back to each other on how they are progressing with their own confidence journey. Peer support works for any group of people, increasing an individual’s sense of commitment to pursuing goals in tandem with encouraging others in persevering with theirs.

The programme is so simple yet powerful that bite-size learning, combined with active peer support relationships, can produce an astonishingly effective means of personal and professional development – made all the more powerful for being self-generated and self-sustained.

3. Confidence training is particularly effective in the support and retention of female staff     Evidence suggests that men are generally more confident than women. The well-worn narrative goes that if men study a job advert, they home in on what they think they can do, whereas women home in on what they think they can’t. Davina’s experience in researcher development has convinced her that specific, effectively-delivered confidence training, not only increases women’s sense of well-being and self-belief, but also in the longer term increases the likelihood that they will stick with and progress in their careers. This enhances their ability to make more informed, positive career choices. That’s a win-win situation as far as women themselves and their employers are concerned, and one which anyone interested in advancing the equality of representation agenda higher up in organisations can only welcome.

So let’s all get behind Davina Whitnall and her ’60 Minute Confidence Roadshow’. For sound underpinning theory and effectiveness, there’s very little that can beat it!


If you’d like to know more about Davina’s work, take a look at what her company offers and the books that she’s written.

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