If you are 0.001% of the human population, you absolutely love public speaking.
For the rest of us humans, we tolerate it ONLY if necessary.
‘Use what you’ve got.’
But for those of us who want to go places and for those who are ready and willing to stand out, we must embrace it. There are many ways to come about this “embracing” phenomenon, and, the best way, to put it bluntly, is to ‘use what you’ve got.‘
I came to drillships with absolutely no offshore drilling experience. None. On my first day, I had to get in front of a group of drillers, mechanics, engineers, mariners, electricians and speak to them about how to work safely. I didn’t know a drill bit from a riser joint. I mean, I thought an iron roughneck was what you experienced after a bad night’s rest. What I did have, however, was some professional performing experience. So, with some humor in my heart, I will share with you now, how I went from Disney to drillships.
From a Performer with Disney On Ice
Prior to starting work in the energy business, I used to perform as a professional ice skater. In my debut performance, I had to slide down a plastic ramp with ice skates in a big crab costume.
Let’s just say, it didn’t go well at first.
I hit a toe pick right at the end of the ramp and went head first down the ice during the performance. Embracing the disaster, I acted like the whole thing was planned and pretended to tread water, reverse snow angel-style.
Did I mention I was the only one on the ice at the time?!
I knew in that moment that this would not be my last face-plant, so I better make the best of it. For the next four years, I performed all around the world in front of thousands of people. I loved it.
However, after a severe shoulder injury, I made the decision to go back to school.
Four years later, I found myself in the Gulf of Mexico on a drillship. Not only was I one of five girls on the ship, but I was also the new “safety” person. And my first order of business (you guessed it) was to get in front of the night crew – their cumulative offshore experience, probably 100 years – and talk about “safe” drillship stuff. Hah! Not surprisingly, my first night, second night – okay the first week – I figuratively face-planted.
Over that week, I looked out into the crowd and I could tell this was one of the most dreaded, if not the most dreaded, time for the crew. It was the mandatory meeting they had to attend.
I felt horrible.
‘Switch it up Disney Style’
This was a waste of their time and mine. So, I decided to switch it up, switch it up Disney style. I wrote a song, I got background music. And sang to them about the safety topic of the day. I was laughing inside when I saw their faces that night, pure shock.
Instead of giving them what they anticipated, I delivered the unexpected. Loving this reaction, as it was light years from the night before, I kept it up. Every night, I would prepare something even more out of the box then the night before. I played old skating videos and related it to safety. The next night, we played safety charades. We had paper plane making competitions that I related to the importance of following procedures. I continued to come up with strange, unforgettable safety analogies.
‘Soon I felt comfortable to discuss serious industry incidents and relate them to our work on the ship.’
The key was twofold. One; I stuck to what I knew but slowly started incorporating what the crew was teaching me on my nightly escapades. Two; every time, before I spoke, I practiced my speech like a routine. I would hide in a room and practice. I practiced a lot. Soon I felt comfortable to discuss serious industry incidents and relate them to our work on the ship.
“What is this safety girl going to do next?”
If I felt I needed support, I would prepare outgoing crew members and would call on them during the meetings to answer questions or to explain things that needed expanding. I knew I was making waves. When I started getting requests for topics to cover or creative ways to explain the next safety topic. What was once a boring safety meeting, turned into, “what is this safety girl going to do next” meeting… which was an improvement! A big improvement.
Use Your Strengths and Resources
I used my Disney experiences to work for me, in front of my audience. Although you may not have my background, you must use your strengths and your resources to reach your audience. Don’t worry about falling face first, right out of the gates. Recognize it, practice and embrace you. Because that is the secret! If you play to your strengths, you will quickly discover the “embracing” phenomenon.
Elyse Knudsen, a Montana native, graduated from Montana Tech with a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health. She has worked as a safety advisor on an offshore installation in Angola, Africa. At its height, the installation had over 1500 people (Elyse was one of 6 women) from 16 different countries. Prior to her work experience in Angola, Elyse worked Deepwater Exploration in the Gulf of Mexico on a drillship and on land for gas production assets in Pittsburgh, PA. Before her career in energy, she was a professional figure skater, performing on cruise ships. Elyse is honored and excited to contribute to Women Offshore to promote women’s contributions in the field!