By Cathy Tingle
I never planned to be a copyediting and proofreading trainer. I hate speaking in public. My voice is soft and I’m prone to saying ‘um’ and ‘er’ as I struggle to articulate my thoughts. When I get going, I trip over my words. I certainly don’t have what you would call the gift of the gab.
As part of my job, I’d run a couple of courses years ago, fuelled by youth and, I don’t know, luck. Since then, I’d been made redundant, moved city, had kids, and lost confidence the way you do when you’re at home all day interacting with small children and a screen.
So imagine my feelings when I received an email in August 2018 from Margaret Aherne suggesting I take over two of her copyediting courses.
If you’ve not been on one, Margaret’s courses are a treat. Her Publishing Scotland ‘Welcome to’ and ‘Further’ courses in copyediting and proofreading were exactly what I needed as I started out in editing in 2014. She was clearly an expert, vastly experienced, but hilarious with an endearing nerdy slant (keen on steam trains, bus shelters, that sort of thing). Her exercises were masterful – thought through and clever. I signed up for all her Edinburgh courses. Afterwards, we kept in touch by email, and I was secretly hoping she’d write a new course I could attend.
Taking up the mantle
But it wasn’t to be. Family and health stuff meant that Margaret couldn’t make the trip (always by her beloved train) from Bristol to Edinburgh any more. So, did I fancy taking on her Publishing Scotland copyediting courses? Denise Cowle would be running the proofreading ones.
Me? She must have confused me with someone else, or mistaken my shiny-eyed interest (I was a bit of a Margaret groupie) for training ability. But … what an opportunity. I replied with an update on my work and what training I’d run before, adding: ‘I do feel very green and inexperienced compared to you!’ It didn’t seem to put her off and we arranged a meeting.
In the meantime, I almost bottled it. One evening it became crystal clear. What I was I thinking? I could barely string a sentence together with my own family, let alone a set of delegates. I’d never manage Denise’s capable, clear and confident delivery (for I had checked her out on YouTube talking about semicolons). I’d email Margaret and tell her I couldn’t do it. And I did. She was incredibly understanding but gave me the night to think about it and the chance to confirm my decision in the morning.
In the morning, I felt … OK. Still a bit scared, but all right. So it was on again, and I met Margaret a few weeks later in Glasgow, where she talked me through the content of the course and assured me she’d give me advice and guidance whenever I needed it. I hugged her goodbye. It felt like I had been anointed.
And so began the long countdown (of around six months) to delivering my first day-long course. What did I do to prepare? Here are my tips for going from terrified to trainer.
- Familiarise yourself with the content. Nothing makes you confident like knowing your stuff. So I made sure I was completely au fait with everything in the course. I looked out for extra examples and other material that could augment the learning points. Becoming familiar with the content also involves anticipating questions. The course included a section on grammar and punctuation. What if the delegates asked hard questions at that point? Time to raise my game. When the opportunity arose, I volunteered to take over ‘A Finer Point’ in Editing Matters from Luke Finley.
- Read a book. Sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? But it will give you a chance to get your thoughts in order. It will also make you realise that your situation is far from unique. I read How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop, which contains case studies of well-known women speaking in public. The book told me: ‘You can’t get around fear. You can only go through it. And the way to go through it is to speak in public and get more used to it.’ Argh. Was there no other way?
- Talk to an experienced trainer. I went to see someone my sister knew who had decades of training experience. He gave me some great ideas for icebreakers and tips for dealing with questions. He also pointed out that nerves are a bit of vanity, aren’t they? The day’s not about you. Above all, though, he listened to my concerns, was encouraging, and told me the story of when he found himself dry heaving from nerves in the toilets of No 10 Downing Street before running a training session. So.
- Practise. Viv Groskop said it. The best way to feel better about the whole thing was to do it, or a version of it. So I put myself on the rota of people that give the welcome and notices at church, to get used to being confronted with expectant faces and hearing the sound of my own voice. The most useful experience was when I didn’t realise I was down for one Sunday, turned up as the service started and was told: ‘Thank goodness you’re here! We didn’t think you were coming!’ So I had to get a lightning brief and just go out there and do it. My slightly breathless delivery, some of it on the verge of giggles, was complimented. Coming across as human obviously worked.
- Make the takeaways good. I wasn’t kidding myself that the delegates would hold on to my every word, and I wanted to relieve a little of the pressure on my performance, so I made sure that there was an exhaustive resources list and prepared a ‘keep in touch’ sheet so I could email everyone with the presentation. This would also be useful as a vehicle for answering any questions that completely stumped me. I could say, ‘I can’t answer that now, but I’ll look it up and let you all know’.
And that was all I could do in the time I had. I was still nervous on the day. I always am. I’ve done three training courses now – two whole days and a half (with Denise running the other half) – but the more training I do, the more I enjoy it. After coming home from the first day-long course I had to have a lie down; the second time I went out in the evening. So it must be getting easier. Comments from the delegates have been positive. One made me laugh: ‘Cathy is nice and quite funny’. Only ‘quite’! Looks like I still have a way to go before I’m a Margaret.
Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member, based in Edinburgh. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction editing. She runs ‘Introduction to Copy-editing’ and the copyediting section of ‘Further Copy-editing and Proofreading’ for Publishing Scotland. Like Denise Cowle’s ‘Introduction to Proofreading’ course for Publishing Scotland, both courses attract three CIEP upgrade points and are offered at a discounted rate for CIEP members.
In March 2020, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) became the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).
Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.