Talking for TEDx, Top Tips, and Transformational Journeys: A Q&A with Nicola Huelin

Nic Huelin

6th January 2020

At Animas we love catching up with our graduates and finding out about all of the great things they are up to. With this in mind, our in-house writer and reporter Sam Chambers sat down with life coach, business mentor, author and speaker Nicola Huelin to talk about moving from ‘speaker-phobe’ to talking for TEDx, her journey to becoming a coach, and her experience of training with Animas. Nicola also offers some tips for those that are looking to start a coaching business, or who want to tackle a fear of public speaking.

Sam: Hi Nicola, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. You’ve done all this amazing stuff. You’ve got a successful business, you are doing numerous public speaking events, and  you’ve written a book. But I want to take it back a bit so you can paint a bit of a picture around your journey. So, what is your background and how did you come to coaching, and as a result your Mpower business idea?

Nicola: My journey started off in the corporate world. I went to university, did a degree in Business Economics and went straight into a career. I was a bit of a blue-eyed corporate girl back then. That’s what I wanted to do. All my friends went off travelling, but not me. I was really boring and I had this job already lined up. But for me, that was super-exciting. I didn’t want to go Greek island hopping or whatever. I just wanted to hop into a job.

I loved my career and eventually reached the point where I’d moved into business consultancy. And at that point, my family had started, I had a daughter and it wasn’t until she was about five or six years old that I had this epiphany at work.

There was a six-month peak performance training program I went on, and that was very much about coaching. I think that was my first exposure to coaching, being selected for this six-month coaching program. I remember looking at the coach and trainer at the front of the classroom thinking, “Wow! What an amazing job to do something like that. Oh, I’d love to do something like that.” But this was a good fifteen years ago and I don’t think coaching was quite so prominent even in the corporate world back then as it is now.

I was blown away by the coaching experience on a very personal level because he told this story about the ribbon of life. And on the six-month program on the first weekend, the first day, the first story he told and, poof! It just hit me and I thought, “Right. I need to leave.”

S: You must have had a lot of different feelings about it at that moment. It’s a big leap to do that and I imagine it takes a lot of bravery and courage.

N: Yeah. I don’t know if it felt that courageous. My word is ‘terricited’, you know, half excited half terrified. But somehow I knew I just had to do it. Luckily, I had the support to be able to do that and it was really exciting to think, “Right. I am going to start my own business. Why not?”

S: So how did you come to coaching, and deciding to train with Animas?


N: Going into coaching and deciding to train with Animas was a bit of an unusual journey.

My marriage ended back in 2010 and I came back to the UK from France. Two kids, two suitcases and literally, for six months, I slept on the floor in my nan’s front room. I would roll a piece of foam out every night and I’d put it away in the morning and my kids were bunking down with their cousins and it was a really tough time. It was rebuilding from scratch.

And a couple of years afterwards, I found myself in a really difficult relationship – romantic relationship. And between us, there were four children and the kids weren’t in a great place. It’s hard for children to go through separations and divorce and then fusion families.

So there were three teenagers and a preteen. There were so many challenges and I remember working so hard with these kids to support them and help them feel empowered. I guess I’d started trying to coach them with the kind of informal coaching I’d been doing from my business consultancy days, before I’d encountered Animas. And we all know how difficult it is to coach friends and family, right?

I remember one day thinking, “Wow! This has been a real challenging time, this chapter I’ve been through with these four young people, these teenagers. There must be other parents like me who are struggling. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to help other parents so they don’t have such a tough time?” So I started to look into youth coaching.

And that is how I found Animas!

At the time Robert used to run a youth coaching program, and that was the original program that I signed up to with Animas in 2013.

Then once I started my Animas journey, which proved to be so life-changing, things just really evolved and moved at the rate of knots because finally, I was on this path I was meant to be on. I look back now over the last 15 years at the different online and offline business I’ve had, and I can see how everything was leading me to this. This final piece I needed was coaching to then be able to do what I do now and empower people.

S: So would you say that your time with Animas played a big part in this journey?


N: Oh, definitely. Not just because I love, love, love coaching and it’s a big part of what I do. Animas gave me the skill set and the qualification, which is a big part of the credibility that I think is going to become more and more important.

Being able to say that you qualified with a trainer like Animas where the training is ICF accredited is going to become really, really important. Animas has given me that, and so much more – because it’s about the people that you meet and the friendships that you make.

S: It really is. Whenever I meet Animas students or Graduates and we talk about Animas, they always come back to the community and the support and the people that you meet as the reasons that make it feel right and resonate with them, which is really great.


N: ABSOLUTELY. It’s like family. It’s like business family. And I’m an Animas oldie now, There are so many new faces every year, every month and although I qualified six years ago I still, when something exciting happens on my journey, like to do with the book, or to do with the speaking, the Animas Lounge is the first place I turn to and go “Hey, guess what? I want to share this news!” It really is like family.

I think coaching and Animas, in particular, attracts people from all different backgrounds. There’s a really lovely diversity within the community. What I see is lots of shared values which makes it a really, really great place to meet like-minded, like-hearted people.

It’s awesome!

S: Now let’s talk about your business. How did Mpower come to be?


N: The thing is, business is a journey, right? And no matter how clear our ideas are at a certain stage, the reality is our business, or our vision, or our brand or the way we go about things and ourselves will always be evolving.

When I started out, it was always about empowering mums – mums in business because I was clear that’s what excites me. I think it’s easy to do your Animas training and then feel like this newbie coach. I felt like, “Right. Well, I’m starting from scratch here.” But actually, it’s important just to take time to take stock of: life experience, your different strengths, and what else you can bring to the table.. And for me, it’s business and marketing strategy and business planning. Initially, it wasn’t the Mpower brand. It was a different brand, but it was still doing what I do.

It all just evolved from that. I was a couple of years in and I started to run mastermind groups. I’d been doing a lot of the one-to-one coaching work which I loved, and still do. I wanted to have an option that made business coaching, mentoring and support more accessible and affordable, particularly for mums who were bootstrapping and in that start-up mode.

S: Do you have any advice for anyone that is at that point where they’ve just qualified and they are thinking about starting a coaching business?

N: I hope that the business I have today and some of the things I do will help to inspire those who are just starting out about what’s possible. Thinking back to when I first graduated from Animas, you can have a vision, and you can have hopes, and you can set intentions but nobody really knows.

There are no cast-iron guarantees about how things are going to unfold. However – what I do know from my 15 years of being an entrepreneur – is that there are important ingredients/cornerstones/foundations to get in place in order to create that platform for success.

It’s exactly these 12 foundations, we now teach through our M.B.A (Mpower Business Accelerator) programme, helping mums in business ensure they have all the ingredients to skyrocket their dream business. Solid foundations make ALL the difference.

My advice is to just make sure you’ve taken the time to understand what foundations need to be in place, and whilst you’re getting those foundations in place measuring your progress with the right measures so you can enjoy the journey. It’s an exciting time when you’re setting up and beginning to get out there but it can also be really demoralising if you’re not understanding the bigger picture.

One of the 12 foundations is getting your marketing right. This is so often the piece I see other coaches struggling with. Marketing is such a lifelong passion for me, I think I assumed everyone else would enjoy this part too, and find their flow. There are so many people in the world that have a gift to give, in making a much-needed positive different in the world – coaches, healers, therapists, teachers, authors. And yet their gifts so often remain locked within them, because they struggle to get clients. I’m aiming to change this with my second book I’m currently working on, which shares an authentic, high-vibration solution to successful marketing for coaches and other 21st century lightworkers.

S: And so regarding the speaking, talk to me about being a ‘speaker-phobe’ and how you got to the point where you were being asked to do a TEDx Talk.

N: Well, again, I hope this helps inspire other people that perhaps have a message they want to share or they feel speaking could be a great part of their business or their marketing but are terrified. I can really relate.

I’d been a speaker-phobe my entire adult life.

My whole adult life I’d have these recurring nightmares — you know the ones where you wake up in the morning and you’ve still got all of that anxiety —  about how I’d agreed to speak on stage or take part in some theatrical performance and I didn’t know my lines or I was standing in front of this crowd thinking, “What am I supposed to say?” It was horrible. And the thought of public speaking would just make me feel sick, palpitations, sweating, diarrhoea, the works.

So I never ever, ever, ever would have thought I’d be doing speaking as part of my business at some point in my journey. However, I reached a point where I thought, “I’ve got a message here and I want to help and reach more people. What are the ways that I can do that?” One-to-one is great but there’s only a certain number of people that I can share this message. So I got to a point where I thought, “Right, my vision is getting bigger, I’m getting bolder. It’s not just about empowering mums in business, it’s about empowering 1 million mums in business.” I realised in order to achieve this I’d have to have more than one to one conversations. I needed bigger audiences, and speaking was the obvious choice.

S: And with this realisation, let me guess…you had a pang of anxiety rush through you?


N: I did. I did. And you know the speaking and the book, I had them in the back of my mind. So they were on my radar as things I wanted to do but I was scared. So I put it off. But again, the universe works in amazing ways. So I talk about being on a burning platform. You know, the things you want to be doing, the life you want to be living is this island off on the horizon. We’re in the middle of the ocean on this platform made of wood, and we’ve got this whole sea of things between where we are now and where we want to be.

And if we don’t take those steps towards what we really want and we just stay on our comfort platform, the universe has very clever ways of giving us nudges and they start as wafts of smoke. Wafts of smoke because that platform is not sustainable, it’s a burning platform. If we don’t go after the life we really want and we just try and stay small and safe it’s not sustainable. That platform is burning. With me and speaking I kept getting these ideas that bubbled up, “Ugh, I know I could do speaking.”

And initially you push it to the side. But the smoke gets stronger, the flames get bigger, and then life begins to send you the nudges, then slaps in the face until one day it will literally shove you off that platform if you don’t decide to take steps. And that’s what happened for me and it came in my personal life. So I had a really difficult chapter in my life. There was a very toxic relationship that I escaped.That was a really big catalyst in my life because I made a promise to myself that nobody and nothing was ever going to make me feel fear like that again. So I looked around, on a bit of a mission saying, “Right, okay, what am I scared of?

I was looking for the scary things. And of course, there was the speaking and there was the book. I was like, “This will be a walk in the park compared to what I’ve just done. Bring it on, let’s do it.” And so, that was when I decided, I’m just going to start taking the first step which for me was saying yes to any opportunity to speak publicly. The result of a training room coaching session with the wonderful Osman.

It was just about saying yes.

That thing of saying yes to any and every speaking opportunity no matter how small was pivotal. Yes, I’d set myself the big, hairy goal of one day doing a TED talk. But in the meantime, I just wanted to say yes to practice.

S: And so how did you go from talking to a small group of people to meeting that goal of speaking for TED?


N: Well, remember how I said really my “why” for speaking was about sharing my message to as many people as possible. And in my mind, the epitome of the talk that does that is TED. It’s ideas worth sharing. They are messages that are potentially life-changing for people that need to hear that message or idea. And TED is a global stage and their talks can go viral and have millions of viewers. It is massive. So right at the outset, one of the ways I believe in achieving big things is about future pacing, you know, project yourself into the future. What is the ultimate? What’s the summit of the mountain that, “Oh, my! If I could achieve that, that would be awesome.” What does the summit of your mountain look like? And allow yourself to have the courage to go there mentally and explore it and connect with it.

This is what I did, I set that intention of TED right at the very beginning without knowing how I’d get there. That didn’t matter. I just needed to put the destination in the sat nav and the route would kind of calculate as I went along, which is what happened.

S: That’s amazing. And you also spoke for Animas at one point didn’t you?


N: Yes, one of the biggest first groups was Animas and it was a big part of my speaker journey. Somebody believing in me to go along and do one of the Animas lectures. There were probably about ninety people there. And then at the Animas summit a few years back now, that was like 120 people in the room. That was a big leap in audience size and from the  stage. Since then I’ve worked with so many great people around speaking from Aly Harrold, Master of Voice Stewart Pearce right through to Animas’ own Robert Stephenson.

TED is just 18 minutes and it’s not as easy as it sounds. I can do talking engagements when I’ve got an hour or more and just speak from the heart and it’s amazing.

The real challenge when you have something like TED is you’ve got strictly 18 minutes. It’s so much harder, as I’m quite flowery with my language and I just talk and talk and talk.

You get one shot. You step onto that red TED circle, you have one shot. There are no retakes and if you go over eighteen minutes, they probably won’t accept the video. So you’d have done all of that for nothing to a degree apart from speaking to the audience live on the day. So that was a real challenge for me because scripted talks just go against the grain. But then I’m just there to share a message and it’s about learning to talk in a way that is going to do that message justice. It’s not about me as a speaker. I’m a conduit and I’m just here to share a message. So I’ve got to do it justice and do whatever it takes to do that.

S: When you found out that you’re going to be doing the TED talk, did any of those anxious feelings return?


N: Yeah, it was a big deal for me. There were over 120 speakers who were interested and only ten speaker slots for the TEDx Women in Drapanos, Crete.

You’re putting your heart and soul into your application because you really, really want it, but there were no guarantees. So when I found out I’d been selected for a slot by the panel of judges, it was a major celebration. And then you think, “Oh, right. I’ve got to do it now and it’s in three months’ time and I’ve got to get cracking.”

I’d been working towards it quite strategically, I’d done a program where it was about crafting an 18 minute talk and practicing it and being recorded – that was a really good experience. I had that under my belt already. And for three months leading up to the TED talk, I just worked my socks off and practiced and practiced and practiced. I mean you can ask my daughter, it got to the point where I’d ask her to listen to my talk and she would reply, “Oh, mum. I can’t listen to you anymore”.  And for me, that was key – putting in groundwork and practice.

On the day, there was a speaker sofa where you wait for your turn, so you’re sat at the side, you can’t see the audience because there’s so much lighting. It’s so bright. It’s just like this big black blackness in the audience. And I was fine. Watch the speaker, shuffle up the sofa, watch the speaker, shuffle up the sofa. And then it got to me.

“Hmm. Oh my God. In two minutes I’m going to be up there!” And my brain just went poof, I had this moment of panic.

And I could hear this little gremlin go, “What if you can’t do this? What if you just get up and nothing comes out?” And I walked up onto the stage and I stepped onto that circle. And I was fine because I opened my mouth and all of those hours of preparation were there, and practice took over in my brief moment of terror.

It’s a fleeting moment and you’re able to move through it because you’ve done the mindset and the prep work. You do know your stuff and you know you know your stuff. And so you can just move through that terror as opposed to staying stuck in it. I remember a couple of moments in that TED Talk where I was like, “I don’t know what I’m about to say” or “Oh shit! I don’t know what comes next”, but it’s just those fleeting moments and you move past them with the prep-work.

S: And so, for anyone that might have experienced the same things that you were talking about around speaking publicly, but have this big goal, what sort of advice would you give to those that are just starting their journey?


N: I think in the infamous words of Simon Sinek, “Start with Why.” Think about why you want to speak? Why is it important to you? It could be because it’s something you want to achieve for you personally. It could be a message you want to share with others. It could be about creating a new revenue stream and getting paid. I now do paid talks, so to get money for sharing the message I feel passionate about sharing is even more amazing.

When you’re connected to that why, that will keep you inspired to figure out the journey.

And then have the courage to go and find the way that’s right for you. There is no “cookie-cutter, do this, follow these steps because it works for me” approach. That whole approach does drive me a little bit nuts because it’s a journey and everybody’s different. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, different opportunities that will come up. So think about what’s the best approach for me? How do I want to get started? And if that means, “Actually I want to apply for a TEDx talk off the bat and I’m going to go and find a curator and get in my application.” Great. Go for that. If it’s, “I just want to have some fun with this and practice and take a bit of time to hone my message and develop some signature talks and work with different size audiences or maybe create my own event,” there’s no right or wrong way. But craft your own strategy I think is the next step, is what I’m saying.

And then my third bit of advice is, say yes. Say yes to opportunities even if you don’t feel you’re quite ready. Say yes because it’s actually in doing it that we learn and make progress. When I started my speaking, from the start of my speaker journey up until TED, I did not once refuse a speaking opportunity. I always said yes.

S: Thank you so much for your time Nicola, it’s been brilliant to talk with you. 

You can find out more about Nicola here.

Categories: Life as a coach  

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