A conversation with… Amanda Vickers, Speak First CEO

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22 July 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Amanda Vickers

Amanda Vickers has been Speak First’s CEO since 2003, using her experience in training, coaching and management development to transform it from a very small company into a global business. Before this, she worked at senior management level in the banking sector. Amanda brings energy, compassion and challenge to everything she does, and has helped a vast amount of people increase their confidence and achieve satisfying results.

She kindly took time out of her busy schedule to discuss why Speak First is so important, the charity work of the Speak First Foundation and the future of the company.


To start with, how would you describe what Speak First does, and how does your role as CEO fit in to that?

For me, our vision says it all: “We believe great learning reaches far beyond the training room and results in people having lives worth living.”

My role is very much about creating the right strategy, vision, direction and culture in the organisation, which I see as really important in helping evolve the business. In the earlier days, I was actively involved in pretty much every aspect of the business – from checking invoices to designing, delivering and selling training. But now I have a fantastic team who manage all of that brilliantly, which means I can spend most of my time working on how to make the business grow and become even better and more effective for our clients.


What do you think makes Speak First’s work so important?

When I was younger, I didn’t have as much confidence as I have now, so I had to learn the hard way how to fulfil what I wanted in life. I see what we do as giving people a helping hand in that process. When someone goes on one of our courses – for example, when they learn how to present or communicate with impact – they aren’t just going to use those new skills in the workplace, they are going to use them in all parts of their life. So, Speak First is about helping people to live in a more fulfilled way.

This really ties in with our values, particularly “We care.” We care about each person who attends one of our courses, about the organisations we work with and the success we bring them. We care about our staff and our trainers and we care about people who don’t have the chance to have that sort of start in life. That’s where the Speak First Foundation comes in.


Since you brought up the Speak First Foundation, could you tell us a little more about it and how it got started?

Throughout my career, I’ve often worked with people who had a privileged start in life, and I was very aware that there are lots of people who don’t have the same advantages. I always wanted to do something for those people, and Speak First finally gave me that opportunity. By making our business successful, we can share some of that around and help disadvantaged children around the world.

A great example is the Cape Town Flats project, where kids live in a very difficult situation and are marginalised. Often, just having access to schools is really hard. This is why it’s so rewarding to see the difference we make, and the smiles on their faces, when we can change their situation. We get them support and people who care about them, help with reading and writing, and even a referee and coach to help them learn to play soccer.


You have led Speak First for 16 years. Since the company is all about learning and personal growth, what would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt?

There are many things that I’ve learnt from running the business. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and how not to take myself quite as seriously as I might have done in my youth. Also, to trust other people to do a good job, even if their way isn’t the way I would do it.

But more than anything else, I’ve seen the amazing power that people have over their own lives. Speak First’s trainers are catalysts that help them to change, to grow, to become more confident and more skilled, and I can’t think of anything more satisfying than seeing that transformation in people.


And is that also what you’re most proud of achieving?

It is that, but there’s two things. Firstly, it’s the difference we’ve made to people and the businesses and companies they work for. There are many stories I could tell that would be great examples of that, and I suspect that there are many examples of people who changed and grew as part of our training that I never hear about.

But I’m also incredibly proud of the Foundation. In both ways we’re about doing something really positive in the world and helping people to grow and improve their lives.

And if I’m allowed a third one, I’m really proud of my team. I think they epitomise the values we have about caring and about making a difference.


Your late husband, Steve Bavister, worked as a trainer, course designer, author and, for a time, ran the organisation collaboratively with you. How is Speak First carrying on his legacy?

He was an inspirational, articulate, immensely creative and knowledgeable person, who contributed hugely to Speak First. He said that he learnt a lot from every participant who came on our courses, and they all contributed to the books and courses he wrote. We still use his materials to design many of our courses, so we all still learn from him and he’s still helping to make a difference in people’s lives. Some of our trainers said receiving a briefing on a course they were about to run from him was like being on a masterclass.

Another way he lives on is through his ideas and his approach to the way we design content. It was very important for him to have high standards of quality, and that whole way of thinking and working continues through the team he helped develop.


And finally, what do you think is the future of Speak First?

The future is preparing for even more growth. We have grown 24% year-on-year for the last 8 years, and the big thing for me is to make sure we can continue that progress. As we grow, we want to make sure we’re efficient and that everything works in a really great way for all our clients.

We’re exploring and devising ways to step into the future and create new ways of learning for people. The world is changing so fast, so developing the right strategy is really important. For example, everyone has heard of digitisation, and we’re creating some really innovative ways to help people learn long into the future.

We hope you enjoyed learning about Amanda Vickers, the driving force behind Speak First. Check back regularly, we have more conversations with other members of our team coming up soon.