On 20 Aug 2016, Lawyer Darren Tay beat nine other orators to take the top spot at the annual World Championship of Public Speaking in Washington, DC. Digital Senior is delighted to speak to National University’s Singapore (NUS) Alumnus Darren Tay, one year on after his historic win.
1) Tell us more about how things have been ever since your win in Washington DC last year.
I’ve gone from being a lawyer to a full time professional speaker. A full time professional global speaker. So, what does this mean?
It means that I now manage my business at a learning centre that I founded in 2009, called the Public Speaking Academy (PSA Pte Ltd.), but I’ve decided to do it full time to build and expand the business. We have a learning centre at SAFRA Tampines in Singapore and our main offerings would be public speaking, effective communications training to schools and corporate organisations, training students as well as working professionals.
As a global speaker, I get to travel to different countries to conduct seminars, be a keynote speaker, and share with others the skills and strategies of effective communications skills. From winning the public speaking championships till date, I’ve travelled to about 18 different countries, giving massive value to audiences worldwide.
2) Share with us more on what were the school activities you partook in while studying for Law in NUS.
What I did was manage my company, the PSA, which was founded in 2009. That was my CCA. I was involved in training my trainers, in content creation, as well as the designing of the syllabus. I also worked closely with my sales and marketing team to promote our various courses and, of course, conducted them personally.
For school activities, on top of managing my business and PSA on a part-time basis, I took part in mooting competitions, trial advocacy competitions, and negotiating competitions. I found these activities to be extremely exciting, thrilling and directly relevant to what I am doing. All these competitions saw me standing before a panel of judges to argue the case for my client. For trial advocacy, we conducted cross examinations and examinations in chief, and an international negotiation competition which I took part in 2014 saw me negotiating with my counterparties on certain hypotheticals.
I was in fact representing NUS and Singapore in 2014, when I went over to Pohang in South Korea for the international negotiation competition.
3) What sparked your interest in public speaking? Who introduced you to Toastmasters at Punggol Park Community Centre? How long did you train there before going for competitions?
I started my public speaking journey not with toastmasters, but as early as 14 years old. When I was 14 I was a very shy, reserved individual, but my English language teacher forced me to present in class in front of my classmates. She told me that if I did not present, I would fail my English language. I was required to present at that time and I remember that my first speech was a book review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
The night before I was very nervous and rehearsed 20 to 30 times. I told myself that I was not going to fail English Language just because of a 5 mins presentation. It was a given that no matter how well you did for your other subjects, failing the English Language would meant you failed the examinations automatically. That’s the Singapore Education system for you. Thus, I did my absolute best and from then on, I was given a lot of opportunities from my English language teacher who saw the potential in me to give the same book review in the school library and subsequently enrolling me in the school debate club.
Eventually, I had the honour to represent my school in debating competitions, and that kickstarted my public speaking journey.
The main impetus for me to join Toastmasters (Punggol Park Toastmasters Club), was not the reason of having a platform for me to present, but because I know that public speaking is a type of skill like cycling or swimming, where you can’t just learn from watching a video from YouTube or reading a book. We need to accumulate stage time and mileage to present.
I also took part in toastmaster activities because it offered the platform for me to network. That means, the ability to walk up to a stranger of a different background, and exchange pleasantries and to also build a deeper connection. And as we all know, your net worth is determined by your network. I was determined to improve my interpersonal communication skills, not just platform skills speaking on stage. And how long did I train there? I joined in February 2009 and I am a member till now. So, it has been about more than 8 years.
4) What was the motivation behind starting your very own Public Speaking Academy at the age of 20? Where did the passion for public speaking come from?
Slowly, I realised that, it is not just about being good in public speaking that mattered. I realised that the main essence, the true essence of public speaking is doing good through public speaking. I reiterate, it’s not just about being good in public speaking but it is about doing good through public speaking. And I realised that one of the best ways to do it is to bring together like minded individuals. Together we can make a difference, we can shape the contour of the public speaking culture in Singapore and we can provide our services in not just locally but beyond the shores of my country, globally, at the end of the day.
I started my PSA initially more for non-profit reasons, which meant we conducted courses pro-bono and provided training services to students and youth at risk free of charge, and emceeing services to charitable organisations. We also did some ad-hoc work through key note speeches and corporate organisations. Then I was also advised that because we have something very useful, something that corporate organisations are very willing to invest in, something that schools are very willing to invest in as well, so why not make it a business so that while we continue to do good, we can, at the same time, make it viable, to support our staff, our employees, and make it capable of generating sufficient profit to expand the business and help those who are in need.
Therefore, we made it a point to build our business, bringing together like-minded people, and scale it by going online as well. That was the motivation behind starting PSA.
When I first started at age 20, I was not sure of a lot of things. I had to go through a lot of meetups, I had to learn it the hard way and eventually we managed to trial and error and build up a base. I also realised one of the best way to scale it faster, to see exponential growth, was to get great mentors. Therefore, what I did was, when I graduated from my bachelors of law, I went on to do one more year of masters and I got a mentor to help scale up my business much more and I got that extra one year while I was studying, doing my masters in NUS Law school as well to build my business even more.
The passion really came from me wanting to do good through public speaking, and I do not see it as mutually exclusive between just doing pro bono work vis-a-vis or for profit. For sharing skills, expertise and strategies from us, it did not mean that just because we are doing a business for profit we were not doing good as well. Even for profit we can still do good by sharing with people skills that cannot be outscored, that cannot be replaced by machines, in moving forward in this century and the next.
5) Why did you decide to study law? Was there any significant event that led you to do law?
I would say debate was the primary catalyst for me. Debate made me excited about the intellectual discourse, the intellectual exchange, the ability to think fast on your feet, have the essential critical thinking skills that were necessary to solve problems and to engender solutions. So, it was debate that got me inspired to read law.
The other reason why I was inspired to study law was because I realised that law is a wonderful discipline, and versatile enough even for me not to venture into the legal profession, for me to pursue my other passion, whether if its building a business or as an in-house counsel advisor, or whether it’s working in other sectors that are not necessarily law related, the legal skills that I have learnt can be put to great use. For me presently, managing my business full time, I am my own legal counsel. I am able to draft my contracts and deal with other matters like negotiation knowing exactly what the position of the law is. My company also has employment arrangements with our part time and full-time staff, and all these require me to have a strong understanding of the law. So, I was motivated by the fact that law itself is a discipline that is very versatile and a very professional degree. Debate was the primary catalyst that sparked my interest in law and sparked my passion.
I also took part in some pro bono activities like legal clinics when I was in my second year of junior college at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) where HCI had this attachment programme that allowed students to follow some lawyers to learn from their experience. From the legal clinic, I got to see how law could be used to help individuals and how it can be used to make the lives much better through conflict resolution and through means to improve the existing system.
6) What advice do you have for young undergraduates looking to hone their public speaking skills?
I have three pieces of advice. Firstly, when it comes to public speaking, there’s no easy way out. Public speaking is not like learning how to play a sport, where you can just learn it by watching a video on YouTube or by reading a book. You really need to accumulate the stage mileage and stage time. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of “accumulating the stage time”, as what my world champion colleague Darren Lacroix, who won the title in 2001, said.
While accumulating stage time is crucial, what many trainers don’t share with students nowadays is that you need more than that. While accumulating stage time, invest in a good mentor and invest in a good system, so that you are able to make tweaks along the way, you are able to have someone else to evaluate your performance and give us some advice or tips to help us improve and evolve our skills along the way. That is crucial. Now, I believe more in making such public speaking knowledge as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, so I’ve created my own website at www.darrentay.com which enable people to download the my learning tips, my articles and other materials for free.
At my Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/darrentaywcps, people get to see the videos that I watched to improve my public speaking skills, people get to read the articles that I read as well, and on my YouTube channel I post a lot of free resources and videos for people to have free access to.
Secondly, in honing your public speaking skills, what is important is to invest in a good camera. If you do not have a video camera, you can make use of the in-built camera in your smart phones. This is because you should try and strive to video record every single one of your presentations and then evaluate it because what gets recorded get rewarded, which is a beautiful phrase by 1999 world champion of public speaking Craig Valentine. “What gets recorded, gets rewarded”.
It is important for us to get it recorded so that we can evaluate and look back again, instead of just relying on say, a third-party evaluation, it is important for us to have self-evaluation of our performance.
The last advice is that many a times, it’s a mindset issue. The mindset of “oh, I need to first get rid of the butterflies in the stomach” or “I need to first not feel anxious because if I feel anxious it will not be a great performance”. The thing is this: every time I go on stage to present, I get nervous and anxious. The trick is not to get rid of the butterflies in the stomach but to make them fly in formation. It is not about getting rid of anxiety, it is about changing your relationship with anxiety and there are several ways to do it. One of which is through mindfulness practice, the other one is through visualisation and the final one is through power posing.
One last bonus advice I have for young undergraduates is that when it comes to public speaking, it’s not so much of body language skills, or fillers, or the structure per se, but rather the skill and the ability to tell a story and make a point.
There’s a famous phrase that goes like this, “Facts tell, stories sell”.
In order for people to remember your facts and message, we need to be able to spin a powerful story so that it sticks in the audience’s minds. But what most trainers don’t tell you is this: not all stories are created equal. Your story can only sell if you tell it well. And there are several strategies and there are several steps in my storytelling blueprint, to help you tell your story much better.
For more information, please visit www.darrentay.com and I wish everyone all the very best for your public speaking endeavours! I would like all my juniors in NUS to know that I am here to help, not just on being good in public speaking but also about doing good through public speaking!
More about Darren Tay:
Students can connect with Darren Tay on Facebook, instagram, website and Youtube
Instagram: Darren Tay Wen Jie
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9p45TPjaGftTP04s26mAdA