All about public speaking with Speech Academy Asia's Mr Kelvin Tan

(This exclusive interview first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 18 August 2014.)

Speaking well can open many doors of opportunity in both school and working society , however not everyone is born articulate and confident. This is something co-founder of Speech Academy Asia Mr Kelvin Tan clearly recognizes, thus his jumping on the bandwagon of offering public speaking courses for students and adults in the corporate world. Till date, he has personally coached clients from schools including Temasek Junior College (TJC) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, as well as government organizations and corporate entities including Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), People's Association (PA), Defence Science And Technology Agency (DSTA) and Nestle. We managed to get in touch with him after his recent army reservist duties, and spend a few moments learning more about this niche area of specialized training.

QN: Good day to you Kelvin, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to us. How long has Speech Academy Asia been up and running, and what exactly motivated you to start this public speaking training outfit?

ANS: Thank you readers and the team behind The Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts. I am more than delighted to share about my company, Speech Academy Asia. We started operations last year with the aim to help people with their career advancements, establish happier meaningful relationships, help children excel in school, and become effective leaders. My introverted partner, the co-founder of Speech Academy Asia, was severely lacking in communication skills in his younger days and he has since transformed completely into a sought-after Public Speaking Specialist now. We both know the detrimental effects of not being able to present oneself well, thus we set up Speech Academy Asia to help everyone overcome such an inability.

QN: What did you worked as prior to Speech Academy? What important lessons/skill-sets relevant to Speech Academy's genesis did you acquire from past job experiences?

ANS: My career began in the financial sector and then I swapped industries to head up the sales team in the MICE Division of Singapore Press Holdings. I have always used my communication and presentation skills to the optimum to achieve success in whatever I do. Also, my involvement in professional acting and singing also helped set up the foundation of Speech Academy Asia.

QN: You have come quite some way in building a reputation for yourself in the public speaking training circuit, as evidenced from the numerous high profile clients which you have coached and are presently coaching. Still, every illustrious organization has its humble beginnings, so how were things going for Speech Academy at the very start? Could you expand on some of the pertinent issues/challenges faced in spreading awareness about your course offerings, and how you overcame them?

ANS: We were very fortunate to have developed our own curriculum, which is based on the "Patterns of Linguistical Analytics (P.O.L.A)" and how we worked it out to be suitable for both children and adults. The initial challenge was on developing the curriculum, however as we were very focused in what we do, add to the fact such a niche market does has its needs, so all in all these made marketing for our course offerings relatively easy. Most signups are word-of-mouth recommendations (parents referring our courses to other parents) as a consequence of the quality results/positive changes they saw in their own children after attending our courses.

QN: There will always be disbelievers who are confident that attaining good qualifications from school and being competent in their field of work will more than likely secure adequate material success for them in life. To them, public speaking would seem more as a fad than a skill-set. How would you persuade them otherwise?

ANS: Attaining good qualifications is definitely important,however today we live in a very competitive environment where good grades are no longer uncommon. The ability to speak well is a life-long skill which is not only beneficial for material success, but would also greatly complement one's pursuit for good qualifications in their education as we can see the increased importance placed on oral skills in our current education system. One question I always like to ask people who consider public speaking a fad than a skill, is how do they then explain why public speaking started as early as the Middle Ages Era, which is a period between the 5th and 15th centuries and had lasted till today and will most likely do so into the future. How is this possibly a fad? Moreover, we all know that great leaders, politicians have made or broekn their entire career on a single successful or unsuccessful speech. Now that is how important public speaking is.

QN: We see toastmasters clubs springing up in community centres, universities and even the YMCA these days. Why would anyone choose to join Speech Academy Asia if they could sign up elsewhere for cheaper fees, or even free?

ANS: We do see our own curriculum as unique offerings in this market which can help many easily acquire the necessary skills in public speaking. We believe the process of developing a proper public speaking course is in itself an extremely tedious and delicately creative undertaking which we take great pride in. Till date, we have successfully helped many appreciate and learn that public speaking is not too tough a skill set to comprehend and master. This is apparent in the testimonials given by our students and participants.

QN: Our interpretation of a good public speaker is one who is linguistically talented, a strong improviser, and effortlessly charming. Perhaps our notion is a tad romanticized, so could you kindly paint us a more accurate, realistic picture? Also, what would you say is the single biggest misconception about the art of public speaking?

ANS: To most people out there, there exists a common belief that the ability to speak well publicly is probably innate and depends a lot on your personal character and ability to endear oneself to an audience. What we share here at Speech Academy Asia is that everyone is capable of speaking well publicly. Speaking is after all the basis and foundation of presenting oneself as a unique person, thus there is absolutely no reason why anyone cannot excel in this department .

QN: People often wonder, how important is possessing a good command of the spoken English language as far as doing well in public speaking is concerned? Will someone with a limited range of vocabulary and less than desirable enunciation techniques be placed at a severe disadvantage?

ANS: A good command of English is as important as the ability to speak out in a public occasion. However we always emphasize to our participants that we do not need Queen's English to be able to deliver a successful speech. What is most important is the heart-felt message that will capture the audience's attention. We once hosted a popular property magnate who managed to captivate his 500 audience the whole duration of his 1 hour presentation with imperfect English in almost every sentence. What mattered most was the heart-felt content of his speech and how it related purposefully to his audience.

QN: Stage fright is probably another genuine worry for many who are not used to speaking to an audience. How do you go about nurturing the individual to conquer this? Have you encountered instances of learners who just cannot shake off that phobia of facing a crowd for a prolonged period despite your best efforts to reprogram their confidence? What happened in the end?

ANS: In our curriculum, we address this specific issue through various techniques one can implement to overcome it, and one such technique is by incorporating Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Almost all of our students suffer the difficulty of shaking off their public speaking phobia. We see our students' lives transformed quite a bit during every fresh lesson conducted. Some students take a shorter period to conquer this fear while others a little longer, so perhaps more lessons might be needed. Learning new techniques to overcome crowd phobia is the preeminent part of our course and in actual practice, everyone will most certainly be able to come through and be amazed with their newfound abilities.

QN: Which success stories produced (under your meticulous guidance) are you proudest of? Could you tell us more?

ANS: I had a participant who came to me at a point when he was unable to continue working in his department but still able to carry on doing so in the organization because the boss of the company is a family friend. He was at that moment an operations executive. His last resort in the esteemed organization was to get himself into the sale department which he had neither prior experience in nor related to his field of studies. He is a good looking guy (so looks and grooming is also critical in achieving corporate success. On a side note, we have a "Social Attraction" Conference and Workshop coming up in December which explores this area of psychology in depth, do look out for it!), however he was also largely an introvert and did not believe in speaking up much especially when his good looks already allowed him to successfully attract the girl he liked during his University days. He was at that moment demoralized as it is not only about losing the job in that organization, but also the loss of pride in facing his family member who is close to the boss of the company. He told me that he had to make it in that company no matter what. I personally trained him for 2 months, one lesson of about 2-3 hours each week. Honed his presentation skills, sales skill-sets and worked on cultivating both his confidence and motivation. The training was completed sometime in the middle of last year, so it's been a year since. He is currently the top sales representative earning the highest commission in the same esteemed organization and was promoted in record time, which was 6 months. Usually well established organizations would take 1 to 2 years of consistent monitoring before deciding to promote a good member of staff. Mind you, he was elevated to a higher position in a fraction of that time needed.

QN: You coach both students and working adults. Are methods of instruction different for the two groups? Could you elaborate in greater detail the separate teaching pedagogies used?

ANS: Adults and Children learn differently and at times similarly as well. Most of the time, it is harder to train adults in terms of overcoming fear because of the many years of built-up beliefs that they have grown to possess and also their convenient blaming of the ever-green quote that "Public Speaking is more fearful than death!" We have to dig deep into their system of beliefs and unravel the core basis for their fear prematurely closing the loop for them. During specific occasions, adults also do learn like children (ie child-like learning so to speak), where we incorporate fun and interactive activities to ensure our participants learn by happily practicing the techniques taught to them.

QN: Participants attend public speaking training probably hoping to achieve various personal/organizational goals, might that be the main reason behind you developing a series of different courses to cater to such a spectrum of varying needs? Which ones are most popular in terms of take-up rates?

ANS: Speaking is the root and foundation of organizational success and we expound on this depending on the individual organization's needs. We usually customized our curriculum for individual companies. Some courses that we provide include:

- Presentation Skills

- Public Speaking for top Management

- How to Optimize Your Employees Performance

- Sales Workshop (*Our Popular one is the "I Am King of Sales" Workshop*)

QN: On your website, you mentioned that participants who complete a full 1 year course will be awarded certificates from Speech Academy Asia. You also went on to explain that such certification will be useful for Direct School Admission and future job interviews. Are they officially recognized by specific institutions in Singapore?

ANS: We have been approached by recognized associations to tie in our courses with them. As an essential life-skill provider, we serve as an official reference as we gradually establish ourselves to become a credible training institution endorsed by a wide variety of public institutions and organizations.

QN: Every rightfully ambitious enterprise will always be eager to expand its scale and scope of operations, can we say the same about Speech Academy Asia? What do you have planned for the company in the foreseeable next few years?

ANS: We are actively building up/ training our resource pools and hope to actively expand into other parts of Asia which we do see as a very substantial market. The ability to implement our curriculum in different languages is something that we actively working on.

QN: Before we wrap up this interview proper, any final words for our readers?

ANS: Speaking is "THE LIFESKILL" that everyone has in him/her; you just need to discover yourself.

It's been terrific conversing with you Kelvin; we would like to take this opportunity to wish you every success in future endeavors, and may Speech Academy grow from strength to strength! :)