Establishing Your Authority When You Don’t Fit The Norm With Cormac Walsh

by | Jun 22, 2023 | Podcasts

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing Authority

 

Audiences always value a genuine speaker. But what if you doubt your power? What you think you have to change yourself in order to try to fit in? When you do that, you’re giving your power away instead of getting your true voice heard. In this episode, Cormac Walsh, an executive coach specializing in communication training and public speaking, teaches us the art of establishing authority when you don’t fit the norm. As a gay man struggling to thrive in a heteronormative world, Cormac had to overcome self-censorship so he could speak up as his true self. Join this conversation and learn things like: how you can level up your presentation skills when you are an introvert, how self-censorship keeps you from being an effective speaker, and how stepping into your own power and owning your voice can be a transformative experience. Tune in!

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Establishing Your Authority When You Don’t Fit The Norm With Cormac Walsh

This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on topics such as presentation skills, leadership, and communication. Before I get into my wonderful guest, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are by taking our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results that you need and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is Cormac Walsh. He’s an Irishman who lives in Barcelona and has been known as a public speaker who happens to be gay. We’re doing this for Pride Month. He is also a teacher who teaches skills to young people so that they learn how to do public speaking early on before they build up all the adult objections that we all have.

As an executive coach based in Barcelona, Cormac specializes in communication training, public speaking, English pronunciation skills for non-native presenters, and professional development. For over fifteen years, he has trained thousands of people in the corporate world and top business schools on how to improve and hone all aspects of their communications skills. Cormac is also the Deputy Director of Anne Sullivan International School, a private school close to Barcelona. He’s also a TEDx speaker and trainer, an entrepreneur, and a former National Director of Toastmasters in Spain.

As the co-founder of Educate to Communicate, Cormac believes that communication skills can radically change the lives of all of us and that younger people begin learning these skills early. He has lived, worked, taught, and trained in Ireland, the US, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Spain. We had a delightful conversation. It didn’t go anywhere that I expected it to go, but it was fun. I know you’ll have fun with the interview. Here comes Cormac Walsh.

Cormac Walsh, welcome to Speakers Who Get Results.

Thank you very much, Elizabeth. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I’m glad to have you. We met through a friend. I’m talking to you in Barcelona. I’m in Austria as we record this. Isn’t it cool that with modern technology, we can do this? I love it.

It’s fantastic.

Before I get into the questions I have for you and about you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who would normally be out of reach, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?

This might end up being a bit of a stereotype, but she’s somebody that I have loved for my entire life. It comes down to her personality, but a lot of it comes down to her work, what she’s done, and the support she’s given to the gay community. I watch her now from afar and she’s done so much for the environment. If I could interview anybody, my dream interview would be Bette Midler.

Bette Midler, the actress and singer.

She has an incredible personality. Outside of her talent as a singer and as a performer, how she connects with people, and when you listen to her story about how she came through the ranks and how she got to the top of her field, she’s been such an ally for the LGBT community. When I read about her recent work where she’s in New York and she’s doing a lot for the green spaces in the city, she was an incredibly intelligent woman. She’d be a lot of fun to be around. If I had to choose anyone, I would choose her. She’s an inspiration.

What would you ask her?

One of the things that I love about her is that she has consistently broken the mold. She didn’t get herself in a box as a singer. She’s an incredible actress. She’s not just a comedian. She has also done serious acting. She has gone out and she has been an activist. Just to ask her what drives her forward would be wonderful. You don’t have to be from the LGBT community, but for a lot of us in life, it’s very easy to get stuck, to get into a rut, and to have an idea to do something but not find the time or the space or the drive to do it.

I would be fascinated to know what drives her forward because she seems to be such an unstoppable force of nature. I also know that she’s human. She had bad days where she still has to get herself out of bed and do what she has committed to do. How does she do that? I think that would be an inspiring lesson for all of us.

That would be wonderful. Having spent 30 years doing that, I know that so many performers are out, loud, and fun when they’re on stage or in front of the camera, and then they’re introverts when they go home.

I can absolutely identify with that because when I’m on a stage giving speeches or I’m being an MC, I feel that I can lock into a part of myself that I can project, and that the audience is going to respond very well to. Offstage, I’m absolutely an introvert. I control situations much better when I know what’s expected of me. If I’m going into a busy room or I have to work a room, I can do that very easily. If that comes as a surprise, it’s a much harder gear shift to be able to do that.

Thank you for saying that. I have the same thing and my wife loves to be spontaneous. I’m like, “I hadn’t planned for this.”

I must hear where your wife’s from. My husband is Venezuelan. The Venezuelans are wonderful people, but you can sometimes come home and find fifteen people you weren’t expecting in the kitchen. There are times when I’m opening the door and I hear voices. It’s just that initial twenty seconds when you’re thinking to yourself, “I wanted to be on my own with you.” You then go in and it’s fine, but that element of surprise is very hard.

We’ve had that conversation, where he would find it very hard to get up on a stage, work the room, and get the audience involved in what’s happening. He says, “How can you do that and not be instantly ready to just join the fun whenever something is surprising for you?” It’s a challenge. People oftentimes don’t believe you’re an introvert when they see you on stage and they see you do it.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience where you’re coming off the stage and you’re trying to find the nearest fastest exit, hoping a taxi is there to take you away from it. When I come off stage and I’ve been MC-ing, the conversations post MC-ing where people are coming up to you, congratulating you, and trying to understand how the event went for you, I often find those more difficult than the MC-ing itself.

I call that being a situational extrovert.

That’s a great term.

If you think of it, I’m an introvert to recharge. There is a part of me that if I were not married to an extrovert, thank God for my wife who kicks me out of my rut, I could very easily be a hermit living in some little apartment somewhere with a couple of cats and a whole lot of books. I would probably be perfectly happy. I’d be probably totally boring to the rest of the world.

That sounds very much like my dream life. We obviously struck a chord with each other. When you’re a situational extrovert, is it like me that you’re able to lock into something that you know is going to work for people? I can very clearly now pre-stage know the dynamic, fun, and extrovert Cormac. I can find him and I can use him very quickly. It took me a while maybe to get that skill, but now I can tend to play it very quickly. It’s almost like pressing a button.

In some ways, it may connect to having been an actor since I was five years old. I liked the applause. Significance is one of the basic human needs and it matters to me, but it’s in a container. Maybe that’s for people like Bette Midler. Maybe she is like that offstage. I don’t know. It’s in a container and it’s a safe container because you’ve practiced it. You know what to expect. There’s a structure to it. I like that sort of thing. I also recognize there are people who get bored to tears if they don’t have variety in their lives. Learning about character and personality types was a huge revelation to me.

Significance is one of the basic human needs. Share on X

Also, in terms of how you present yourself, I was studying personality types called The Character Code, which a colleague of mine invented. One of the other people in the class is a total extrovert. She and I were talking about it one day. She said, “It’s such a relief to realize that the quiet introvert types,” or the scholars is what Brandy Mychals called it, “the scholarly types are never going to be my clients. I don’t have to try to win them over because I’m going to retract the ones who want change and bubbles.”

There was a colleague who she and I at one point said, “Maybe what we should do is have a pact that I’m a little bit more deliberate. I like to think. I like to take my time. I know that I make better decisions if I can think about them overnight.” Cindy is the kind of person who wants disruptors and she wants things to be new. We had an unofficial pact for a while that I would send her the potential clients who were bored by me, and she would send me the ones that were scared by her.

That sounds like a great deal for everybody involved, that idea of a container. One of the things when I’m MC-ing is, first of all, you’re the one that’s in control. You’re the one that’s running the ship. I like to give myself the extra challenge because I get a buzz out of it. If Elizabeth is speaking, during your speech, I want to be taking live notes that I can then use afterward to thank you for your speech and what you’ve said.

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing Authority

Establishing Authority: You’re the one who’s in control. You’re the one that who’s running the ship.

 

Also, the pressure of doing that. Obviously, a speaker like you would’ve put weeks and potentially months into your speech. To be able to give a summary that encapsulates what you’ve done, is respectful to what you’ve done, and that I can do at the moment as you’re speaking, I get a huge kick out of that. I feel like I’m experimenting and challenging myself at the same time. If you’re MC-ing and you’ve done it for one speaker, now you’ve set the bar that you’re going to have to do the same thing for the ten speakers that are there. When I do it well, it’s one of the things that I absolutely love about MC-ing.

That’s incredibly valuable to the speakers too because most of us are so focused on, “I have to give this speech. I’m going to say this and stuff I say.” To recognize what people pick up on, I may be in presentation mode, but I’m not totally connected to the earth. I have to build in places where I ask people questions. Make myself slow down and ask questions. Otherwise, the adrenaline will have me running on. Knowing that the MC is taking notes is helpful. Thank you. I appreciate it.

That’s one of my favorite things about doing it. There is a pressure to it, I enjoy that pressure. There’s a control to it. As you said, it’s like you’re giving something back to the speaker because as you know, you’re there as the MC. I see the speakers go back to the audience. They normally sit down and they almost become like water. They’ve gone a little bit jelly because it’s all over. To be able to directly say to them, “What I loved about your speech was this,” and quote a line or two back to them, you can see how much they enjoy that.

That comes back to the conversation that we’ve touched on as well about being an introvert. Growing up, I often think that introverts are incredible public speakers because they have this inbuilt ability that they developed during their childhood to be constantly scanning, reading the room, and seeing what’s going on.

When I do training for public speakers, that’s one of the questions I ask them, “What is the most important skill in public speaking?” I then let them give me their answers. It’s the preparation, structure, voice, etc. For me, it’s when you’re up there, you have your content, and you’re delivering it as you’ve practiced it. There still has to be a part of your brain that is constantly scanning that audience and reading because it is a conversation. They may not be speaking back to you, but they’re giving you signs of whether they’re lost, confused, bored, or enjoying it. If you can read that as it’s happening, you’re getting a huge amount of information about whether your speech is working or not.

I have worked with extroverts who found that a very difficult skill to learn. They’re out there. They’re enjoying it. It’s in the moment. It’s going great. You then work with introverts who have a much harder time getting up there, but that skill of reading the room and knowing what’s happening comes to them much easier.

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing Authority

Establishing Authority: The skill of reading the room and knowing what’s happening comes to introverts much easier.

 

Let me make one point for our audience that I had to learn the hard way. If somebody is listening to you and frowning, it might not be that they’re having a bad time. It might be that they’re concentrating. That one took me a long time to learn. I would focus on the person who was frowning and do my best to win them back. All the voices in my head would say, “Shannon hates this part.” I would lose track of the rest of the room because I was focused on the person who was frowning until somebody said it to me. They said, “Are you mad at me?” I said, “What? No. Why?” They said, “Because you’re sitting over there scowling.” I said, “No. I was just thinking.” It took me a long time to learn that one.

I’ve had a similar situation teaching people. If people in the audience happen to be whispering to each other, you can take that they’re not interested, but it could be that they’re trying to confirm with each other what you’ve said. It could be that you’ve struck a chord and they’re saying to each other, “That’s absolutely right.”

It’s being able to see the nuance between that and not just see a frown as a scowl, but maybe a concentration. Not see a conversation as a sign that they’re bored and they’ve gone somewhere else, but it could be that they’re verifying your content and enjoying you. Reading that room at that kind of level is an incredible skill. I have seen people be excellent at content and delivery, but 3, 4, or 5 minutes into the speech, they’re the only person in the room that hasn’t figured out that the speech isn’t working. That’s because they’re not reading the room.

Rule number one is to know your audience and make it about them.

Rule number one in speaking is “Know your audience.” Make it about them. Share on X

Rule number two should be to know your audience as you are giving your speech. You’ve prepared that speech you’ve done, but there could be something about the day and it could be a variety of things that aren’t working. It’s frightening and scary to go off the piece, but there’s always the opportunity to get it back and bring them back in with you. The worst thing you can do is not notice it.

The second worst thing you can do is notice it but ignore it. If there’s something going on in the room, you’re the person up there. You’re the person in control. You are the person that’s going to have to bring it back onto your territory. I’ve had conversations with people where they’re telling me, “I have enough to be doing. Now you’ve come at me with all of this body language, voice project, and stuff. Now you’re telling me that on top of that, I have to be some sort of a RoboCop scanning the room.

It is frightening, scary, and hard, but it’s a skill. Public speaking in general is a skill. It’s not a talent. You break it down into its component elements. One of the things I always do, I’m sure you do the same with anybody else. Anybody I’m training is very quick strength-weakness analysis. If you’re somebody that is strong in these areas and weaker in these areas, then let’s start focusing on the things where you need that extra bit of support. We can get you to the point where you’re comfortable with being up there. Also, I have to say that I have worked with a lot of adults. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with teenagers, and they get that sense of skill much faster.

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing Authority

Establishing Authority: If you’re strong in some areas and weaker in other areas, start focusing on the things where you need an extra bit of support.

 

The teenagers do.

They do because they don’t tend to have that preconceived notion that “This is a gift that I’m born with and that I happen to have. Unlucky me.” You tell them, “If you can drive, use technology, start to cook, or do any of those things, that’s the same concept as you’ve been able to speak in public.” They’re not coming with those preconceived notions. Also, a lot of adults have been in the room with people who naturally speak well, who take the opportunity, and who happen to be extroverts. Little by little, we allow those people to move forward and move upwards in the organizations. The teenagers are much quicker to say, “If you’re telling me this is a skill, how do we break it down? How do I act this?” They jump on it much quicker and they make remarkable progress.

A lot of the work I do is with people who are presenting within an organization where you do presentations all the time. You do presentations in meetings. The same principles apply, whether you’re on a stage or you’re making a presentation to your team or upper management. This is why I call it presentation skills and not public speaking skills. Although, if you’re trying to move up in the organization and establish yourself as a thought leader, you do have to be speaking outside the organization.

That’s absolutely true. Even inside the organization, I do work every autumn with IESE Business School. We train MBA students to speak in public and do presentation skills. We work in small groups of 9 to 10 people. One of the first exercises I always do with them that is to give somebody the opportunity to volunteer to speak on behalf of the group. Those are working groups that stay together for two years. Someone will always volunteer, but a lot of other people would immediately look at the table and hope you’re not going to pick them.

Once that person has volunteered and done it, that’s when I tell everybody else in the room saying, “You understand that if I was a CEO or the boss, the fact that Elizabeth put her hand up, stood up, did it, and did a pretty okay job, the next time I’m in a rush, I’m going to come in and go, “Elizabeth, I need you tomorrow for such and such.” The rest of you are going to be sitting here going, “Why Elizabeth? How come it’s always Elizabeth? Why was she chosen?”

There’s a huge element of giving your power away. The other thing is the person who is initially comfortable, who then gets continued practice inevitably gets better. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the people who hung back and didn’t take that step then see people get promoted and get wonderful opportunities that they could equally have had. The barrier was there in the beginning.

This is another thing that I’d like to talk about. It’s how you make yourself visible and show your value. Since you are presenting all the time in an organization, as a manager, it’s incumbent on you to call on the people who aren’t introverts. As you and I were saying, we like the structure and the plan, maybe you give the introvert a little warning and say, “I’d like you to speak next time. We haven’t heard from Cormac today.” Otherwise, it builds on itself. The extroverts will wind up taking all the oxygen in the room if you let them.

The extroverts as well, let’s be clear about that, but it is true that they can take over and not always do a wonderful job. The very fact that you’re up there and you’re doing it is great, but that’s not necessarily to say that you’re going to be doing it well. It took me a while through the business school and through working with introverts to try to get that conversation in a way that they would respond to very quickly. You can do it in lots of different ways and talk about, “Cormac, I see you’re quite shy.” In some ways, you’re reinforcing the image they have of themselves. It came to me one day and it has worked for me very well since.

You have your own power. You have your own voice and you’re not taking this opportunity, which is scary and frightening. You can make a big list of reasons why you don’t do it, but you’re giving your power away. Once people see it like that and think, “That’s very true” coupled with, “It’s a skill. I’m your manager, and I’m going to help you learn it,” it’s a completely different conversation. It does happen all the time when people come in and say, “That’s enough. I’m sick of you hiding behind. You’re up next week. Go for it.” That’s horrifying to many introverts.

You have your own power. You have your own voice. If you’re not taking the opportunity to make yourself visible, you're giving your power away. Share on X

I also see this in the school, and then with the team. A lot of life is how you frame things to somebody. A kid happens to get a C on an exam. Is that kid a C-kid and is he only ever going to be a C-kid and goes on to be C-adult? Can you sit down and say, “You got a C today maybe for lots of different reasons. Maybe you didn’t sleep right. Maybe you were stressed. Maybe something happened. Maybe you didn’t study the right part, but that’s for today. Let’s see what you’re going to get tomorrow or next week.” That’s a different way of framing. That’s very important whether you’re talking to a child, a teenager, or an adult.

I want to circle back later to the work that you’re doing with the school and the teenagers. Let me go to the first question I was meant to ask you. The title of this episode is Establishing Your Power When You Don’t Fit the Norm. We are recording this for Pride Month in 2023. There are lots of ways where you don’t fit the norm. Even one company I was talking to said, “Our diversity is that we have 2 women for every 100 men,” but they’d never heard of diversity including people of color. That was not in their universe at all. The women didn’t fit the norm. No one in the universe was thinking about also people of color and other diverse connections that we discuss. Let’s talk a little bit about your experience as a gay man learning how to claim your authority.

My experience as a gay man is probably like a lot of gay people. Most people around me were much more aware of me being gay than I was certainly as a teenager. I spoke about this in my TEDx speech. I was at an all-boys school. It’s a grammar school. It was a very competitive place. Very quickly when you entered, you were separated into the academics, and the sporty, and everybody else can go home. I was fortunate that I was on the academic track.

Once I got to the end of my schooling, it was my final year at school. I was chosen as the student representative for the school. The head boy is what it was called. I was first among the students. The sports team happened to win a very important football match. I was asked to speak in front of them and say a few words to welcome them home. I walked out in front of almost 1,000 people. This was an 800-boy school plus staff.

What country were you in at this point?

This is Northern Ireland during the troubles, which was a very conservative and very closed down place. I came out to give this speech. I was studying Irish at the time. I wasn’t sporty. I knew nothing about football. I’ve suddenly been put into this position where I was told, “Out you go. There are 1,000 people waiting for you.” I have zero preparation. I didn’t have public speaking training. Nothing. I thought at the time, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if I could say something in Irish?”

Irish is what we call Gaelic?

Irish is Gaelic. Some in your audience might not understand me when I say it. I began my speech by saying, “Níl ach cúpla focal le rá agam,” which in English means, “I only have a few words to say,” but obviously the word “focal” in Irish sounds like a word in English. A thousand people began to laugh in my face. The entire school laughed in my face. I started to get catcalls. I had something written out on a piece of paper that I put down, trying not to cry in front of the audience because I thought this is going to make it worse. I got my way through the lines I had. I pretty much turned around and ran back into the school.

My history teacher ran away from the audience, looped around to meet me, and gave me this massive hug, which in Northern Ireland back in the day in a Catholic school didn’t happen. He said, “Congratulations, son. You’ve given the hardest speech you’ll ever have to give.” It stayed with me. For weeks after, anytime I appeared in the corridor of the school, I got these catcalls. I got words thrown at me from the speech, and it stayed with me. I thought, “When the time comes, I would love to be able to learn how to do that properly, and then try to give that back.”

This is a long way of answering your question. I don’t know if there are many speakers in the world that can say, “I had 1,000 people directly laugh, shout, and whistle in my face.” I felt I had zero authority as a gay man. I then went through university and went through different facets of life. I fell into the path that we all try to fall into of adapting to the heteronormative world and being a version of what you think you should be.

The heteronormative is being what the world thinks a straight man should be.

To maybe make an easy example for your audience, Obama is an incredible public speaker. If I try to directly become a carbon copy of what Obama does, then I am and will always be a copy of Obama. If I can look at him and understand what he does and how he connects with the audience, and try to take that skillset and make it my own, then I become somebody who has been inspired by one of the best. I learned from one of the best, but I’ve become my own person. It’s a long way of saying that establishing your authority is difficult, frightening, and not easy to do. It’s you becoming yourself and having the audience adapt to you, and not you adapt to them. That’s what it comes down to for me.

Establishing your authority is not easy to do. It’s about becoming yourself and having the audience adapt to you instead of you adapting to the audience. Share on X

What if you don’t look like the norm? You’re a White man. You look like the guy in power. What if your outside looks different?

For me, it’s the same thing in a way because as a White middle-aged man who happens to be gay, you can argue you’re closer maybe to the power center than a lot of people might be. That’s absolutely true. If you look different and then you’re trying not to look different, in some way, you’re trying to dress like your audience, act like your audience, and reduce aspects of yourself so that you’re becoming more accepted by your audience. Ultimately, it is a false trap because they may accept you for that part of the speech. What people lock into and accept in the end are people that are genuinely themselves.

Getting up there, looking different, sounding different, being different, having a different background, having a different message. All of those things make you exposed. They make you vulnerable. When I do work with people on presentation skills and public speaking, people have lots of fear, “What happens if I blank? What happens if I forget? What happens if the speech goes wrong?” The base fear is, “What happens if people judge me negatively.”

If you get trapped in that fear, then you’re carrying this enormous emotional baggage before you even get up on the stage. There are so many ways that you can be judged negatively. If you’re falling into this trap that you have to do these certain things to fit in, then the fact that you could be judged negatively gets exponentially bigger, much bigger than if you just go up there as yourself. It’s a very difficult thing to do. I get that. I’m not making it sound like that’s easy.

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing Authority

Establishing Authority: If you fall into the trap of thinking you have to do certain things to fit in, then the fact that you could be judged negatively just gets exponentially bigger than if you just go up there as yourself.

 

Not that long ago, I was the MC at a TEDx event. One of the speakers is Diego Bach. He was incredible. He was an IESE student who spoke. He spoke about his entire life bit by bit closing down aspects of himself. He’s also a gay man. I identified hugely with what he was saying. You’re closing down little by little the facets of yourself because you think that’s going to help you fit in. Diego was a good twenty years or more younger than I am, but we both came to the same conclusion. At a certain point, you start to realize that that’s too high a price to pay for a result where you’re accepted or maybe not accepted, but you’re never fully accepted as yourself. That’s a shame.

It’s fantastic that he learned that lesson much younger in life than I did. It’s a lesson that I try now to bring and drive home with the teenagers. The more you try to become somebody else, and the more facets of yourself that you choose to shut down to try to fit in, at a certain point, the sacrifice isn’t worth it. It starts to have a deep emotional toll on you as a person and you suffer from it. What are the benefits?

Tell us a little bit more about 4Voices, your organization.

As you can understand based on the story I told you, I was 17 going on 18 when that tragedy of speech happened. It stuck with me. When you look at any public speaking or any education system throughout the world, I have to say, we always held the Americans as being incredible. At least to us, the show and tell, you seem to have opportunities where people could come out and speak, and gain a bit of confidence. When I went through my school, it was very much a debate school. That was your opportunity to speak in public.

Debating as opposed to standing up alone.

Debating about a specific topic where there’s a yes, there’s a no, and it’s a skillset, but it’s not the same skillset as speaking in public. When I came here to Spain, even that culture of debate is very underdeveloped here in the Spanish school system. I had this recurring idea buzzing around the back of my head. I would love to have a public speaking competition. I’d love to have it in English, not because English is better than Spanish, but because whether people like it or not, English is the global passport to go wherever you want to. I’m not looking for kids that can give me a speech in perfect English, but I’m looking for kids that can use that as a way to inspire themselves to further learning, and then open their horizons wherever they want to go.

I was very fortunate in that contact that I’d had previously. Her name is Carrie Frias. She’s a journalist. She worked extensively with the BBC. She found me on LinkedIn. We had been to an event almost years ago. She saw that I put an update about the school I’m currently in. She contacted me to say, “Congratulations on your school.” We got back in touch. I told her about this idea that I had and she loved it. We put together a working team with three other ladies. In 2023 in Barcelona, we celebrated our second edition of the contest. I am now actively working to bring that contest back to Belfast because this is a very important year for us in Northern Ireland. This is the 25th anniversary of the peace process.

Hopefully, within what remains of 2023, I’d like to do a contest in Northern Ireland with the general question of, “Where do we go from here?” and have twelve young people. Going back to what we talked about before about diversity, from the different backgrounds that exist inside Northern Ireland, where do you think we should go from there? I’m actively working on that at the moment.

That sounds awesome. That sounds amazing.

I’m excited about that one.

I follow you on LinkedIn, so I hope I will hear updates about that. Cormac, I’ve looked at my list and you’ve been talking about overcoming self-doubt and how destructive self-censorship is. Public speaking while gay is like public speaking while anything else. You stand up there, you show who you are, you talk about what you have to talk about, and it shouldn’t matter who you love or what color your skin is, or any of that.

A good leveller for me was the understanding that because for any of us, as you said, anybody on the list that you’ve described or your normal, regular, heterosexual White person, any of us stepping out from the crowd and going up there on your own vulnerable and exposed, it’s a real leveller for everybody. Everybody gets nervous. Everybody has a bad time up there. Everybody can spend sleepless nights wondering about what impression they’re going to give.

When you know that. You can argue back and forth that they may have a natural advantage, the audience may be more receptive, and there is the ability to connect on a heteronormative level. Absolutely, but they’re still up there on their own. They’re still up there nervous. They’re still up there trying to give a great impression of themselves. Most importantly, they’re being themselves.

This is a big lesson for LGBT people. If they’re able to have the same range of emotions of nervousness and speak and be themselves, the only difference for us is that we are ourselves too. We don’t chip away, try to fit in, and try to force ourselves into a square box when you’re a circle, because that’s the only thing that’s different. You know this through your experience as a performer, director, presenter, and public speaker. The one thing that any audience will always prize above anything else is a genuine speaker. Someone that they can think, “That person is being themselves.” I may not agree with them. I may not even like them. They may be a threat to me, but I can see that they’re being themselves. That’s always the biggest connector between the audience and the speaker.

Don't chip try to force yourself into a square box if you're a circle. The one thing that any audience will always prize about above anything else is a genuine speaker. Share on X

That’s a great line to finish on. Cormac Walsh, thank you very much for joining us on Speakers Who Get Results. Getting to know you in order to do this show has been truly a delight. Thank you. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell your friends, subscribe to us, and leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts. That’s the one that the bots check. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. I’ll see you on the next one.

Cormac Walsh, welcome back to Speakers Who Get Results. We’re going to do a very short little recording here because of the conversation we had after we stopped the official recording. It was so good. I said, “I have to turn the recording back on.” We were talking about being funny, and how it feels like when you see people and you think they were born funny, but it’s not the case. Tell us what you learned from watching your father.

First of all, I live in Barcelona and when I go back, this becomes more evident to me every time. Irish people don’t have conversations. It’s a storytelling competition. I used to watch my father as a young boy. He’s such an extrovert. He has an incredible way with people. I also realized very early that there was a strategy involved. Going back to me being very introverted and struggling to fit in as a kid, I was actively looking for strategies. It’s very hard sometimes to be the quiet introverted son of somebody who is so extrovert and so gregarious. At one stage, I might have been maybe 7 or 8, I thought, “I have to figure this out.”

I watched him and I would see him going into a conversation with Elizabeth whom we just bumped into. He would make it as much as possible about Elizabeth and her stories telling very little about himself. I could see him build up to it. I thought, “He’s looking to leave the conversation now.” Before he did, he always managed to either tell a joke, tell a funny story, or say something funny back to Elizabeth. As soon as he got that reaction or as soon as there was a laugh, that was it. The conversation was over and he was gone.

Every time I talk to people about my father, it’s like, “Your father is hilarious. He’s so much fun. He’s such a wonderful man. He’s great.” He is all of those things. He’s also not just a naturally gifted comic, he has an incredible strategic comic timing. I think the most important thing with any comic is he knows when he’s got the biggest laugh he’s going to get and he knows he’s not going to top it and he’s out. I’ve copied that.

That goes to knowing when to stop. That is an art and a skill.

He does it even more incredible. I have copied him, but I don’t think I’m ever going to get as good as him. It’s not even that he knows when to stop. He has set the situation that he’s already decided before he gets there that he’s going to stop then, and then he’s out. You can see the incredible working of a conversation. He’s a man with a million stories. He can tell you a million stories about anything.

What I’ve also seen my dad do, I’ve learned to do, and I tell this advice to people is to collect stories. A good story, you can use in different ways. I’ve seen stories come out where I think, “I know where he is going to go at this. This is how he’s going to end the conversation.” Suddenly, there’s a twist. I’m lucky to thinking, “I’ve heard you tell that story for 30 years, but because you now have a new person in front of you with a different focus, you’ve twisted it.” As you said, he stopped it and he’s gone.

I learned a huge amount from him about doing that. That’s something that I then have translated into my work inside a classroom and my work as an MC. That ability to smell out the opportunity and to be able to have something ready, I had to put in the work. It comes naturally to him, but it’s a good thing for anybody that’s tuning in to this conversation. You can learn so much from people that you see doing something well and you can then assimilate that and make it your own without trying to be a carbon copy of what they’re doing.

I would also like to point out that if you were 7 or 8 when you started noticing this, he had a whole lifetime at this point. At some point, he developed the ability to tell stories. Of course, if you’re Irish or in the American South, it’s all about telling stories. At some point, he learned how to tell stories. There was a time when he couldn’t. I know a lot of people think, “They’re natural. They were born funny.” Not always, but often, they did it because it was a way to get attention. It was a way to be accepted, or maybe it was a way to survive. If you’re funny, people don’t hit you basically.

All of that is very true. It is also true inside the Irish culture, I presume maybe the American South too. There’s a huge premium put on somebody who is able to be a conversationalist and tell good stories. There’s also a very high social cache that comes with that. The more that people see you in that light, the better you get it.

It’s very similar to the path of somebody who gets to speak, continues to speak, and gets better at it. When you’re the person that people will turn to for a story or give us a laugh or tell us this, and you can instantly do it, then you get better at it. You can do it without thinking about it. People are going, “That’s your daddy. He’s this and he’s that. He’s so funny.” A huge sense of pride comes from you and obviously, pressure because you’re going, “I can’t live up to that, but I’m very proud to be his son.

Thank you. We will be posting this as an extra little bit of advice on the value of practicing to be able to tell your stories. Cormac Walsh, thank you so very much for coming back for this extra bit of Speakers Who Get Results.

 

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About Cormac Walsh

SWGR Cormac Walsh | Establishing AuthorityAs an executive coach based in Barcelona, Cormac specialises in communication training, public speaking, English pronunciation skills for non-native presenters and professional development. For over 15 years, he has trained thousands of people in the corporate world and top business schools on how to improve and hone all aspects of their communications skills.
Cormac is also the Deputy Director of Anne Sullivan International School, a private school close to Barcelona, a TEDx speaker and trainer, an entrepreneur and a former National Director of Toastmasters in Spain. As the co-founder of Educate to Communicate, Cormac believes that communication skills can radically change lives and that the younger people begin learning those skills the better! He has lived, worked, taught and trained in Ireland, the US, the UK, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Spain