Helping others to stand up and speak
RUSH man, Dermot Goode is an expert in the world of health insurance and regularly appears on radio and television to talk about the subject, sounding authoritative and confident but beneath that self-assured exterior lies a man who was left 'paralysed' with a fear of public speaking by a traumatic incident in his school days that would take more than a decade to get over.
Today, as well as dispensing advice on health insurance to the masses, Dermot tries to pass on what he has learned about conquering the fear of public speaking to others in courses he runs in concert with Santry company, Harvest, aimed at those who look for the exit door when they are asked to speak in front of an audience.
The course is based on a programme that Dermot devised himself called SUAS – Stand Up and Speak. SUAS emerged out research over more than ten years, while Dermot was searching for a solution to his own fear of public speaking – a period he now refers to as 'rehab'.
Dermot told the Fingal Independent: 'I had lots of issues when it came to public speaking and it took me a long time to get over it. One of the problems I found when I was trying to get over my difficulties is I couldn't find the right type of course. There were loads of courses that taught you how to give a killer presentation but that wasn't it for me. I needed to know how to overcome the fear and the nerves.
'I went on loads of courses and spent a lot of money and the guys giving the courses were good guys but none of them had been in the toilet with nerves. They never actually felt the pain, if that makes sense.
'I wanted to know what do I do when I get in front of that crowd and I just go blank, and they just couldn't tell me because they had never actually been there.'
The Rush resident added: 'In 2002 when I was working in BUPA, I designed a programme called SUAS which stands for Stand Up And Speak. There was no programme at the time aimed at the guy that was crippled with fear and couldn't even get onto the first rung of the ladder when it came to public speaking.
'What I wanted to do was design a programme with that in mind. I wanted to design something low-cost, that was accessible and that could be done out of hours so you didn't have to do it during work hours.'
Dermot's crippling fear of public speaking caused him to avoid promotions in his career and even forced him to turn down a place in Trinity College when he realised the course would involve presenting in front of a class on a regular basis.
So how did this paralysing fear begin?
Dermot remembers the day very well and described it in vivid detail: 'I was 17 and at secondary school and I was a talkative and a jack-the-lad type who was always messing and having a laugh.
'Our English teacher came into the room and I had my homework done and he asked who was going to stand up and read their homework. Well, I had no intention of doing it but someone behind me said: 'Dermot Goode will do it sir.'
'So someone kind of picked on me to do it and I felt all the class look around at me. Before that I would have stood up and read with no bother but I just got this self conscious feeling – I felt my heart rate go up and I could feel the shakes and I was conscious of everyone looking at me. The stuff was there to read in front of me on the page but all I was thinking was "I don't like this and how do I get out of here?"
'I remember actually stopping talking because my throat was drying up and my voice was shaking and I was thinking everyone could hear this and I remember saying to the teacher that I didn't finish my homework, even though it was there in front of me. He just dismissed me and said sit down.'
As the trauma ended, the self-doubt began to emerge.
'I sat down and realised, well I could get asked to stand up in every other class and I began to worry about getting asked to read in Irish class or wherever and you get this nervous anticipation both about events that are likely to happen and then you begin to worry about ridiculous events that are unlikely ever to happen. Anywhere I thought I might be asked to speak in public, I would avoid like the plague.'
He added: 'It's fear of embarrassment, fear of failure and just the fear of looking a plonker in front of your mates or your boss or your girlfriend or whoever. It's that fear, most of it completely irrational and with no foundation whatsoever but it is crippling.'
The growing fear of public speaking affected the early days of Dermot's career and stifled him socially. He said: 'I nearly resigned a few times and I'm not exaggerating – it was paralysing. I used to get up and the only thing I would worry about all day was "am I going to get caught out today?"
'All the time I would be ducking and diving if I thought there was a chance I would be asked to speak or make a presentation.'
'I was offered a place in Trinity College and the only reason I didn't take it was because I knew I would have to stand up in front of people and speak. I tried to find jobs where I wouldn't have to speak to people.'
But Dermot couldn't hide forever and a promotion to a sales position in the VHI meant he was suddenly faced with a job that required him to make public presentations on an almost daily basis.
He said: 'I was working in VHI but a job came up in a sales role that was a promotion by two grades and there was a company car and I liked cars so I applied for it and I got it.
'I got my company car the day I started and I was driving home and all I could think of is how do I tell them I don't want the job and give the car back. My wife, Mary, stopped me quite rightly and wouldn't let me give up.'
So a process of trying to conquer that crippling fear of public speaking began. He read obsessively on the subject and the first chink of light emerged when he realised he was not alone.
Dermot said: 'The first realisation I made is that everyone feels nerves when they speak in public, the only difference is how good you are at masking it. I read a lot of books and most of them were trash like those ones that tell you to imagine your audience naked – absolute rubbish. I wanted to build something practical to get people over that hump.'
Dermot eventually found a public speaking course that helped him start to control his fear of public speaking and when he joined the toastmasters, regularly practice at the art of public speaking gradually made him more at peace in front of an audience.
'Toastmasters for me was like rehab. I went there for about two or three years, every week. Over time, the more I got used to stand up and speaking, I got used to feeling nervous and all the feelings that went with that – the beating heart, the dry throat, the quivering legs and all that kind of stuff.
'I just got used to it and came to a point where I realised I'm not going to collapse and I'm not going to die and whether I look impressive or not, I'm going to get through it.'
So even today, his nerves are still there but he has just become better at controlling them and masking them so that an audience never notices the 'volcano' of emotions that are going on inside the Rush man's head and body as he rises to his feet to speak.
The techniques that allow him to do that form the basis of the SUAS programme which he delivers through his company, publicspeakingtraining.ie with his partners, Harvest.
The three week programme has already helped countless people overcome their fear of public speaking and as someone famous once said: 'Feel the fear and do it anyway.'
Dermot explained: 'The ideal time for me to talk to people about this stuff is when they are teenager before they really have a bad experience but most of the people I talk to are damaged goods.
'They have been caught out and had really bad experiences and now they are really self conscious and have no self esteem and they are under serious pressure. I talk to people who might have only two serious speaking engagements a year and it is all consuming for them, they worry about it for six months, they get through it and there's huge relief until they start worrying about the next one.'
He added: 'I get a kick out of watching people on the course who are a bag of nerves in week one and they are all over the place and then in week three, they stand up and speak and using a mind map I gave them one minute to prepare and they stand up with no notes and speak for two minutes and I have to clink the glass to get them to sit down again - that's fantastic.'
You can find out much more about Dermot and his SUAS programme on www.publicspeakingtraining.ie