How a Dublin man living in Tralee topped the UK’s largest public speaking competition
Anthony Garvey won the UK stage of the Toastmasters public speaking competition recently.
“When I was a teenager, I showed my first ever book to my girlfriend at the time,” Anthony Garvey says, settling into a story he’s told many times over. “After a week she came back to me and said, ‘Ah, it’s okay’, and shrugged her shoulders. I was a fiery and passionate teenager, so I took the book – we had no computers in those days – and all the [handwritten] sheets to the bottom of the garden and I set fire to it.”
Like many other budding storytellers, a voice in his head told him he wasn’t good enough.
“It took me six months to write, six seconds to ignite and it was gone – just like my girlfriend was with my best friend two weeks later.”
In my opinion, interviews in the future are going to be conducted online. So you need to get experience
— Anthony Garvey
Garvey was always a storyteller, and eventually did fulfil that urge to put pen to paper, releasing seven children’s books to date. Today he spends his time passing along those skills to schoolchildren, running a management training company, a PR company and most notably of late: becoming the best public storyteller in the UK.
The tale behind how a 57-year-old Dublin native living in Tralee, Co Kerry, topped the UK’s largest public speaking competition is a curious story in itself. A long-time member of the Tralee branch of Toastmasters, possibly the world’s largest public speaking and leadership organisation, Garvey improved his speaking skills over the years.
He’s met those who’ve come along to practice their wedding speech, beat their nerves when saying Mass at the pulpit, pitch to investors or even build up the confidence to ask out a girl on a date (successfully, I’m told). After the Covid-19 pandemic pushed white collar workers online, Garvey virtually shopped around for other Toastmasters clubs to checkout and settled on Shilling Speakers, a UK-based group that decided to stay virtual after the pandemic.
Anthony Garvey won the UK stage of Toastmasters world public speaking competition after competing virtually from Tralee. Below (left-right): contest chair, Chris Boden; third place winner, Errol Williamson; second place winner, Desire Binam; chief judge, Christopher Walker. Photograph: Aegis Photography
Of the 280,000 Toastmasters members in the world, 30,000 enter into its world championship each year. Earlier this month, he topped the UK division when he dialled in as the only virtual contestant at the Barbican Centre in London, and now must compete against seven other European champions for a chance at competing at the world finals in The Bahamas. Still, top 112 globally is impressive.
“I’ll tell you what: The world of Zoom has changed my life,” he said. “Anyone who lives anywhere in the world now with a decent internet connection can do anything.”
On Saturday, while his fellow competitors were busy watching each other in London, Garvey made a cup of tea, made sure his son had a lift for soccer training and stuck his head in occasionally to check on the internet connection. This shift online has done wonders for his work/life balance, no longer travelling great lengths for work, which in his view has also drastically changed the public speaking arena.
“How you present yourself in that little square on screen now is absolutely vital,” he said. “In my opinion, interviews in the future are going to be conducted online. So you need to get experience [with this].”
Among his tips to improve public speaking at an event or interview are:
· Think about who the audience members are. What is the one thing they should remember? If they can remember only one thing a week, or a month or a year after you spoke, what would you like that one thing to be? Reverse engineer your talk and build your presentation around that.
· Look at the positive and encouraging faces in the audience over the others. Make eye contact across the group but linger on those who look like they want you to do well.
· Record yourself or practice in front of a mirror to study your body language and eye contact.
· Practice an interview with somebody you trust, somebody with positive suggestions. The last thing people need is negative feedback.
· Always have a glass of water beside you. At some point you’ll lose your place in the presentation or interview, and can take a sip for a few seconds. All people see is you clearing your throat, but in reality, that’s precious time needed to reconnect with your train of thought.
· Most people don’t do this, but it’s important to find out who is on an interview panel if you can. Are they people who like facts and figures, or are they people who like chatting and getting to know you? When you know that going into a meeting, it gives you an edge.
· Don’t forget the Q&A. So many presenters focus exclusively on the actual presentation itself, and then come out scratching their heads in wonderment when they’re asked all sorts of questions at the end and aren’t able to answer them. So prepare for the Q&A session with the same level of thoroughness as you do the actual presentation itself.
To those terrified of public speaking who can’t imagine themselves ever presenting to a crowd in the Barbican Centre or a packed video call, Garvey’s main advice is simply to practice: “We all have that voice inside our heads that says: ‘You can’t do this. You’re not good enough. You’ll fall on your face.’ If you quiet that voice, your life will be so much richer.”