Here’s my interview with Stephen Lynch! Stephen is passionate about public speaking & coaching others to be their best selves & learn to communicate well. I met him through the awesome 52 Weeks of Momentum course that I’m doing this year, which is run by top author Benjamin P. Hardy. In this interview, Stephen talks about what he does, how public speaking has changed his life for the better, & how speaking can take your life to the next level.
1. Tell us a little bit about what you do. How long have you been doing what you do?
Currently I advise the legal profession in England about issues relating to Brexit, financial services and corporate law. I work to support, represent and promote the legal sector at the independent membership body for solicitors. A large part of my role is to persuade, influence and lobby policymakers on behalf of our members. While I’ve been in my current role for only three months I have over six years’ experience of working in lobbying, political communications, policy, research and media.
In my professional life and spare time I also enjoy training people in public speaking and improving their communication skills. I have been doing this for over a year now.
2. In your article, you discuss how you were depressed & isolated growing up. Would you like to elaborate a little more on what that was like?
Being unaware and ignorant about mental health and depression when I was younger I was very confused and misguided about how to deal with it. Fundamentally this depression and isolation was characterised by a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of direction – not feeling in control, or of having freedom.
To give one example here I remember being at university in Sheffield as an 18-year-old. Here I got decent grades, did my best to stay active and tried straightforwardly to pursue what I enjoyed. However, I remember feeling very self-conscious and restricted a lot of the time. I was in such a negative thinking pattern and thought so little of myself I struggled to even go and speak to people who I actually liked and respected. I have since told a couple of these people that this was the case, as I felt my behaviour at the time needed an explanation and that I meant no offence to them by my aloofness.
In particular in groups of people I slowly realised these feelings were not normal or healthy. I started to investigate them myself for practical solutions. I was so misguided and ignorant of these things that it took me until I was 18 or 19 years old to discover there was even a distinction between introverted and extroverted people, and that these traits even existed. For a supposedly intelligent young person I was very naïve and too accepting of what was going on around me.
I would also feel hostility in certain situations, like my mere presence was causing others discomfort. In short I felt ineffective, anonymous and emasculated.
3. When did you begin to have an interest in public speaking? At the time, were you actively seeking something to help you get better, or was it something you kind of stumbled upon?
I must have had a latent interest in public speaking and communication because I’ve studied politics since I was old enough to read a newspaper. I remember watching speeches of Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy as a youngster on Encarta on my PC (probably while everyone else was out being a normal 6 or 7 year old!).
I remember doing readings at school masses and giving a couple of short presentations at school that passed without major incident. On some level I must have actually enjoyed them, and I was usually asked to continue doing them. But it wasn’t until I entered the working world where I faced the dread of a team meeting and “the creep” of waiting your turn to update the rest of the team of what you had on that week. At a time I was feeling particularly useless I remember giving a very poor, informal talk to colleagues. Some point after this I must have had a ‘fuck this’ moment where I decided things were going to change.
My next role in political communications involved much less scope for public speaking (and from the party’s point of view maybe it’s just as well!). I enjoyed the work initially but found it straightforward enough to start seeking out more challenge. It didn’t come from within so I decided to seek it externally when I forced myself to go to public speaking and acting classes.
4. Did you have a “point of no return” moment around the time that you got into public speaking where you HAD to move forward? Did that moment make you resolve to get better, or did it just happen just kind of naturally on its own after you had that experience?
My previous answer partly covers this question, but one of the first speaking classes I took part in I remember sitting in the front row waiting for my turn to speak. The feeling I had was tortured anguish in the pit of my stomach. The feeling was telling me to go and be anywhere but right here in this room. This was the ‘where’s the hole to swallow me up?’ feeling.
I also remember having to psych myself up to go to these meetings in the early days. Telling myself I could not go home until I’d done the whole thing.
I got up to speak that time and every time since, but the memory of this stays with me. I didn’t want to feel that feeling again. I was sick of the feeling of people pulling faces when I speak. After two years of regular practice I still get nervous sometimes and I still perceive hostility and discomfort in the expressions of people in the audience. But I am much more used to them now, and am more streetwise about what’s really happening.
5. When did you first realize that public speaking had a positive impact on your depression & self-esteem?
I noticed increased fluency and sincerity in how I was communicating after only a few weeks. There’s usually a gap between how we feel we are being perceived (we tend to underrate this), and how we are in reality (often better than we think). And I felt I was closing this gap all the time and being much less self-conscious and concerned with others’ opinions – whether imagined or real.
I remember sitting with a friend on the Tube after a class and having a very frank conversation with him. I acknowledged to him at the time that I was being more honest with him than I’d be with almost any of my other friends at the time. As outlandish as it seems, it was a rarity for me to sit and have this feeling of being able to be myself and express myself freely without restrictions.
These sort of classes also allowed me to meet many like-minded, talented and genuine people. Being around them helped me open up and have free-flowing conversations with them. To state the obvious this all felt very good and natural, and something I wasn’t particularly used to.
Being transparent and telling the truth (where appropriate) became a lot easier thereafter and I tried to be a ‘straight shooter.’
In this early process I also remember getting into bed to sleep and laughing very hard to myself. I knew something was changing inside me and had to put it down to these changes I was making.
6. What was the process like to become a speaker & coach? What types of training & massive actions did you take to get there?
I’ve had a set of unique experiences in my personal and professional life that I think others could find useful or insightful. The more I offer my reflections on these the more people tell me they’ve had similar experiences or that what I have said is valuable to them.
I think many people are held back because they’re simply unaware of how their mental health works, and how things like their environment strongly impact this. There are many coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with black moods. Equally there are several ways one can become more integrated, coherent and transparent in their lives and in the way they communicate. I can only share what has, and hasn’t worked for me with all of these things.
I’ve put myself through lots of training and mentoring in writing skills, public speaking and acting. One thing in particular I do a lot of, perhaps to the chagrin of others, is to volunteer myself often. A prominent politician recently said his advice for those aspiring to emulate him would be ‘to keep throwing your hat in the ring until people get tired of throwing it back at you.’ Take action consistently. Be persistent. Your desire, passion and belief has to be stronger than the person ignoring you or saying no to you. I’m sure I’m mixing metaphors by now but you have to outwork and outhustle these people who appear to be implacable obstacles. Yes is more powerful than No.
Equally, don’t take setbacks or disdain personally, even if it is. Use it to motivate you. Make sure you overcome and outlast those that seem to be in your way, sometimes deliberately. Be the final word in the book there, the full stop or the exclamation mark!
7. Did you have a mentor when you were getting started? How did they help you? If you didn’t, do you wish you’d had one?
I’ve had a bunch of them and I’m grateful to each of them for their unique style and approach. One of these inspired me by effortlessly radiating confidence. Another would hold their students to extremely high and rigorous standards, and wouldn’t excuse poor effort and performance for one second. Others would have such a forensic and methodical style, or such a personable and genial manner it created a very positive learning space. I would hope I have learnt from and taken elements from each of them.
One mentor in particular was one of the first people I encountered on this journey. They took complex ideas and broke them down into very simple takeaway messages using exercises and discussion. They embodied what they were saying and helped many, like me, to tap into their confidence.
However 12 months later this person encountered a very sudden and drastic decline in their own confidence and had to weather a storm of their own. Without sounding like a Disney film, I’d be letting him down if I didn’t kick on and try to help others like he did. Inspiration is a very lofty word but I observe it often in others and it’s a very positive cycle to stand on the shoulders of giants.
8. What is the reason WHY you do what you do? What drives you to keep pushing forward even when you don’t feel like it?
I want people to fulfill their potential and overcome the same struggles many of us confront. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being held back by external factors or by who they are. Life is short and precious and we’ve probably only got one shot at this thing.
I know what it feels like to be so full of frustration, resentment and rage that you can’t even think straight, never mind get on with anybody or being able to be yourself. I know what it’s like to sit in your room for almost days on end avoiding people because you feel so uncomfortable and worthless. I know what it feels like to almost squander your degree, to walk out of your place of work and not feel able to go back, to miss out on opportunities, friendships and positive moments because you’re so wrapped up in yourself.
I also know the opposites of these feelings. I know what its like to feel like you’re being listened to, like your contribution is being valued, like people are identifying with what you’re telling them. I know the feeling of real confidence, achievement and purpose.
And crucially, I know which of these I want to roll with and experience most. That’s my WHY.
9. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself or your work?
You’d expect me to say this but most definitely courses in public speaking.
There is something powerful about taking a decision and investing in yourself, it’s a point of no return moment.
A phenomenally successful mentor of mine said: “Investing actual money in yourself dramatically changes the psychology of things. When you invest in yourself, you become highly committed to what you’re doing. Investing in yourself is an act that facilitates what Charles Darwin would call, “Selective Pressure,” which is a phenomenon that alters the behavior and fitness of living organisms within a given environment. It is the driving force of evolution and natural selection.”
It’s very easy to quote too often from others but I love this one also, from the same source Ben Hardy: “Investing in yourself creates internal supply to match the external demand of the investment. The bigger you invest, the bigger the psychological leap — which then facilitates a radical upgrade in behavior, confidence, harmonious passion, and outcomes.”
The same way you won’t get bigger or stronger lifting 5kg weights every month or so at the gym, you won’t improve or develop if you don’t take a big step and put yourself under more pressure. You won’t get stronger, if you don’t put yourself under the weight. And one more cliché for you, if you don’t challenge yourself you will not change. So take a big step.
I used to buy untold motivational and self help books and some of these have had a very positive impact on me also.
10. If you could go back & give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
Don’t be so angry! Everything is going to be okay. Every trite piece of advice you can think of.
Joking aside the advice I’d give myself and anyone else younger is to:
- Trust yourself and your instincts
- Above all, don’t lower your sights or shrink yourself to make others feel less insecure
- Don’t let anyone stick labels on you or profess to tell you where you’re going or what you should be doing
- Don’t let yourself play down to your environment, if you can’t reform it then change it altogether
- Don’t take advice from anyone you wouldn’t be happy to swap places with
- Back yourself – you’re better than you think, just don’t be afraid to screw up and be embarrassed sometimes
- Some people might be more expensively educated than you who live in leafier postcodes and dine in pricier supermarkets but they’re not any smarter, hardworking or better than you.
11. How have the challenges & setbacks you’ve faced helped you become the person you are today? If you could go back & not have to experience one of your bigger challenges or setbacks, why or why wouldn’t you?
This is a great question. I think the advice I’ve given in the previous question alludes to some of my challenges and setbacks as a younger man. More recently I’ve had to make decisions I would have otherwise agonised over and perhaps wouldn’t have made.
The older I’ve gotten the better I’ve become at dealing with setbacks, or rejection. Or having to say no myself to an arrangement that is not serving me and is taking more away from me than its putting back. So you simply become more resilient and almost blasé about these things. You can go in a different direction to others and go about it in a grown-up and sensible way. Not following a crowd and trying to fit in if it conflicts with your goals and values becomes easier.
That second question is also very good. I’m being honest throughout here but let me open up on this one. A big challenge for me is when I’ve been (or felt) rejected as a friend, or even as a relative, by people who I respect. Straight up that is difficult, it can get to you if you let it. You ask yourself why, and want to know the real answer.
It’s even more disappointing when I’ve thought this rejection is based on something arbitrary and/or something I can’t help. For example, whether its my political beliefs, or because I happen to be a Catholic and because I enjoy following Gaelic Games and like Celtic Football Club.
Losing touch with people you have time for is tough but you get on with it.
12. What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid? Does any aspect of that relate to what you do now?
Lots of things – an astronaut, Formula 1 driver, video games tester, lawyer.
Given my long interest in politics I think there is overlap with what I am doing now. I’m not a politician thankfully but they have to craft messages and arguments, and persuade people to follow them and endorse their ideas. Above all an effective politician is an effective communicator, and at times a salesperson.
A typical day of a politician would be spent making speeches, meeting people, representing their constituents’ concerns, arguing in favour of their ideas and how valid they are, defending their record from criticism after subjecting it to scrutiny.
There’s some overlap with what I wanted to be when I was younger. I like being where the action is so to speak, at the coalface and front of house. It’s great to work for an organisation that’s leading the way in their field and that’s at the cutting edge. What’s also great is seeing the output of your team’s work and seeing the wider world’s reaction to it.
13. What do you wish more people knew about you? What’s something most people don’t know about coaching/speaking that you wish they did?
A cracker of a question. There’s plenty of things to me that I only share when asked. I’m not the greatest at walking into a room and saying I’m this, I’m that. Something I’ve learnt, and something you’re doing very effectively here Ashlee is to ask specific questions. High quality questions that you’ve thought about will prompt better answers. You’ll be surprised what people will come out with if you merely work a bit with them and give them opportunities to answer something. Silence is often met with silence.
Like two actors on stage there’s a shared responsibility there to get the best out of each other. Interviewing isn’t easy by any means but a little curiosity can go a long way to finding out what you share in common and what makes someone tick.
So I guess my wish is simply to be asked good questions, then people can find out all kinds of things!
My mind also goes blank often when I’m asked what I’ve been up to at the weekend for example. 10 minutes after the question I’m still remembering things to say. And I still feel like I’m boring people no matter how busy mine has been!
14. What’s one of the best places you’ve got to speak at? What did that feel like? Did you have a sense of “making it” or getting to the next level when you did?
The best place I’ve spoken at is my old Sixth Form College. My Politics tutor gave me an entire lesson of his to come in and speak and answer a few questions from his AS Level class. This was a fantastic experience, I was very proud to have done it and I hope to have the opportunity to do it again. The questions I received in the Q&A were also very engaging, intelligent and challenging for me to answer. I felt around 10 feet high as I walked out of there and for hours and hours afterwards.
I certainly felt it was a significant step for me and I learnt much also about how to prepare for, and deliver talks in these kinds of settings. You can always improve and make adjustments no matter how experienced or great you think you are (I don’t think I am!).
Another time I was asked to deliver a workshop for over 30 young political leaders around the world. They were very enthusiastic and a great group to work with. I also felt my ego swell when the group of delegates from Ecuador asked me to come over and deliver another session for them!
15. What have you found to be the best way to market your work & get the right people to see it?
I think the person behind the brand should embody what they are selling. The same way a headteacher or chief executive makes themselves very visible around their workplaces and engages with people. You should see yourself as an ambassador for your work or organisation.
I don’t think I’ve discovered the best way to market yet but Facebook adverts are something I’m experimenting with. I guess I’m old fashioned in that I believe word of mouth recommendations and testimonials are quite powerful.
Someone I met in my acting class recommended that I go along and try DJing for a hospital radio station. He was so passionate and eloquent in his explanation of it that I was completely ‘sold’ on this idea, and have been volunteering at the same hospital for 18 months now.
16. What’s one of your favorite memories of something that happened to you after or because you became a coach & speaker?
So many great memories from this. I thoroughly enjoyed preparing to give filmed short speeches on a few topics – one about the power of the mind, another about self-image and confidence and a very early one where I had to answer the question: “If you knew you could not fail at something, what would you do?”
As I’ve mentioned before I believe in asking the ‘right’ questions and this is a magnificent question to ask yourself and reflect on the answer. I took my time to come up with the answer, and asked myself again when I doubted if it was simply an answer that others might want to hear. But my instinct was right, my answer to the question in my speech was to improve the education system in the UK. How and why I’d do this are questions for another day but this prompted me to go and work for a charity which advises teachers and parents interested in setting up ‘free school’ academies in England.
17. What helps you manage your occasional bouts of depression? Do you have a specific set of things you do when you start feeling depressed, or is there another way you work through it?
My instinct is always to withdraw myself but perhaps this isn’t advisable in all circumstances.
Having direction, and feeling productive and living truthfully are what I’m striving for. Sometimes the depression descends when I stray from any of these. Frankly the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve walked along this path the more sensitive, or intolerant, I’ve become of anything that doesn’t align with these things.
That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes, or say or do daft things still, or handle something not as well as I should have. But I think I have a system for getting clarity, getting things done and reaching people. And when this system malfunctions the red lights on the dashboard flash very brightly indeed!
I’ve been doing some reading about the causes of depression and anxiety. For many years it was believed depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Academics are re-examining this and are starting to believe that depression is caused from not having certain basic psychological needs met. We all want to feel valued, like we’re good at something, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we’re making a difference, that we have a bright future. Our culture doesn’t meet these needs for so many people. The deep disconnect from these needs is driving the increase in depression and anxiety.
I think I’ve improved in talking to people when I’m anxious, and not just about anxiety but just talking to people generally. It’s easy to become isolated and think you aren’t close enough to anyone to talk to them.
Exercise for me is a very effective tool and I get very lethargic and restless when I don’t exercise for several days.
I’m better at staying away from depression, than I am from pulling myself out of it when it descends on me. I meditate daily, have cold showers, listen to positive content, avoid negativity in the news where possible. For Lent I’m giving up caffeine and I also frequently abstain from alcohol for months at a time. Indeed I fantasise often about becoming teetotal.
Longer term, having things to look forward to is important. For example, I hope to travel to Africa again this summer after spending 11 days in Rwanda last year.
18. Looking back at your path & how you got where you are now, what’s one of the things you are most grateful for?
I’m not grateful enough to my parents for supporting me through a lot, including some leftfield career choices and gambles I’ve made in my professional life.
In their own way they give me the space and support that has helped me along the way. Without embarking on a life story, both of them grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This was a very divisive and acrimonious period, and while its frequently an elephant in the room in some sensitive situations they’re very stoic about it all [see boxing article].
I’m unfair to members of my family sometimes and I give them a hard time. By and large, for a very big extended family on both sides, my family are pretty solid. My relatives in Ireland also are very generous, reliable and straight up people who always make me feel very welcome when I go over.
19. What’s one of your favorite quotes, & how has this quote helped or inspired you?
“Learn how to be an effective communicator, because once you open your mouth, you tell the world who you are.”
This is a quote from motivational speaker Les Brown, who is perhaps the best known speaker in his field. I like to introduce some of my seminars with this quote and I always repeat it a second time because its so profound.
I remember listening to his speeches on an almost daily basis last year. Even at work I would have him plugged in. I’m really struck by how effective he is, how he uses stories and anecdotes to get his points across and rousing the audience from start to finish.
The quote resonates with me because years ago I reached a point where I said to myself there was no point being around here, no point in getting out of bed in the morning and leaving the house if I didn’t feel like I could communicate with people. I asked myself what is the point in being here, in being alive if I couldn’t open my mouth and simply talk to people without it feeling like such an effort and strain? From that moment I slowly but surely started to force myself to improve it. I mentioned earlier how I forced myself to go to public speaking and acting classes and its fitting perhaps that I’m typing this sentence early on a Saturday morning where I have a day of acting classes and public speaking sessions ahead of me!
Read More about Stephen Here ::