There is no such thing as Public Speaking

Speaking to 5000 students at Universiti Malaya during their orientation week in 2016.

The human brain is built with sensitivity to certain things. Three of the most important are questions, stories and faces.

Faces allow us to access empathy. Research shows that infantry have greater willingness to kill the enemy wearing a face-covering helmet than if they could see their facial expressions. When they see a face, the mirror neurons attempt to understand the enemy's emotions and replicate them in the observer. They observe and adapt.

This is why, when we speak to a large group of people, our brains get confused by the sea of faces and switches back and forth between what emotion to feel. Why? Because the brain was never built for public speaking. It was built for interpersonal speaking. That's why we are more comfortable speaking one-to-one.

Here's the interesting part. Even when you're "public" speaking, you can only ever look at one person at a time. Technically, that's one-to-one speaking. Treat your "public" talk as no more than having a hundred individual conversations and your brain will adapt to one face at a time and reduce your stress and stage fright.

Look at one person in the crowd and speak with them one sentence. Send that message to only them. Everyone else listening is only incidental. Then, move on to another person and deliver one sentence and so on and so forth.

The trick is to avoid looking at more than one face in one time or scanning from left to right in one quick motion. That confuses the brain as it recognises too many faces and is attempting to adapt to all of them as they pass by. This is why most people tend to look down or away from other people when they are in public places or on the train, to avoid facial recognition overload.

Look for the friendly faces first. Switch from one person to another quickly and you will be fine. Later, when you are confident, look for the unfriendly ones.

At the end however, when you finish your speech and you finally look at all 1000 as a mass, you might get an anxiety attack.

Communication is Relationship

My Professor in Anthropology, Dr Mohd Aris Othman once asked us in class if we interacted with the people in the cars surrounding us in a traffic jam. We said no.

"If you don't interact with them, then why do you drive fast on an empty highway? Why don't you inch forward instead as if there were cars around you?" he sneered.

"Interacting doesn't mean talking. Acknowledging the other's existence, and behaving accordingly IS interaction".

"As long as you are interacting, you are communicating. As long as you are communicating, you are in a relationship with each other."

It is only when you do not notice the other car coming towards you that you do not acknowledge and interact with it. And that is when there is no communication.

Until the car slams into you, causing you to acknowledge, interact, communicate and now have a relationship.

Coaching Questions for Clarity

A coach who works with a coachee has the task to clarify the conversation in order to be effective. In essence, it isn't for the coach to know, but for the coachee to be clear on their own situation, goals and methods.

As part of a coach's ethics, we do not seek out coachees, nor do we ask point blank what a coachee's problems are. This, in fact, puts them on the defensive as not many would admit to a busybody that they have problems.

The truth is, we all have problems. We just seek out the most trusted people to share them with.
When a coachee comes to you, the coach, the three most powerful questions you can ask are What, How, and When (WHW) in relation to their solution (not the problem). Thus, while the coachee may be problem-focused, the coach is solution-focused.

For the WHW to be effective, the coach must apply the APA: Acknowledge, Pause and Ask.

Take for example, a coachee who says to you, "I have a problem". Instead of finding the root cause of the problem, you immediately say the following:
  • Acknowledge: "I hear that you are facing a problem that is ..."
  • Pause: Allow for the realisation that you are listening and understand that they are willing to let you help them.
  • Ask: Ask the following WHW in any form necessary:
  1. Q1: "What do you want to achieve?"
  2. Q2: "How do you want to achieve it?"
  3. Q3: "When do you want to achieve it?"
(Repeat the APA at every level of Q1-Q3)

These basic questions are less to get accurate answers and more to get the coachee primed to begin thinking of these answers in a structured manner.

However, each question has a clarifying follow-up that will explore their convictions, motivations, options and planning.

For Q1, sample clarifiers could be:
  • "What do you mean by that?", and
  • "Why is it important that you achieve this?".
For Q2, sample clarifiers could be:
  • "What else?" (to provoke more options) and keep going until the coachee has nothing left to add.
  • Follow this up with a choice: "Out of all these options of how you want to achieve your goal, which one do you want to start with?" and wait for them to choose one.
For Q3, sample clarifiers can be:
  • "When do you want to achieve this", or
  • "When do you want to start doing this option?" depending on the situation and the conviction of the coachee.
  • Follow this up with "How do you know that you have acted on the above?", or
  • "What will be the evidence that you have achieved your goal?"
When you have navigated this conversation towards a solution, close it up with this question: "How do you feel now that we've had this talk?"

If the answer comes with an emotional response: "[Deep breath][Exhale] Wow... I feel a lot better. It's like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders," this indicates a genuine change.

However, if the answer is non-committal, "Yeah, I guess... Can't say for sure," then the coaching process did not make a desired impact on the coachee for various reasons.

Continue the process when it's convenient until you see evidence of a positive change in commitment or you detect that the person is uncoachable. This requires a different approach that we won't cover here.

In short, coachees require a coach not to provide solutions, but to facilitate their own thought processes to clarify and commit to the options they choose. This preserves their independence and also allows them to be responsible and accountable for their own actions.

Coaching is a skill all leaders and managers must have in order to keep their workforce motivated and committed. Learn how to coach today, and help the people around you achieve their potential.

Building Rapport and Listening to Coach

A good coach must have the ability to do two things well: Build Rapport and Listen. Among others, these two skills are paramount as it is the foundation upon which all other skills are built.


Where Building Rapport is concerned, ONE Coaching methodology founder Coach Jamil Wahab offers a simple acronym to remember what needs to be done during this process: GEMPAK.
Each letter stands for a particular activity that helps to improve trust and closeness with the coachee.

G - Greet + Name

A name is a personal object that is tied to one's identity. Therefore, to quickly establish rapport, welcome the coachee warmly and say their name in the most respectful and friendly manner possible. Care for their name as you would your own.

E - Excite the Senses

The human brain gathers data from the outside world through the five senses. When speaking to the coachee, use visual words like "I see", auditory words like "I hear you" or kinesthetic words like "I feel like" to connect with the coachee's mind by accessing anchored key words related to each sense.

M - Matching

Find similarities in terms of the content of their speech. Trust is built very quickly when they believe that you share their values, positions or even experiences. Discovering that you share a hobby or the same hometown or support the same sports team goes a long way towards breaking down barriers with the coachee.

P - Persuade

Find something positive in the coachee's speech or actions and provide sincere praise to give them a sense of achievement and being on the right track as well as showing that you focus on the good and are not primed to criticise. Avoid praising outcomes directly. For example, praise a muscular person's time and effort spent in the gym instead of saying how big their muscles are.

A - Attention

A coachee deserves your full attention. Thus, when they speak, set the phone aside, face them square, drop everything else and make them feel appreciated.

K - Keep Aware & Alert

As much you focus, stay aware and alert to the content, facial expressions, body language and changes in the coachee. Also, be aware of your own internal conversations and responses, lest your coachee assume you are judging them from your body language.


In listening to the coachee, four actions must be practiced iteratively throughout the process of building rapport: 1. Eye contact 2. Head nodding 3. Minimal encouragement 4. Paraphrasing

1. Eye Contact

Some people prefer direct eye contact while others, indirect eye contact. Manage your own style to match the coachee and set them at ease.

2. Head nodding

While listening, nod casually and naturally at parts of the coachee's sharing that you feel require acknowledgement. This visual cue confirms for them that you are paying attention.

3. Minimal encouragement

Your vocal cues help the coachee to continue the flow of their sharing. Things like a positive "Hmmm!", a surprising "Ohhhh" or a request of "Really?" helps encourage them to continue talking without fear of judgment.

4. Paraphrasing

Completing the visual and vocal cues is the verbal cue, where you respond to what the coachee has shared by repeating it in your own words. This makes them confident that not only were you listening, but that you understand it the same way.

Get Ready For What's Next

Master these two skills, Building Rapport and Listening, and you would have cemented the foundation for the next step in your development as a coach.