I first learned about Darren when I came across the video of his speech made during the finals of Toastmasters’ 2016 World Champion of Public Speaking.
It was amazing to learn that a fellow Singaporean earned a gold on the global platform.
You can catch the replay of his speech here:
His topic would resonate with everyone out there as we are indeed (spoiler alert!) our own worst bully.
So I was really elated to bump into Darren at SHRI HR Congress a few months ago.
He was the emcee for the event and I managed to introduce myself.
Interestingly, his beginning to public speaking actually started with his conscription into his school’s debate team.
His teacher made that recommendation because he is on track to fail in his English big time.
And the way to possible get him back on track is to force him to practice his English more often, in the form of the debate team.
Who knew that would be how Singapore’s Public Speaking champion is born.
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
Currently I am the Principal and Master trainer of the Public Speaking Academy.
The Public Speaking Academy is a public speaking training company which I started back in 2009, so it’s been running for more than 7 years and we have been serving schools and corporate organisations by providing quality effective communication training.
Whether it’s in the area of debate, interpersonal communication skill, interview skill for scholarship or admission interview as well as PowerPoint presentation.
While schools do teach the hard knowledge to students, there is no fixed syllabus for soft skills training.
That is where we come in to value add to the students.
I enjoy doing what I’m doing and that is the reason why I’ve decided to put my legal career on hold and to go into professional speaking full time.
On top of managing the Public Speaking Academy which has a learning centre at SAFRA Tampines
For people who want to know more, they can go on to the website www.publicspeakingacademy.com.sg .
I am a global speaker where I travel to different parts of the world to give key notes and to inspire audience member, especially the youth.
To start young, to start as soon as possible and to hone their effective communication skill.
2. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid back, when I was age I think 12 all the way to age 14, I was very interested in the Human Anatomy as well as the Biological Sciences.
So that point in time I even took time to join my friends and my relatives for Science Fair and Exhibition, hopefully to advance my pursuit and endeavour to be a doctor one day.
That change when I discovered my new fond passion in public speaking and debate where I love the intellectual exchange, the ability to come up with cogent augment, to think really fast on ones feet.
That was how the idea of becoming a lawyer took shape and the contour of my ambition to be a lawyer became more and more clear, become sharper and focus when I went on to Junior College and eventually in National Service.
When I got to hear live from senior, what it’s like to hear from others who has gone through the law program in the National University of Singapore.
3. What were you doing before starting this business?
I started in 2009 while I was still serving the nation, serving my NS and I thought of you know, what can I do to make a different?
Initially, it wasn’t for a fee.
It was for free and then my friends told me that hey do you know that you can make this a career?
Because since you enjoy so passionate in doing this, why not make this into a career?
You can build a company and then you can help provide such services because there is a demand and there is going to be an increasing demand over the next few years and absolutely right.
Right now, public speaking and other soft skills are hot in demand.
4. How did the idea for your business come about?
The idea came about when I was speaking with a group of friends in the toastmaster’s community.
Now the toastmaster’s international is a non-profit organisation where they band together individual who are passionate public speaking enthusiast, to share ideas and to share knowledge.
So when we came together, I realise that some of them were in fact full time professional speaker and it opens my mind to the idea of being able to monetize what I’m really good at doing.
Indeed, you are the average of the 5 people that you hang out with the most.
I realise at that point in time, I hung out with a lot of this individual with their ambition to want to start business of their own or already started their business of their own.
That’s how the idea for my business came about; I wanted to come up with something different so I came up with my proprietary 3 tears of evaluation for my audience member.
I also came up with something unique where I video record my audiences and client performances to evaluate them after that and I personally believe in a 30, 70 split.
30 percent is on the core skill, on the sharing, on the theoretically framework of public speaking and 70 percent is practise because just like cycling and swimming, you cannot learn public speaking by watching a video on YouTube or reading a book.
You really have to do it.
5. What sacrifices have you had to make to be an entrepreneur?
Many of my friends describe me as a part time toastmaster, a full time law student and an overtime Entrepreneur.
Now with that, it suggests that I had to pump in way more time my other commitment whether it’s a full time student at NUS Law School or my toastmaster’s commitment.
So the sacrifices that I had would be instead of going out and having fun with my friends for movie, for drinks, for party, I had to sit down and work with my business partners as to how to grow the business even more.
How to shift our marketing direction and fine tune it such that it is in line with the current trend.
So those were the sacrifices that I had.
6. How did you get funded?
For me, I wanted to come up with my own capital.
So in fact, what I did was before I entered NS, before I officially join, I wasn’t part of the January batch because there are 2 batches.
One is the January intake and the other one is the April intake.
So that meant that I had a few more months more than my other peers.
So I make use of the few more months to take up job and I taught private tuition.
Now private tuition it really depends, the amount of money you make it’s directly proportional to the number of client you actually take and how good you really are because the better you are, the higher the rate you can command.
At one point in time I got so proficient at what I’m doing.
I deliver such massive and huge result that my client introduce me.
And I recalled that in the month of February, what I did was I taught in a week at least 10 students and I also taught as a relive teacher at a primary school which I was from, Montfort Junior School.
All in all, I was able to make at least about four to five thousand dollars at age before I enter NS, it was at age 18 and that was how I accumulated my capital and started my own business.
7. How do you go about marketing your business?
Initially, I wasn’t very familiar with so many of the online terms like search engine optimisation, social media marketing
And at that point in time social media marketing wasn’t that popular.
So what I did was I marketed through giving free assembly talks and offering to go down to school to conduct free talks or to speak before the decision maker, so that the decision maker can better understand where I’m coming from.
8. Could you describe your first sale?
My 1st sale came when I was require to present, to present before I think a group of corporate professional and it was more of a 20-30 minutes lunch time gig
They pay a very nominal sum along with transport reimbursement but that was the great spring board which offer me many more opportunity.
After my debut performances, the company was so impressed that they shared my contact with other related company as well as their clients who subsequently offered me more assignment
It came to a point where I couldn’t accept it more because of my other commitment.
9. Describe/outline your typical work day?
As of now, my typical workday it’s not 8 to 5 regular working hours because being your own boss allows you that kind of flexibility.
To be able to invest in so many other areas whether it’s to spend time in re strategizing, to spend time in going away and maybe relaxing a little bit.
I was able to do just that, my typical schedule now because I had to travel so often in a week,.
Monday to Wednesday I’ll be in Singapore, Thursday to Sunday I’ll be away oversea for conferences and to continue to spread my brand as well as the services oversea.
In Singapore, what I do is that I have one to one premium coaching for Executive clients as well as students who wish to accelerate their learning curve for public speaking exponentially.
I also do have group classes which I conduct and on occasion I do teach.
I am currently teaching at a National University of Singapore where I teach the public speaking module which is a general elective in NUS that will be on every Wednesday.
10. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business?
The proudest moment in the history of my business was when I publish my book in the year 2012 because when I publish my book, it brought in a lot more client.
Publishing a book help to build the profile of a speaker and the founder of the company.
That also boosted the profile and the reputation of the company.
Writing a book wasn’t an easy decision because it requires me to pump in the sum of money to print the books and to market it.
It was a very tough moment, tough period I would say because at that point in time no one knew who Darren Tay was.
When the book was up on the book shelves and book stores, it was selling at a rather I would say lukewarm rate.
It wasn’t a very optimistic and wasn’t a very encouraging rate.
But I took the effort to re strategize and go down to school, assembly talks.
Then I sold my books, more and more school get to know of the business that I run and then we have been getting more and more sales thereafter.
That has been my proudest moment, to go against what most people would think, would not happen would not succeed for someone at the age of 22 but I still went on never the less.
11. What was the lowest point for you in this business?
The lowest point was when I was working on it all alone
There was at one point in time when I thought that I could run it alone as a one man show and doing it alone is extremely tiring.
It’s so exhausting because each of us has our own strength; my strength is in content creation as well as delivery.
It’s being a subject matter expert but when it’s come to the accounting, all this paper work, it’s something that I really don’t enjoy.
But when I took it all and decided to do it on my own, it’s extremely, extremely tough.
That was the lowest point because I feel so overwhelm.
It was like getting a burned out, almost getting burned out.
I learned that working on a business, you definitely need a team.
If I want to run fast, I can do alone but if I want to run far, I definitely need a team which I got a very good team right now.
12. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I would say my mom actually because my mom has always taught me that when it comes to doing business (she had her own business at that point in time), it’s to provide value upfront.
It’s to provide massive, massive value upfront instead of just thinking of doing the sale all the time and customer can actually tell.
They can actually see how sincere you are.
That was how I eventually manage to win a lot of client over and then impress with the kind of services I provided.
So I enjoy what I’m doing and inherent flexibility in my current business model and looking forward to greater expansion.
13. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
Whenever there’s area of doubt, don’t worry just press on and more importantly get a team as soon as possible.
14. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
The worst piece of advice I ever got is go solo, just be a one man show and that was what I did.
I went solo, I started my sole proprietorship.
When I started my own sole proprietorship because that was the easiest way to start a business entity and I was a one man show.
I could do it all alone but then I realise that doing it all alone without a team, was extremely, extremely difficult and that was what got me.
15. What’s your business focus for this year?
My business focus for this year is to build up the online platform, both the offline and the online.
So the offline platform has been growing well with a learning centre, we are looking to expand another one as we can continue to grow our team and our teaching faculty.
I know we all start somewhere so I know I’m starting now for the online platform.
It is a start and there is competition out there in the market but I know that I have a comparative advantage
I have something which my competitive don’t have and that will be my main, main focus to build up the online market place and to provide for blended learning.
16. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
That would be to allocate enough time to invest in myself.
When I allocate enough time to invest in myself, I realise that I got fresher and more ideas and when I don’t have enough time because we all have 24 hours a day, I would spend.
I would actually use money to buy time.
I would leverage on other’s people expertise and to get someone else to outsource some of the work which I can outsource, so that I will be able to get more things done within a very short period of time.
Also, to continue to keep myself motivated, get sufficient rest so that in the long run I can go further.
17. Is there an app or tool you can’t live without?
I would say Mindfulness for meditation application which allows me to think, which allows me to act and to stay in the moment and at present.