Leadership Session Review: With Cathal Quinn

Article by Eimear Kearins (Economical and Political Science, 2021 Laidlaw Scholars)

When we were told our Leadership 2 workshop was planned to be in person, to say I was ecstatic is an understatement. But due to the nature of the past 15 months, I kept waiting for an email breaking the news that it was to be held on Zoom due to new restrictions. Yet August 12th drew nearer and nearer until I found myself in a room on Trinity Campus with 5 of my fellow Laidlaw scholars- masks on, socially distanced, but together in person at last. It was the first in person college event I had attended since March 2020. I don’t think it was until I was in the room with everyone, did I realise just how much I missed it. Zoom has been great don’t get me wrong– but to me, the atmosphere created when people are in an actual room together, reading and working off each other’s energies is inimitable. Not only did it make the workshop more enjoyable, but also more beneficial, as we embarked into the day to develop our public speaking and presentation skills. 

The whole four hour workshop was facilitated by the consistently enthusiastic Cathal Quinn, Head of Voice in the Lir and has been working in developing others’ public speaking skills for over 25 years. He opened the workshop with a quote by Louisa May Alcott who said, ‘I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail’. I think this quote really set the precedent for the workshop: public speaking is quite the intimidating task, but highlighting that this was a learning experience, not a test, relaxed us all. What I loved about the experience was how hands on in nature it was– we weren’t sitting down and listening to someone speak for the four hours. Straight away, we were assigned the task of introducing someone else in the room, with whom we had 5 minutes to exchange information. Already we were engaging in public speaking and Cathal gave each of us individual notes right after our presentations. We then discussed our fears when it comes to speaking in public, and I felt so reassured when I saw that many others in the room shared similar fears to my own. 

Something that really stuck with me from the workshop was when the actual purpose of public speaking and presenting was called into question. Cathal put it quite plainly to us that public speaking was not about the speech-giver, but the message you wanted to get across. He painted us as messengers whose aim was to share our knowledge as best as we could, and that successful public speaking is simply a vessel to share this information.

In preparation for the workshop, we were asked to prepare a presentation on a topic of our choice. As the day drew to a close, we each gave our presentations, taking on board all we had learned, observed, and practiced throughout the day. I definitely noticed a difference and improvement in my presentation, and even my mentality entering into the speech- all which had been achieved in the few short hours a change which I also noticed in the other scholars when they were giving their presentations.

The workshop was far from comfortable as we were pushed to stretch our boundaries and discover what we could achieve when we really use our voices. It was an invaluable experience overall, as communication is essential in all walks of life, and effective communication is a necessary trait if we want to be accomplished leaders. By discussing our fears centring our breathing, shaking out our worries, and trying new public speaking approaches in a non-judgemental and encouraging environment, not only do I have more confidence in my communication skills, but I feel better equipped to continue to develop them with surety and awareness throughout my leadership journey. 

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