My Story

My name is Robert Olding. I was born in 1957 and I live in Cashmere, north of Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia.

I am, by training, a lawyer. But before you conjure up images of a flamboyant trial lawyer and start thinking ‘he’s not really an introvert,’ I should tell you what sort of lawyer. I have been engaged in tax/revenue law for most of my career. I know – it doesn’t get much LESS glamorous than that! (Heard the joke about tax lawyers? Question: Why does a person become a tax lawyer? Answer: not enough personality to be an actuary.)

I am not a great public speaker. I have not received awards in public speaking contests. I don’t have a deep, authoritative voice nor, at 65 kilograms (143 pounds), a commanding physical presence.

But I have overcome extreme shyness to the point where I find, to my surprise, that I enjoy public speaking. In fact, it has become a source of considerable satisfaction for me. And people seem to enjoy having me speak because they keep inviting me back.

I have spoken at many conferences and many times received the highest or amongst the highest feedback ratings. My speeches have been acknowledged in professional journals. I have given keynote addresses and corporate presentations to large groups of staff, pitched to major public and private corporations, and presented to parliamentary committees.

I have also delivered one (so far) Father of the Bride speech – much fun, but also a great responsibility to make it a memorable gift to your daughter. And two eulogies – the most difficult of all, but also surprisingly rewarding for the opportunity to honour my much-loved parents and connect with my broader family.

In recent years, I have also dabbled in improvised theatre, sometimes known as impro or improv, and have sung solo in front of about hundred people. (Admittedly, I was hospitalised for 6 days shortly after the singing event, but I’m sure there’s no connection!). And more recently I have dabbled in musical theatre.

These other experiences, I have found, have some parallels with public speaking. Paradoxically, every speech or presentation is, in a sense, a performance, but they also seem to be most effective when you think of them as simply talking to your audience. Perhaps that is the same with singing and theatre, except that the communication happens in a different way.

I believe that I would not have had the level of success in my career that I achieved without learning how to speak effectively in public. I have essentially had two careers in the tax law field. One was at the international accounting and consulting firm KPMG, where I became a partner. The other was at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – Australia’s principal revenue office – where I was an Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Chief Tax Counsel and ultimately, Chief Tax Counsel.

At KPMG, I set up the indirect tax practice in Queensland (one of the Australian states, the capital of which is Brisbane). There was no indirect tax practice when I arrived. The work tended to involve mainly one-off engagements, so there was a need to establish a profile in the market. Speaking at industry and professional events was one of the main ways of gaining a profile. Eventually, by speaking at many conferences, and engaging with the media and professional bodies I became well-known in the market. The offer of a partnership at the firm, I firmly believe, would not have happened if I had not established this profile.

Similarly at the ATO, engaging with the corporate and tax practitioner community through speaking at conferences and other events enabled me to stay connected with the ‘outside world’, so to speak. I had a morbid fear of becoming a public servant (civil servant) who worked in a vacuum, only interacting with other government employees. Speaking regularly at conferences was one way of maintaining links with the private sector and demonstrating my willingness to engage.

These are not earth-shattering career achievements. I don’t mention them to boast. Many, many others have achieved far more. But they are quite senior positions and require a fair degree of personal confidence, and certainly many speeches and presentations.

A strange thing happened along the way. I came to enjoy public speaking! I almost never refused an invitation to speak. And I felt a surge of satisfaction after a successful presentation, particularly if I was able to inject some humour that hit the mark. I also came to believe that pushing yourself to ‘perform’ in this way increases your personal confidence and in a way that extends into other areas of your life.

So I have had a good deal of experience in public speaking and overcoming shyness, and am now very comfortable in front of a microphone. But it was not always so.

To my amazement, I have heard myself described as a ‘natural’ public speaker. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the fifth child of two extreme introverts, I started out painfully shy and very self-conscious.
So shy that, in my first significant full-time job as a law clerk, I was too nervous to use my boss’s name. When, after a year or so of employment at the firm, I finally referred to him as Mr Whitman, he was quite taken aback and asked me to use his first name, David. Fortunately, he was an easy-going chap, as evidenced by his nickname: Slim.

These days, children are exposed to public speaking and performance from an early age. My children had used microphones by the time they completed their early years of primary schooling. I first used a microphone at the age of thirty. My early experiences included all the classic symptoms of nervousness: racing heart, mouth drying up and so on.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of a fascination with public speaking and presenting that continues to this day. I am interested in the opportunities for personal growth from performance, as I call it, and fascinated with hearing other people’s stories of what works for them – both in the technical aspects of presentations and also in dealing with nerves.

After retiring from full-time employment in 2014, I set up a small, consultancy business. This includes offering lunchtime workshops on Public Speaking/Presenting for Introverts. I charge a minimal fee for these workshops to cover costs, but mostly I do them for the enjoyment of helping others and learning from their stories. Details of the workshops can be found at www.robertoldingservices.com.au.

I hope this website will also help you with developing your confidence and would love to hear from you with your stories or questions. Please also let me know if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.