An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Have confidence. It’s hard to have confidence as a new speaker and you’re going to suck for a while. A speaker who lacks confidence will not be able to hold the attention of their audience. The best ways to develop confidence are by knowing your audience and what they want, practicing, becoming an expert in your subject, and gaining experience over time.

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Gillian Tietz.

Gillian Tietz is the host of the Sober Powered podcast. When she quit drinking in 2019, she dedicated herself to learning about alcohol’s influence on the brain and how it can cause addiction. She used that knowledge to free herself from the shame she had about being unable to control her drinking. Today, she educates and empowers others to assess their relationship with alcohol. You can find Gill creating content on Instagram, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the Boston area, where I still live today. A defining part of my childhood is that I was bullied for all of middle and high school. Because of that, I spent most of my time studying, hanging out with my brother, and playing video games. I enjoyed writing short stories and poems in middle school, and in high school I got really into metal music because it helped me cope with the anger and isolation I felt. The bullying prevented me from socializing much, and because of that I spent a lot of time studying. That allowed me to do really well in math and science, which led to a career in the sciences.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was drinking I believed everything that the stigma tells us- that I was a weak-willed loser who chose to drink that way and had no self-control. This led me to really hate myself. When I finally accepted I can never drink again for the rest of my life I wanted to understand why this happened to me and why it doesn’t happen to other people. I was working as a biochemist at the time, and part of my job was to keep up with the latest literature in the field. I used those skills to dive into the research on addiction and understand if this was my fault or because I lacked self-control. The more I learned, the less shame I felt. About 7–8 months into this passion project I decided I had to share this information so others could benefit. I launched my podcast that same day. I have worked hard on my podcast every day since and became skilled at marketing and getting new listeners. That led me to want to share with other podcasters who were frustrated that no one cared about their “new episode is out” posts on social media. That is how I began speaking publicly on stages.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I presented at Podcast Movement Evolutions in March 2022 in LA and it was my first time attending a podcasting conference in person. Highly recommend attending conferences in your industry in person, because the networking was so valuable! I met people I really look up to like Dr. Andrew Huberman, host of Huberman Lab, and I made some strong connections with other podcasters and business leaders. In between me thanking everyone for attending my talk and turning to exit the stage a line had formed to speak to me. I’ll never forget how that felt. People appreciated my “it’s about you, not me” approach.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I met my husband in my first year of graduate school while he was in his fourth year of a PhD program. I was doing a lab rotation in the lab he worked in and he was training me and supervising my rotation. At the end of each rotation we were asked to give a “chalk talk” where you get up to the chalkboard in a large, leveled auditorium and discuss your 9 week rotation using only the chalkboard. It was intimidating for many reasons: no slides, you had to draw and speak at the same time, and these chalk talks were very popular because everyone knew how nervous the new graduate students were. I was horribly nervous that my husband, who I had only known for a couple months and was still trying to impress, would think I wasn’t smart. I memorized my presentation and asked my husband to not look at me while I gave my talk. He actually sat there looking at the floor. For the remainder of my chalk talks, I told him he couldn’t come. He has always been my biggest supporter, even from the very beginning, so he stayed home whenever I had to present. I learned that if you’re that nervous about speaking that your husband has to stay home or look at the floor, then it’s a sign you need to work on your background knowledge. Nerves are normal, but the level of nerves I felt were due to not being confident in my expertise on the topic. I learned how critical it is to prepare for questions at the end of the presentation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband has been my biggest supporter in everything in life, but he has helped me a lot with my speaking skills. My husband has a PhD in physical chemistry and is a Principal Scientist, which is the highest level in the scientist track in Biotech. I’ve been very fortunate to have such a successful husband because each time I had to give a scientific presentation in my job as a biochemist, he was able to help me prepare. He reviews my slides with me and asks questions. His questions are often things I didn’t think of myself and helps me to understand the story I need to tell in my presentation. He still helps me in the same way whether the topic is about podcasting, social media marketing, or addiction science. Understanding the story you need to tell is key to giving a compelling presentation.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

You’re going to suck for a while and that’s okay. The only way to get better is to give weak presentations where you are so nervous you might throw up on the audience, but you make it through mostly okay. Each time you give a presentation, you get a little bit more comfortable. You have to accept that the only way to get better at speaking is by speaking. I was a nervous speaker for years and avoided presenting at all costs. It wasn’t until I realized it was an important skill that I wanted to develop that I stopped avoiding opportunities and actually started volunteering for them. This is your sign to volunteer or say yes to the next speaking opportunity you have. Feel free to reach out and tell me how it went too!

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

I feel that I have a unique perspective. I spend nearly all of my time learning about podcasting, marketing, and addiction science. I know not everyone has that luxury, so I feel compelled to share my learnings and my perspective with the world. I want people to understand that as long as they want something badly enough, they can do it. I want to help podcasters switch their mindset from follow me, like my posts, listen to my podcast, and give me your money to, how can I help my audience? What do they need to know to succeed? How can I best spread this message to more people? I want to help people struggling with alcohol realize what’s holding them back from fully accepting that they need to get sober. Often, we say we want to get sober, when in reality we just want to drink without the consequences.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I’m continuing to grow my podcast, which is currently in the top 100 on the mental health charts in several countries. I have aspirations to write a book someday about everything I have learned about addiction to help others get sober and stay sober. I am presenting at some more conferences on podcasting, and will continue seeking out these opportunities. I’m going back to grad school in the fall to get my masters in addiction counseling and co-occurring disorders. My goal is to work at a treatment center, and I think adding counseling expertise to my biochemistry background would further my goal of becoming known as an expert in my field. That is my overall goal, to become known as an expert in addiction, and everything I do is with that in mind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.” -Maya Angelou

It’s okay to fail or suck at something, as long as you don’t give up. When I got sober I started adopting a new mindset of “why not me?”. Even if I fail or I don’t get chosen for an opportunity, I keep trying. The only failure is in giving up and defeating yourself. When I launched my podcast, I had 0 followers and only 9 people listened on launch day (me and my mom were a few of the listens…), but I kept working at it because I didn’t really see any reason why people wouldn’t want to listen to it. When things get hard and you want to quit, remind yourself that successful people aren’t successful because they got lucky. They’re successful because they kept going when it was hard. When everyone else quit, they persevered because they wanted it badly enough.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s about them, not you. Your audience is there to learn something very specific from you. Often, presenters feel that they need to qualify themselves at the beginning of their talk and will take precious minutes away from the information they are trying to deliver to instead spend it on an introduction of who they are and why they are amazing. The best way to qualify yourself is through the information that you share. An effective public speaker does not need to convince the audience that they are an expert in their topic, instead they show that they are an expert throughout the presentation.
  2. Be direct and clear. Get to the point and get to it quickly. An effective speaker knows what information is critical to their talk and what is just filler or fluff. Including too much information (which I have been guilty of!) or going off on a tangent distracts your audience and prevents them from fully internalizing your message. When you’re reviewing your outline or slides, ask yourself “what is the purpose of this slide and how does it fit in with the overall point?”. If you can’t immediately identify how that slide fits, then cut it out.
  3. Have confidence. It’s hard to have confidence as a new speaker and you’re going to suck for a while. A speaker who lacks confidence will not be able to hold the attention of their audience. The best ways to develop confidence are by knowing your audience and what they want, practicing, becoming an expert in your subject, and gaining experience over time.
  4. Humility. The best speakers find a balance between confidence and humility. Nothing ruins a talk and makes the audience tune out like an arrogant speaker. Similar to my first point, resist the urge to qualify yourself or brag about your accomplishments. The best way to maintain the balance between confidence and humility is by keeping your talk audience focused. Keep any introduction about yourself limited to 1 slide or 2 minutes max and limit the amount of stories you tell about your success. Instead of focusing on your success and how amazing you are, focus on the lesson learned from the success and teaching that lesson to your audience.
  5. Relatability. A highly effective public speaker is someone that others can relate to. If you’re sharing about your success in business, but I believe you had it easy and don’t understand my struggles, then I’m not going to completely engage in your talk. You stay relatable and accessible by never forgetting where you came from. When I speak about addiction, I never forget how hard it was for me to get sober and stay sober. When I speak about podcasting, I never forget when I felt frustrated that I had no followers, and no one would listen to my podcast. When I speak about science, I never forget when I was starting out and struggled to fully understand why we were pursuing that study and how it fit into our overall goal.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

The best way to become more comfortable speaking is by deeply understanding your topic. The times where I felt the most nervous about speaking were when I didn’t feel confident that I could answer questions. Many of my presentations have been in a scientific environment where I have been well aware that I was not the most knowledgeable person in the room. My worst talks happened when I felt that everything I knew was already included in my presentation and hoped we wouldn’t have time for questions. If you feel nervous about getting up and speaking, then the best thing you can do is spend time learning and preparing for questions. Like I do with my husband, you could share your slides or outline with a trusted friend or colleague and have them ask you questions. That will give you a better idea of what someone may ask you.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

More compassion. We are all different and we only understand our own experiences. The stigma exists because most people are able to decide how much they want to drink, drink that amount, and move on with their lives. They assume everyone has the same experience, so therefore problem drinkers just choose to go overboard or have a lack of control. Through my work in the sober community, I have learned to have compassion for people that have different experiences than I do. If the world could have a little bit more compassion for people in different situations, it would be a better, less judgmental place. We are all different and our brains don’t work in the same way. Someone isn’t bad or weak because they are different from you, they may have never learned coping skills, their brain may be more sensitive to rewards, or they may feel emotions more intensely than you do. Compassion isn’t giving people an excuse, it is simply not assuming everyone’s brain works the same way yours does. Compassion encourages people to get better, where judgment only encourages shame.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Matt Heafy from Trivium. Trivium’s music has helped me through the darkest times in my life. I discovered them when I was 16 and listening to them helped me distract myself when I was bullied. I developed PTSD at 18 from a traumatic event and could not sleep because of flashbacks and nightmares. I would lie in my bed every night and listen to a full album of Trivium’s (Shogun) and by the time it finished I would usually be able to sleep. At the end of my drinking, I’d stay awake by myself and listen to Trivium and cry. I have been a super fan of Matt Heafy and Trivium for most of my life. Their music is healing.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

If you search for Sober Powered, you will find me. That’s my website, Instagram, Facebook group, YouTube channel, and my podcast can be found wherever you listen to podcasts.

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you so much for allowing me to share!

Gillian Tietz Of Sober Powered On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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