How Dubai-based public speaking coach empowers others to speak with confidence

Andreea Zoia, who overcame selective mutism, on fear and embracing authenticity

By Yasmine Mustafa

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Photos by Muhammad Sajjad
Photos by Muhammad Sajjad

Published: Wed 22 May 2024, 4:09 PM

Andreea Zoia, a UAE-based executive public speaking coach helps people from all walks of life, from CEOs to royalty, find their voice and confidence on stage. What sets her apart is her ability to go beyond the typical ‘technical’ coaching. In a chat with City Times, Andreea shares how she delves into the person's psyche to understand the root of their fears and anxieties around public speaking. Excerpts from the interview:

What do you think is the trigger in your life that made you feel that public speaking could be your purpose in life? Take us back to your life story.

I was the kid with fragmented, broken confidence who went head-on into presenting in the UAE as an expert. I went into public speaking and mentoring to subconsciously face my biggest fears. I wasn’t confident at all; I couldn't speak. I developed selective mutism at seven when my father passed away, meaning I couldn’t stand and answer my teachers or pass my oral exams. I was studious, learning, reading, and passing exams with high scores, but when I had to speak, I couldn't. After graduating, I moved to the UAE, started modelling, and then transitioned to presenting because I loved people, energy, the stage, and entertainment. However, I had no voice or skills initially, just a spiritual attraction to lights and presenting. Over time, I built my competence.

You mentioned having selective mutism. How did that affect you, and how did you overcome it?

Selective mutism meant I could speak but selectively, leading to a secluded, closed-off feeling that the world was dangerous and no one understood me. It was a psychological response to my father’s loss. Today, this has become my gift, allowing me to take the pulse of every individual in front of me. I can hear in every sound of their voice and see in every micro-expression where they are psychologically. I can decode what troubles them and what blocks them from being in their full expression, confident, and alive.

What do you teach people that you wish you had been taught when you first started as a public speaker?

I wish someone had told me it’s okay not to know a lot and to focus on what I know. Embrace and be proud of it. If you’re 19, be proud of your knowledge at 19. If you’re 60, embrace your life experience. When I started, I wish someone had told me to own it and believe in myself because if I’m alive, it’s because God believes in me.

What do people fear the most about public speaking, and how do you help them overcome it?

Public speaking is one of the most feared activities because people focus too much on themselves. They worry about how they are perceived. The key is to fall in love with your message and focus on the audience. If you love what you want to say, you focus on the core message, the stories, and the outcome, not on yourself. This shift requires practice to break the cycle of self-focus.

What is the first and foremost quality someone should have to go into public speaking?

If you want to be a respected public speaker, activate the desire to generously share your message with your audience. Be a generous person with a genuine intention to share your message. When you lead with love for your message and your audience, you become a persuasive thought leader and a unifying force.

How does empathy play a role in public speaking?

Empathy is essential for connecting with your audience. When you are nervous and structured, you lack the emotional connection. By activating empathy, recognising your voice's potential, and connecting with your emotions, you become more expressive and connect better with your audience. This emotional engagement makes your message more powerful and relatable.

Andreea Zoia is an executive public speaking coach helps people from all walks of life
Andreea Zoia is an executive public speaking coach helps people from all walks of life

How can someone with a busy schedule memorise a speech effectively?

First, realise that caring for your audience is paramount. Then, I developed a technique born out of necessity - breaking down speeches into single words on post-it notes. Physically moving through these words helps establish a kinaesthetic relationship between myself and the message, aiding memorisation.

How do you encourage individuals to embrace their accents in a culturally diverse society like the UAE?

In the UAE, where we celebrate over 200 nationalities, accent diversity is a beautiful tapestry of our identity. I often find individuals hesitant due to shame or fear surrounding their accents. But I remind them that their accent is not just a sound; it's a reflection of their roots, their ancestry, and their unique identity. By celebrating their accent, they honour their heritage and bring authenticity to their communication.

Can you share a story that illustrates the importance of authenticity in communication?

Certainly. I had a student, a PhD holder in education, who struggled to express her true opinions due to academic constraints. She felt stifled by the fear of conflicting with her professors' views. It was a journey of self-discovery for her. Through guidance and creating a safe space, she realised the power of her authentic voice. Once she embraced her true self, her communication transformed, and she felt liberated.

How do you bring authenticity to your voice, and why is it important?

Authenticity is black and white; you either are or are not. Practice being more opinionated, standing in your beliefs, and being okay with not being liked by everyone. Authenticity means respecting the person you see in the mirror, being yourself, and not pretending to be someone else. This genuine self-expression is crucial for building trust and connection with your audience.


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