Most public speaking coaches have gleaming resumes anchored by communication degrees followed by a list of certification credentials, and for the cream of the crop, a bio brandishing “award-winning” speaker status.
The CV of the founder of Soapboxer Company Edwin Lim, one of the newer startups in the Sultanate looking to help with public speaking and communications, doesn’t quite match this standard.
A grizzled veteran of Brunei’s IT scene, 49-year-old Edwin’s resume is perhaps the opposite – it’s stacked with roles as project and delivery lead for implementing pioneering IT systems for some of Brunei’s largest organizations including TelBru and Royal Brunei Airlines.
So why has a software engineer, whose career began by sitting in front of a computer writing code, left the corporate world to build a company around communications?
Learning the hard way
“I wasn’t born a communicator, not by any stretch of the imagination,” says Edwin. “But that’s the whole point; public speaking was never my hobby, in fact – like many – it was one of my greatest fears.”
Speaking to IT students at Laksamana College last weekend, he gave his first vivid example: recalling his experience vomiting before presentations while studying for his Master’s in Information Science at the Western Australian College of Advanced Education back in 1993.
As he graduated and entered the workforce, Edwin found that communication scenarios became more demanding than a simple presentation in front of a class, where only the lecturers grading you needed to be impressed.
How do you get others to not only listen, but to take your message seriously? Can your presentations influence others to take action? And perhaps the hardest: how do you break bad news to your boss?
“I began to see the gap (in knowledge) when we had experts come in to talk about communications and public speaking,” said Edwin of his previous jobs.
“The courses were always very narrow in their application and missed the bigger picture; they didn’t tackle very difficult scenarios. If it was a presentation workshop, we’d have the experts talk about the font size, colour and content structure for our slides – and if it was public speaking, it would be posture, eye contact, intonation, the whole deal.
“But my burning question was would this information help you when you’re in a difficult situation in the workplace in Brunei? Should you be walking in chest high, full of bravado when you’ve been called in by your senior management to explain why your project is behind schedule or when a serious problem has come up? If no, then what’s the alternative? These were the answers I needed – but was never really able to find.”
Soapboxer: Blending leadership, project management and practical communications
Across 20 years, Edwin slowly built up a base of communications through trial and error, eventually spearheading the delivery of some of the largest IT projects in the country, including the Ministry of Finance’s electronic invoice portal TAFIS and TelBru’s fiber infrastructure to enable high-speed broadband (HSBB) connectivity throughout Brunei.
He also earned a Master’s of Management in People Leadership along the way, and began to build his own communications course that would help the everyday person – from students to executives to entrepreneurs – deal with challenging situations.
“Having goods grades or a high IQ (intelligence quotient) simply doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Edwin. “The business world is unforgiving; I know because I’ve been there. Whether you’re applying for a job, about to give a presentation or are running a project, the bottom line is that those with a high EQ (emotional intelligence) who can persuade and communicate often come out ahead.”
The 49-year-old left TelBru and started Soapboxer Company in July 2018, and since helped prepare more than a dozen organizations and schools prepare for scenarios that will test the limits of their communications.
Soapboxer breaks down its programmes into five separate courses beginning with public speaking, landing a job, being able to influence others and managing a project. Edwin also answers the question of breaking bad news, through a three-step approach that acknowledges the problem, manages expectations and specifies remedial action along with timeframes.
It’s a no-nonense, context-based approach to practical communications that will go beyond your first class presentation or quarterly reports before your management.
“As soon as you move up in the workplace, you’ll have to learn how to rally those around you. It’s not as simple as waving your authority, telling others you’re in charge; that may get obedience and compliance, but not creativity and innovation. You need to learn how to influence and persuade, both up and down (the chain of command) if you want your project to be firing on all cylinders.”
Today, Edwin often starts his classes – whether it’s to schools to corporates – by saying that it doesn’t matter if you were born or raised a communicator.
“We’re all at different levels, that’s true,” says Ed. “But whatever you’re current level is at, if you decide now, that you’re not satisfied with your current ability, and you’re serious about wanting to improve – then we can certainly help you get to the next level.”