It all started with a simple movement three years ago that would change the way we think about fashion sustainability and consumption today. Thanks to the #WomenOfStyleTheory community, we have now sowed the seeds for a new fashion movement in Singapore and Indonesia with thousands of women sharing an Infinite Wardrobe and the experience of unlimited fashion freedom.
The Women Who series highlights the inspiring subscribers in our community with a story to tell. We met with an amazing woman who has guided growth in many people through her passion in teaching and sharing knowledge.
Thank you for finding time in your busy schedule!
We know you’re the founder and director of the Global Speech Academy. How did you journey into creating Global Speech Academy–what kick-started this entire thing?
I have a background in international studies and linguistics, and my very first job in Singapore was teaching approximately 1200 pilots how to give better public announcements. It was a course focused on pronunciation and articulation as well as connecting with international audiences. It was fascinating and I decided I wanted to run courses like this full time. That’s how my training business was born.
How would you explain what Global Speech Academy does to someone who has no prior knowledge about it?
We teach and help global leaders to speak clearly and confidently so they can make a bigger impact in their organisations. At the academy, we run interactive workshops, seminars, and offer 1-1 training in presentation skills, global English pronunciation and people skills. I also consult with large multinational companies to help them with their internal communication and language policies, style guides and so on.
What are some challenges you faced being in this leadership position or challenges you faced at the start of this business and programme?
Everyone starting a teaching business has the same big challenge: we’re experts in what we teach, but we know nothing about running a business. There was a huge learning curve for me– figuring out how to get a website, market and sell my services, write proposals, approach organisations and build the right relationships.
You are a speaker and trainer, teaching Global Communication. Can you share a little bit about what Global English is?
The way we use English is changing. It used to be that everyone needed to learn either British or American English because they were the only “correct” varieties of the language. Today, there are many different kinds of English and the language is used differently wherever you are in the world. No variety is better or worse than another.
There is no ONE global English language. Rather, the users define the language through their interactions. The way a Chinese businesswoman speaks English with a Frenchman in Germany will be different from the way a Singaporean speaks English with a Korean in Indonesia. What is acceptable in one context could be unacceptable in another. The key is communicating in a way that is best understood. That’s really the goal of all communication. So when I teach Global English, what I’m really teaching is how to adapt your style and language to your listener depending on the cultural and linguistic context.
We watched your TEDx talk “How to speak bad English perfectly.” As a speaker, what are some of your most memorable talks given?
I still remember the first speech contest I ever participated in (and won) when I was in the 6th grade. I had no idea that that was just the beginning! I spoke at both my high school and university graduations, and I’m really proud of those short speeches. TEDx was a dream come true, and I hope I’ll get more opportunities on the TEDx stage. Speaking and teaching takes me all over the world, so I also have favourite talks that I got to deliver in interesting places. My most exciting sessions have been in Sudan, Russia and Kuwait.
What are some advice or tips you would give to someone who isn’t confident in speaking the English language?
My personal mantra is “Connection, not Perfection.” The whole point of communicating is to connect. Your English doesn’t have to be perfect. Your version of “bad” English is good enough. You don’t need perfect grammar or the perfect word. As long as the other person understands you and connects with your ideas, you are communicating successfully.
As Style Theory’s Women Who Teach, what’s your take on the term ‘teach’ and why do you think it is important?
The most important people in my life have been my teachers. Good teachers change lives. Every time I get the opportunity to teach, I consider it an honour and privilege that someone trusts me in that role.
Being a founder and director of Global Speech Academy, could you share with us what are some struggles you faced?
What haven’t I faced? It’s been a huge learning curve, and every time I think I’ve figured something out, times change, technology changes, clients want or need something new. It’s never ending! Luckily I’ve had fantastic mentors and friends who have led the way and I turn to them whenever I’m stuck.
As a Global Communication Specialist, what is a normal work week like for you? What do you teach?
Every day is different. My time is split between running full-day workshops, coaching clients 1-1 in their presentations or pronunciation, writing articles, recording videos, doing digital marketing, meeting potential clients and writing proposals, designing programs, and right now, on top of it all, working on my next book, Powerful people Skills for the Digital Age, which will be published in April 2020 by Marshall Cavendish.
How do you counter the criticisms that you might have faced in this journey as a Global Communication Specialist?
I love that quote, “If everyone likes you, you’re doing something wrong.” I got quite a bit of criticism for my TEDx talk and its message that it’s okay to speak “bad” English. It came from people I really admire, so that made it even harder. BUT… I believe in what I said with my whole being. Our world is dominated by white, western voices, and we NEED more diverse, global voices. We need more knowledge and viewpoints and need to see through different lenses. If I can help and inspire just one person to share their gifts with the world, then I am happy. This is what I remember when I face criticism. I remind myself why I do what I do. And then I keep going.
Besides being a speaker and trainer, you’re also juggling other business roles as the founder. What keeps you motivated to continue and what do you do when you’re feeling less motivated on some days?
Ugh… motivation… so tough. Being an entrepreneur is a very emotional game. Sometimes you’re high, sometimes you’re low, and it’s easy to lose motivation during tough times. It’s so important to have a strong network of friends and colleagues who are supportive, uplifting, and who challenge you. I’ve been part of a mastermind group with two very close friends for over five years now. We meet online every Monday at 8am to support and challenge each other for the week. I’m also a part of a number of professional organisations where I can learn and grow. And if all else fails, I turn to my huge library of books for intellectual stimulation and motivation.
What is it like to be a modern working female today?
That is a huge question. I am very lucky that I have a fabulous husband who is very involved at home. Still, I definitely feel the extra mental load of being the woman of the house. I’m primarily the one in contact with the kids’ school, managing the information overload that comes from them weekly, and keeping the kids on track with homework, taking them to activities and so on. My workday normally needs to end by 4pm when my kids come through the door. I’m sure I could have built my business faster, but that would have meant compromising in other areas. I do believe as women we can have it all, just not at the same time. Now that my kids are older and more independent (9 and 11), I can put more focus on the growth of the business.
Do you think there are still some occasions at the workplace when you have to prove yourself more, simply because you’re a woman? Are there any challenges you face?
Absolutely, yes!!! It’s funny, we often think of teachers as women, but the higher up you go in education, the fewer women you’ll find. If you look at international stages at conferences, you’ll find even fewer women thought leaders sharing their ideas. We have a long, long way to go before women are offered the same opportunities as men, and we break through the barriers built and maintained by the “old boys clubs.” Unconscious biases also play a part. An established male speaker (and friend) was telling me that female speakers need to work on using more humour. I told him, “Female speakers need to be twice as serious as men to be taken half as seriously.” This is as true for the office as it is the stage, and believe me, it’s time for a change.
As a subscriber of Style Theory Apparel, what are some of your favourite hits about our service?
I LOVE Style Theory. Unlike men who can show up in the same suit and tie for every public appearance, there is an expectation that I should be wearing something new and fabulous every time I appear on stage. Style Theory lets me do that. I’ve been wearing a Style Theory piece at almost every speech or training programme I’ve delivered over the last year.
My favourite feature in the app is my ability to create categorised wish lists. I am also so happy you recently started allowing us to drop off one box and pick up the new one at the same time. And the option to purchase favourite pieces at a reduced rate after they’ve been in circulation for a while is fantastic.
Where do you think Style Theory can do better? (Be honest with us!)
I get frustrated when I find the perfect piece for an upcoming event, but it’s not available in my size because someone beat me to it and it’s rented out. I have a long list of dresses on my wish list, and I am just waiting for them to become available. This really just points to the great success of Style Theory, so I’ll be patient.
You have multiple roles to play at times–speaker, trainer, mother, how does that influence your style and choices when it comes to renting with us? (Do you rent based on occasion or mood more?)
I have separated my wish lists into “Workwear,” “Weekend,” and “Next Box.” This last week I added “Europe” as I was looking for styles that would keep me warm in Denmark and Germany next week. When I find styles I like, I categorise them. Then, when I’m ready for a new box, I check my calendar for upcoming events and decide what kinds of styles I need. I put favourites in “Next Box” and then make my final choices from there, depending on what’s available.
Style Theory is all about style- and self-exploration, accepting that we’re all a work-in-progress, and being open to surprises and new discoveries. Were there any times during your subscription that you felt closest to what the brand stood for? Could you walk us through that?
My subscription offers me the freedom to try out new styles and colours that I wouldn’t have bought in a store. I love to wear statement pieces that get attention, and with Style Theory I get to be more daring. Every time I get a box, I come home and do a fashion show for my helper and daughters and we all decide on our favourites. It’s fun to surprise my husband with a new outfit on date night too.
As a mother, how do you balance between your career roles and motherhood?
Having my own business gives me the flexibility to participate in more of the kids’ activities. I can take a morning off to go on a field trip, or an afternoon to attend an assembly. I schedule my days so that I’m usually home by the time they get off the school bus so I can help them with their homework (my most important teaching role) and hear about their day. I have coffee in bed every morning and my girls come in and cuddle for 20 minutes when they get out of bed. I had a big plan to start going for a swim every morning, but I just don’t want to give up my cuddles. In a couple years they won’t want them anymore. Weekends are family time, and we aren’t incredibly social. Even the girls would often rather stay home with us than go for playdates. After packed weeks of work, travel, school and activities, we all just like to hang out together on the weekends to play in the pool, cuddle our animals (Daisy, the Shih Tzu and two cats), watch a movie, or go to dinner.
You also take part in regular Taekwondo–share with us about how this helps you? Is this a hobby or stress-relieving activity as well?
I’ve been practicing Taekwondo for 4.5 years and my girls started about 6 months after me. It started as a hobby and a fun activity to share with the girls, but now it’s become a practice I don’t like to skip. It’s definitely stress-relieving and gives me the opportunity to clear my mind of all the distractions of the day. It’s also a great sport for mind-body connection.
Lastly, what is one thing you would say to young and budding teachers out there?
Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world. All of the horrible things we see in our world today are a result of a lack of knowledge or understanding. If we are to work together to change the world, we need really excellent teachers to lead the way. Know that what you do matters. You make a difference.
Inspired by Heather’s style? Rent her top picks from the Infinite Wardrobe: