Dan Faill Of Faill Safe Solutions On 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Your Voice. Now I’m not specifically talking about the volume of your voice, I’m talking about your voice — your authentic, amazing, empowering, true voice. Don’t quote other people all the time. Don’t try to be like someone else. Be yourself. Authenticity and vulnerability will be your best friend when it comes to sales, marketing, and connections.
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 Dan Faill.
Over-involved student leader. Fraternity member. Orientation Leader. Chapter President. Tour Guide. Imposter. Sexual Assault Survivor. These are just a few of the titles Dan had during his time in college.
As an accomplished storyteller and international speaker, Dan incorporates his own lived experiences, in addition to industry-proven research, to craft engaging and relatable experiences for student audiences. Having worked for 15 years on college campuses advocating for safe and positive student communities, Dan now travels the country as a full-time speaker and consultant, engaging audiences in hard but needed topics. He creates spaces that engage and inspire us to be our authentic selves, and be brave enough to have the conversations that matter.
Dan has seen the connections stories create, and is passionate about helping others find and share their stories to impact the next generation of leaders, which is why he co-created Voices for College, serving as a coach for aspiring speakers. Dan lives in Los Angeles and co-parents with his spouse-emeritus, while cheering on his sporty daughter and serving as set dad for his acting son.
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?
Thanks so much for having me!
What’s funny about how I grew up is that it’s somewhat polar opposite of what I do now; I was always the shy kid, playing with my toys in my room as a latch key kid. My friends and I would chat comic books and compare notes from class. I wouldn’t really raise my hand or make an effort to meet new people. I was good in small group settings at my parent’s dinner parties, just chatting and being myself. I grew up on shows like Fresh Prince and In Living Color, really seeing what joy you could have when you laugh. It wasn’t until high school theater that I started to realize I had a knack for performing and entertaining. I enjoyed the thrill of being someone else and making people laugh with whatever antics I was able to portray. Then in college as a communication studies major, I realized I could take topics and make them engaging too, blending data and stories to educate (and hopefully get an A).
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I remember being a fraternity/sorority advisor, and one of my tasks was to conduct a risk management training for the entire community of over 1,000 members. While speaking in public didn’t really bother me at that time, I was worried how I could make such an incredible topic like risk management (hopefully that sarcasm comes through loud and clear) and not bore an audience to tears. I was going through the powerpoint my predecessor left me and it was…painful. Lots of bullet points and stats and legal jargon that didn’t instill a lot of confidence in me. And then I realized, basically the night before the scheduled presentation, that I could bring my own flair to the information. Why can’t stats and policies be more engaging? I just didn’t want to read them or recite them verbatim; I wanted to give context and have fun and help students understand why the policies existed in the first place, as opposed to just telling them what they can’t do. At the end of that presentation, I had a few students come up to me and tell me thank you for not treating them like children, and making it feel like a conversation. I think my favorite was a couple of men said “hey man, thanks, that didn’t suck.” And honestly? That’s a solid win. From there I wanted to take hard topics and make them engaging, and it’s been an amazing journey as a speaker for college students ever since.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I feel like any speaker over the course of the last few years can relate to the fact that it’s been anything but dull in the midst of a global pandemic. To be a public speaker, and then all of a sudden there’s no public? That was very interesting, and not in a fun way. I think I curled up into fetal position wondering what I was going to do, and honestly I stayed in that mindset for far too long. Thankfully I had some great friends to chat with via zoom and weekly online therapy appointments to get me through it. Also in late 2020 I joined Clubhouse, and was able to interact with some absolutely incredible people, which led me to a weekly room about storytelling and speaking that we do every Friday at 10a PT, and we’ve been going strong for well over 70 weeks in a row!
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?
Oh there’s a lot of stories to be certain. I think I can tell you one of my funniest memories from stage… I was presenting to a room full of probably around 800 new members of the fraternity/sorority community, and during one part of that specific keynote, I was illustrating of how ridiculous we look when we’re dancing after having some “liquid courage” — the music came on and I start to dance, making fun of how sometimes we think we have rhythm when we most definitely don’t. Then I decided to drop it like it’s hot, and as I went all in for the move, I heard and felt the rip in my pants. It wasn’t some little seam that came undone, I’m talking full-fledged tear from back to almost all the way front. I owned it though, fully admitting that whoops moment and making an offhand joke about the room getting drafty. Thankfully we all shared a good laugh, and then I kept the keynote going. My lesson learned? Always be prepared for anything and everything, especially when you drop it a little too hot…
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?
One of my mentors always says that speakers should have speaker friends. We’re the ones who get it, we understand the issues and nuances. But I simply have to give love to my friend James Robilotta. We both came from working in higher education, however he began his speaking journey a few years before I did. As I started my speaking career, I looked up to him (and still do). His ability to work a crowd and have so much fun with everyone, and then all of a sudden hit you in the feels with a mic drop moment. When I started I was chasing whatever message I could, because I loved talking about anything and everything. James pulled me aside and said that I’m great at what I do, but I simply can’t talk about everything under the sun because then my audience doesn’t really get to know who I am or what I speak about. I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be a kitchen sink speaker. I’m thankful to him and our ability to always get vulnerable and talk about what’s happening in our lives, while also being someone who challenges and champions me to be my best.
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?
I mean, when your last name is Faill, you kind of get used to the idea of it after a while… Plus, if you become a public speaker and don’t talk about leadership, vulnerability and failure, it’s a total missed opportunity!
Let’s think about failure another way. Each of us has failed hundreds of thousands of times in our lives. You would think we would be used to it and it shouldn’t be as scary by now. Think about it, we weren’t born able to walk, we had to learn to crawl and then walk; we fell down, got bruises, got back up, and kept at it until it’s second nature. But it still feels scary to try something new. I talked myself out of becoming a full-time speaker for years, I mean years. Any excuse I could find I’d use it. Then one day an opportunity came up to do some great in-depth consulting, which would help supplement the full-time income I had at the time. In the midst of that crossroads, I had to make a decision. Should I stay comfortable and complacent, always wondering ‘what if’? Or should I take the chance, bet on myself, and just try. That was almost five years ago now, and that path was well worth leaning into the fear and doubt, because I’ve discovered more of my capabilities and myself than ever before.
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 firmly believe that the work I do on college campuses can save a life and make a difference. My main keynote is about the intersection of alcohol and consent. As a survivor myself, I know just sharing my story can help others. It can empower others to help a friend in need, even if they can’t find the words to say they need help. My other keynote flips the script on failure and posits that failure is the pinnacle of success, something we should all strive for in anything we do. That keynote addresses the feelings of imposter syndrome and vulnerability in a fun and engaging way. Two very different topics, but all centered around the concept of relationships, looking out for one another, trying something new, connecting on deeper levels, discovering those ‘iceberg moments’ that’s so much more in depth and better than the surface level convos we’re used to.
I believe we need to be brave enough to have the conversations that matter, and I’m so damn proud I get to wake up and do this work every day.
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?
Ooohhh, y’all I’ve got a best-selling book that I can’t wait for you to read. All I need to do now is start writing it! Taking that concept of failure, I created a model that really does place failure at the height of achievement, and can’t wait to share it with the world. I’ve also had so much fun coaching people to find their own keynote and develop personalized keynotes so they can go impact more lives — it’s one of the reasons I created Voices for College with another speaker friend of mine. From here, I see myself continuing to give back to the college space, while branching out and helping others realize their own potential and creating vulnerable moments and stories to connect us better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the quotes that I continue to reference in keynotes is from my dad, where he really got me to rethink the concept of networking. “It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” And when I really thought about it, it makes complete sense. I could know a plethora of people, however it doesn’t mean they know me. In the speaker community we often joke that speakers get speakers gigs. But it’s true. Whenever I’m with a client or campus and they want to bring a message like mine back, but unsure they want me back for the fifth year in a row, I rattle off people that I know and trust and believe can truly show up and deliver something special. I’ve had speaking engagements and coaching clients get referred to me because someone else knew me. That’s my new networking 101, because it’s all about the relationships you have with people — that’s what matters.
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.
Link to 5 Things Video: https://youtu.be/gi2AxngWrpE
Pull up a chair y’all, let’s go for a ride…
- Your Mindset. In order to be a speaker, you need to address that space between your ears and get your mind right. When I teach speaking courses one of the first things I do is have them stand up and confidently say “I am a speaker.” To which most times we have to go back in and work on the confidence again. We all have this little voice in our heads that might tell us we’re not a speaker and we can’t do it. That might not be a fear of speaking, but moreso a fear of people speaking about us. “What if they don’t like me, what if I mess up, what if I rip my pants on stage from dropping it a little too hot?” These are lies. The problem is, our brain can’t differentiate between negative self-talk and positive self-talk. We end up believing whatever we tell ourselves. So why not tell ourselves more positive things? Think about the word “believe”. In the middle of that word, is the word “lie” — so what are the little lies that we end up believing? Address your mindset, and you’re ready to keep moving along your journey as a speaker.
- Your Message. I often tell coaching clients of mine that if you chase the message, you lose yourself. Hot topic messages come and go like a leaf on the wind. At one point early in my speaking career I think I had around seven different keynote topics. One of my good friends and mental health speakers was listening to me vent about not getting consistent speaking engagements. After a few minutes he finally told me it’s because no one knew what I actually talked about, because I had too many topics. He was a mental health speaker who wrote award-winning curriculum, that’s how people knew him. So then what on earth was I? (And to be honest, that caught me off guard and I joked that a mental health speaker really messed with my mental health in that moment). Any TED/TEDx talk has a through line, a main message. My cornerstone through line in my keynotes is creating conversations that matter: whether that be about failure, leadership & imposter syndrome, or about the intersection of alcohol and consent; we need to have better conversations and connections. Sometimes we also feel like our message needs to be perfect. Fun fact: your mess is your message. No one is expecting perfection from you, in fact, we love to see imperfections. There are lessons in the struggles and messages in the conflict. So lean into your mess to find your message.
- Your Story. Storytelling is arguably the first true profession; it was the original way to pass knowledge down from one generation to the next. It’s quite literally in our DNA, however some of us might need to find the right story and reverse engineer it; kind of like Jurassic Park, only without all the death and velociraptors. Too often people feel they don’t have a “good enough” story to tell, and they get stuck in the comparison loop. “My story isn’t as serious as theirs” or “well I’ve not struggled as much as others so I shouldn’t share my little ole story.” STOP IT. Your story matters, because it might resonate with others. It also doesn’t have to be this grandiose story, it can be something seemingly mundane; it’s all about how you pull the lesson or message into the story. For example, in one keynote I share a fable that I read on the side of a Chipotle bag, but tie it into how you can help others see their potential and purpose. I know one speaker that talks about getting a bowl of blueberries every day, which they then illustrate the importance of habits and relationships. Stories can make the message more impactful. One thing to keep in mind as you’re determining how to share your story: don’t get lost in the details. What might feel important to you might not have importance to the audience.
Also, to provide a little extra value for your readers, I co-moderate a Clubhouse room every Friday at 10a PST where a large group of professional speakers spend hours with audience members sharing tips and tricks on the entire speaking business, but really focus on storytelling. Feel free to pop in and say hi — we’ve been going for over 70 weeks in a row with no plans to slow down!
4. Your Speaker Friends. A mentor of mine often says that any good speaker surrounds themselves with speaker friends. You need those people who “get it” and understand the industry. When you want to pitch a new idea or vent about something, they’re the ones you can go to. But if you don’t know any speakers, that’s ok! Outside of my friends that are speakers, I also joined the National Speakers Association — Los Angeles Chapter. That network of others involved in the speaking and coaching industry has been incredibly helpful for me. So if you’re not sure who you can reach out to that’s a speaker, go check to see if there’s a NSA chapter near you, it’s a great place to start.
5. Your Voice. Now I’m not specifically talking about the volume of your voice, I’m talking about your voice — your authentic, amazing, empowering, true voice. Don’t quote other people all the time. Don’t try to be like someone else. Be yourself. Authenticity and vulnerability will be your best friend when it comes to sales, marketing, and connections.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
Few things strike terror into people like public speaking. In fact, nearly 77% of people have glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. However the act of speaking is something we do regularly: at work, at home, on zoom, on the phone — we talk a lot (and with a 12yr old daughter I can confirm that the next generation talks a lot too). When it comes to public speaking, as the saying goes: practice makes perfect. Most full-time professional speakers have been crafting their messages and honing their stories for years. I know one speaker who rehearses in front of their mirror to see how they express themselves. I know another speaker who would practice in their back yard to trees in an effort to control their pacing and timing (and also entertain the neighbor unknowingly). We practice. We rehearse. But notice I didn’t say we memorize. Many clients and course attendees of mine ask how to memorize their keynotes. Please don’t. I tell them to be married to their outline, not their script. They should write out their keynote to be sure, but they shouldn’t try to do it verbatim. Actors stick to their script. Speakers know their messages and stories and can adapt as needed based on the audience. it just takes practice.
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?
Wow, amazing question. I’d love for us to be more vulnerable. I think Dr. Brené Brown has done an incredible job helping us understand the role vulnerability can play in everything we do. I’d love to continue that movement and infuse storytelling into it, to accentuate our connections to be grounded in relationships with one another. Because if you’re vulnerable and share your story with me, then I know you better and can connect with you on a more human and empathetic level.
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!
I think I’d love to crush some brunch with Dax Shepard. Outside of his career in improv, comedy movies and hosting the Armchair Expert podcast, he’s been doing some incredible work in the vulnerability space. Most recently I saw an Instagram video where he was dancing ridiculously and wrote about some vulnerable thoughts and feelings he had. It’s that sort of honest approach of male vulnerability we need more of, in an effort to normalize how easy it can be for men to show emotions. I think brunch would have us laughing to tears followed by some in-depth emotional shares.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Of course I am! With such an original name I was able to snag @DanFaill on all the social medial platforms: IG, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and even www.DanFaill.com. I’ve got some fun blog posts and podcast guest appearances on the website, so feel free to give a read and listen, and slide into the DMs if I can ever be of service to you, your company or in whatever way possible.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
And thank y’all so much for having me as a part of this, I really hope it helps others!