NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we learn and tell stories, the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples, and we pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.

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Tara Winkler’s road to TEDx Sydney

NIDA Corporate is working with Tara Winkler, the Managing Director of the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) which she established with Jedtha Pon in 2007 in order to rescue fourteen children from a corrupt and abusive orphanage.

NIDA Corporate is working with Tara Winkler, the Managing Director of the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) which she established with Jedtha Pon in 2007 in order to rescue fourteen children from a corrupt and abusive orphanage. In 2011 Tara was awarded NSW Young Australian of the Year in recognition of her work with CCT, she has been featured twice on Australian Story and her first book, How (Not) to Start an Orphanage, is being published in April 2016.

Tara’s next challenge is speaking at the upcoming TEDx Sydney conference on Wednesday 25 May 2016. 

It has been a pleasure to be working with her to prepare for this big public speaking opportunity and she will be sharing her experience preparing for this speech with us over the next month through a series of personal blogs.

When I first set up the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) in 2007, I fully understood the responsibilities I was taking on. I knew it was a long-term and life-changing commitment. What I couldn’t anticipate, however, was the public life that would come along with it.

Recently I was offered the chance to speak at Tedx Sydney. Being invited to give a talk on the TED stage was both one of the most exciting and the most terrifying moments of my life. As a TED super-fan the opportunity to give a talk myself is one of the greatest honours I can think of. It’s an amazing platform to hopefully raise some much needed awareness about the global ‘orphanage’ crisis.

But there was one big problem standing in my way — a mortal fear of public speaking. It’s fair to say that I was possibly more scared of public speaking in front of the nearly 5000-strong crowd at the Sydney Opera House than I was of death itself.

But that’s all changed now.

I can hardly believe it would be possible for me to ever utter those words…

How did it happen?

Thanks to the incredibly generous support of NIDA Corporate who have sponsored me with one-on-one training (aka public-speaking boot camp), I have overcome many of my fears around public speaking. My coach, Antony Grgas, is now my personal guru. He has transformed the innately terrifying into something I’m looking forward to, and perhaps even enjoy. We focussed on applying physical, vocal and imaginative exercises to help me build confidence and present without being distracted by my nerves.

To anyone who is looking to improve their presenting skills, or overcome a fear of public speaking, I simply cannot recommend NIDA Corporate highly enough. The training I have completed so far has been truly life-changing.

My public speaking training began in Sydney with three life-changing two-hour sessions with Antony, my NIDA Corporate coach (aka my new guru), and in March I returned home to Cambodia.

The past few months have been an especially busy time for us at Cambodian Children’s Trust, CCT, (which is saying something!) but my amazing team gave me their undivided attention so I could practise my speech and all the new techniques Antony had given me. My team also helped to double and triple check all the facts in my talk (after I do my talk on the 25th of May, we’ll be posting up a reference sheet to all the research papers and studies that I refer to in the talk for anyone who wants to find out more) and they helped me put together the accompanying slides.

Despite all the practise, I was a tad nervous when I returned to Sydney in late April for the second-to-last session with Antony… Had I remembered everything he taught me?


By nature, I am a super-fast talker. My parents hate it, and people of their generation do sometimes find it hard to keep up with me – but, I’m a busy person with a lot to get through in a day, and so that’s the pace I’ve become accustomed to! However, in our sessions Antony has taught me some valuable lessons about effective communication…

People generally find slower speech to be more intelligible, and will remember more of what you say if you allow them time to process and digest the information you’re trying to convey. And after all, as Antony said, this TEDx talk is not for me… It’s for the purpose of raising awareness about a crisis affecting the lives of millions of children. So, even though I was more comfortable speaking at a million miles an hour – if I wanted to be effective, I’d have to learn to slooooow down.

He showed me how to do that with the use of appropriate pauses, by being careful to clearly enunciate all my words, and by using emphasis on certain words while using a variety of tone and inflection in each sentence. These techniques would not only help me to slow down, it would ensure my audience was engaged and my messages would have maximum impact.

The other amazing thing that happened when I began utilising these techniques was that, instead of trying to supress all the nervous energy I had while public speaking, I was able to channel it into the performance and the delivery. Instead of fighting the nerves, suddenly all that energy was working in my favour!

In the past, when I delivered a speech, I’d often finish it and have to ask someone, “What did I say? Was it OK?” Anyone who has a fear of public speaking will be familiar with the strange phenomenon of the disconnect between brain and mouth when delivering a speech, but another great thing about focusing on the performance and delivery of the speech is that it forces me to be in the moment and stay connected to the messages I’m delivering.


When I went back to the second-last session at NIDA I was relieved to find that all the techniques Antony had given me had definitely stuck. And, perhaps more importantly – the confidence that had developed along with them was still there too! We ran through the speech a couple of times with the accompanying slides, and made a few minor adjustments in preparation for a full rehearsal in NIDA’s Parade Theatre the following week.

In that week I also performed the speech for the TEDx Sydney curators. They were delighted with the results of all the work I’d put in. They also let me know that I was going to be the very first speaker to kick off TEDx Sydney 2016! It was great to have such a strong vote of confidence from the amazing TED curators.

The dress rehearsal on the NIDA stage for family and friends went really well and I wasn’t even a little bit nervous! I did get a little bit emotional after I finished the speech though, when thanking Antony for everything he’d done for me – it’s an incredible feeling to conquer a fear. Just one week away from TEDx Sydney, I now can’t wait to finally step out on that stage at the Sydney Opera House.

When I do take to the stage, what will be in my mind is the opportunity I have to give a voice to the 8 million children around the world separated from families and growing up in institutions. I will take everything Antony has taught me to ensure that the audience­ – the 5000 or so at the Sydney Opera House and everyone listening online – walk away armed with the knowledge and information they need to be a part of the solution and help end the unnecessary institutionalisation of vulnerable children.

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