Our latest Faces of Four feature is Stewart Murrie. Stewart believes in building and delivering delightful experiences. When he’s not working in his role as a user experience designer at Dolby Laboratories, Stewart is perfecting his public speaking and leadership craft in Toastmasters. He’s held leadership roles, competed in a variety of different contests and built and worked alongside high performing teams. Let’s take a moment to get to know our Area C3 Director.
Tell us a little about your Toastmasters career (e.g. How long have you been with the organization, what clubs do you belong to, what made you join, etc.).
I knew I was in trouble when I was told I would be giving a speech at work in honour of a colleague. Some 200 people would be there including the CEO and maybe even the founder, Ray Dolby. I was terrified! Serendipitously, my coworker Alex Hughes (San Francisco Toastmasters) was just starting a club at our workplace and so I joined Dolby Speakers as a charter member in August 2012. That gave me 4 months to prepare my speech after which I figured I wouldn’t need Toastmasters anymore. How wrong I was! I realised how much I was getting out of the programme and, 4½ years later, I’m even more involved than ever. I recently joined my second club, San Francisco Storytellers, and I’m having a blast serving as Area C3 Director this year.
How has Toastmasters helped you in your professional career?
It’s been one of the most transformative experiences I’ve had. The craft of being able to write and speak persuasively has been tremendously useful. Since joining Toastmasters I’ve been called upon to give speeches and product demonstrations to customers (including the surreal experience of giving a talk to unsuspecting moviegoers at a Chicago cinema on the opening weekend of Taken 2), and I’ve facilitated workshops for several groups at Dolby, including colleagues at our office in Wrocław, Poland.
But more than that it’s given me more proof that I can overcome obstacles that seem completely insurmountable. I had always wanted to be product designer but I firmly believed it was beyond my talents and abilities (that sort of thing was for creative, artsy types—not nerdy engineers like me!). Two years after joining Toastmasters (and a lot of study) I persuaded our Director of Design to give me a chance, and now I’m a senior designer at Dolby. I’ve really come to appreciate the power of a growth mindset and Toastmasters is a fundamental aspect of that.
What is the best public speaking advice you’ve ever received?
Not strictly speaking related, but I always have in my mind one of my favourite quotations from author and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing else to add, but when there is nothing else to take away.”
I apply that to public speaking by trying to make sure that my message is crystal clear, and that anything that detracts from it is set aside (and likely used for another speech!).
What has surprised you the most about yourself since you joined Toastmasters?
That I could actually enjoy public speaking! I’m generally one to shy away from the spotlight, content to be a face in the crowd, but I’ll guiltily admit to feeling a warm glow after delivering a speech on a subject close to my heart. Of course, that could also be the post-speech Scotch I occasionally enjoy!
What are your interests and hobbies outside of Toastmasters?
Some people collect things as a hobby. I tend to collect hobbies. I find almost any subject fascinating, leading me to dabble in art, photography, music, robotics, cooking, and 3D modelling. Lately I’ve started playing a sport called pickleball. That I would enjoy participating in any sport is pretty astounding, but I love it!
How would you describe the perfect meal?
It’s terribly trite but it really is about the people you’re with. Any meal where you’re laughing so hard that people start to stare is a good meal. As for cuisine, I have to pick Indian food. I went to college in Britain’s curry capital, Birmingham, where Indian and Pakistani food is plentiful, delicious, and cheap. The only problem was I hated anything even mildly spicy. But, over the years, my tolerance built and now I love anything hot, although I’ve never been able to take more than a couple of bites of the famous ghost chili curries at the Mint Bistro in Vegas…yet!
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Before I was a speaker, I was a singer. I was a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for many years and performed some of the most incredible music in the word with some of the most amazing musicians (and it’s how I met my partner, Kim). I’m also a classically trained organist and I’ve played in churches and cathedrals all over the UK, and a few here as well. It’s not the most practical instrument, but it sure is fun!
If you want to come see Stewart show his public speaking chops, he’s leading an educational session at the District 4 Spring Conference. It’s not too late to register. Online registration closes at noon on Friday, May 19th!