Barra Fitzgibbon | United Kingdom
1. What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD?
Playing gigs in the UCD bar. I was the lead singer of a band called The Prodigals. We were awful but as for Conor, the guitarist in that band, his son is now the lead singer of Fontaines D.C.! Not to do us a complete disservice, we managed to get a gig at The Baggot Inn, heady heights in those days.
2. What led you to your studies in law?
I was one of those students that fell into my studies by chance. I had no clue what I wanted to do or be. I was good at debating and I liked working with my voice. Court advocacy was definitely a draw, and my favourite TV show at the time was Petrocelli (showing my age). He was a lawyer with a camper van and I kind of wanted to be him!
3. You trained (and worked) as a solicitor and then decided to change careers, moving into media continuity and voiceover work – what brought on this change?
RTÉ had a late-night culture show and were looking for a solicitor to discuss immigration law at the time, something my firm specialised in, so I went on as a panellist. I liked it, became a regular panellist and then a guest presenter. Suddenly I had a showreel and some momentum, and I approached broadcasters in the UK. Why the UK? Having an English girlfriend (Jen, now my wife) might have had something to do with it. Channel 4 got in touch and I jumped at the chance. Growing up, Channel 4 was my channel. Our choices back then were ‘A Prayer Before Bedtime’ on RTÉ or ‘The Word’ on Channel 4. What was a teenager to do? It was such an exciting opportunity.
4. In spite of career changes, how has your degree benefited your career?
You can’t overestimate the value a degree offers you. It got my foot in the door of so many opportunities, including TV. It illustrates commitment and discipline. It also gives you some years to grow as a person, to figure things out a little bit more and it never stops giving. A couple of years ago I started working in Higher Education. My degree made that process seamless. I cannot stress its value and I’m so grateful I’ve got it.
5. What advice would you give to someone considering a career change?
Do what makes you smile. The change might fill you with dread, and fear, but don’t just listen to your thoughts. Thoughts can be hijacked by all sorts of triggers. Listen to your face. Get in front of a mirror, ponder the change and if you smile, do it.
6. Who are the most interesting or helpful mentors or advisors that you have had?
I’ve been lucky to have a few. A sister who pushed my confidence, a boss at Channel 4 who helped me find my voice, and most recently a random stranger I met on a plane, who since then has become a best friend to both me and my family. He helped me see my value in the world. These mentors and advisors are everywhere, and we miss them if we’re not open to the everyday conversations in our waking day.
7. Early in 2020, you contracted Covid-19, which was no doubt life-changing – how was the recovery process and how has it impacted your life?
Catching COVID-19 changed everything. I had been researching and studying the power of better conversations for the previous 4 years as a side hobby to my media work. When I caught COVID-19, everything crystalised from my hospital bed. I witnessed first-hand the shocking conversations between patients, doctors, nurses and cleaners, and I knew I could help. I personally drew on all of my learnings as I had to face the most difficult conversations imaginable, including a WhatsApp call with my wife and two children just before entering an induced coma. I had just been told by the doctors in ICU that I may not wake up. It took all of my newfound skills to get through that conversation in the healthiest way possible for me and more importantly for them. The conversations in recovery were as important as modern medicine and I was lucky to have two consultants that listened and made me feel like an equal partner in my recovery. I extoll the untold benefits of “person-centred conversations” or what the NHS call “patient-centred conversations” in my training, conversations that put the person first, never the outcome.
Despite the level of tragedy that I witnessed; I’ve been lucky not to have suffered PTSD. The consultants and I agree that the core reason for this is the person-centred conversations I experienced. Being listened to is powerful. It helps people avoid apathy and playing the victim. In my case it motivated me to buy into their ideas, the relentless breathing exercises and physio. I was up for it because I was listened to. I was made to feel part of a team. And this applies to everyone: CEOs, financial advisors, IT consultants, lawyers, lecturers, students, I’ve worked with them all. Whatever your walk of life, when you move from outcome-focused to person-focused conversations everything improves: relationships, output, confidence, ideas, the list is endless. COVID-19 has put the focus back on conversation and how we communicate, and it was the push for me to set up my own company and teach what I’ve learned over the years and what I acutely experienced in ICU.
8. What motivates you?
Definitely doing what I believe in. The media world was fun, but I recognise now that my motivation for the broadcasting job had hit a low. There’s a lot of context for that, but subconsciously I was spent. That’s why for so many years I threw myself into conversational study. Ironically, it took COVID-19 to wake me up and realise that. But I have never felt so motivated and passionate about my work than I do today. Why? Because I know it works and has extraordinary value.
9. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
Working with the NHS and helping to deliver programmes around the untold benefits of making every conversation in our waking day the best it can be, including, and perhaps more importantly, the conversations we have with ourselves. That’s where it all starts. To be able to help the people that saved my life last year feels like a calling.
10. What do you think your career priorities will be in 10 years’ time?
To keep spreading the word around better conversations. My learning never stops. I devour book after book on the subjects of talking and listening, and whether it’s higher education, corporates, charities or individuals, that’s where I want to be, shouting it from the rooftops and helping people understand the connection between personal and professional greatness and good conversation. This work is my priority.
11. What is the most useful book you’ve read?
This is tricky as I’ve read countless books but I think I’ll go right back to the book that helped me fall in love with reading – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. A wonderful book and little did I know then how much reading would follow! I’ve read it many times. It made me realise that a book has the power to draw you into new worlds and be immersed there as a reader.
12. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Can I have two? “Shut up and listen” and “always expect your next conversation to change your life”.
13. Where do you go to relax?
My mum has a cottage in Wexford, in the sunny South East and it is my haven. Once I got my strength back after COVID-19, it’s where I fled to, it was just the ocean and me – silent, blissful and essential.
14. Tell us about your new business venture
I deliver talks and workshops on the benefits of better conversations. Imposter Syndrome, Resilience, Emotional Understanding, Confidence in speaking both online and offline, Active Listening, Team Thinking, Personal Branding, Conversations via Social Media, Empathy, and most recently Re-socialising as we venture back in the shadow of COVID-19. Programmes are always evolving, and often come out of a collaboration with the client. What they share is the fundamental principle that better conversation makes everything………better!
For more information please you can check out my website or any of my social accounts.