From my Soapbox -Are you right? Or are you right?

IMG_5005In the 1950s/60s social etiquette decreed that middle class folks did not talk about politics, religion or sex at a dinner party. Mind you it really would not have mattered at all as most in the dinner party milieu of that time had pretty similar values. Sex, well it was a broad brush sniggering at the smutty jokes that were pertinent to the starter of half a grilled grapefruit studded with a cherry.  Religion was dutiful, rather than a spiritual choice and politics, you should be one-step ahead of me here, conservative with a capital C.

I was Conservative through and through. Both my parents were members of the Conservative Party and as a family we attended all of the fund-raising dances and events organised by our local branch.  We knew we were in the right. In WW2 my father commanded the Royal Artillery battalion that protected Winston Churchill who happened to be our local MP.  My father had a ‘man the gunboats’ view of life.   A mind-set that was born out of his war time experiences and his conviction of that in the long run ‘tough-love’ was best for all men whatever their race or creed. I too for many years shared these conservative values believing that it served the best interests of my country.

Now at the age of 75 I’m a Labour party voter, or for my American friends, a Democrat.  Difficult position because I still frequently swan around in the same pond of old conservative friends, so I adhere to the out-dated dinner-party creed when I’m enjoying their company. For me the switch was about my own gradual evolution.  An evolution marked with life’s passage of loss, marriage, children, a continuing spiritual quest and a mid-life crisis of ‘who the fuck am I?’

My Labour ideals are not based on a ‘bleeding heart’ mentality rather what I see as the softer  more important philosophical qualities of compassion.   The American Poet and Prophet Wendell Berry captures my beliefs in this quote  ‘To make a living is not to make a killing it’s to have enough.’

The demonising of politicians is reaching new levels of vitriol and hate as voters on both sides of the debate find we can’t trust our duly elected representatives. Equally politicians are put into the unenviable position of trying to capture our vote and protect their brand by any means including distorting and fabricating the facts. Sorry I mean lying. We as the public, if indeed we do take an interest, read right-wing editorials or left-wing articles and knee jerk respond accordingly.  Like angry spectators on the sidelines we barrack and cat call. Our party shows us the right way and the opposition is in the wrong.

It is patently evident on both sides of politics that not all politicians are clean. But if we were to take a more tolerant look at them and work on the premise that essentially politicians are well-intentioned people who go into parliament with a passion for addressing issues from their electorate or a desire to make sure that our country is managed effectively – then we have a starting point for a deeper understanding of what makes us tick.

Consider this question – whether it would be possible for both sides of politics to come an understanding that neither party is completely right or totally wrong. Imagine if they could walk in each other’s psychological sandshoes for a moment. If that could happen we may have terms for negotiation.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired of this paralysing righteousness that grips our country. No I don’t have the answers of how to fix the deficit, to be equal handed to the millions of refuges who wish so desperately to come to our country, develop impartial tax and welfare policies, to grow the economy or have an inkling of the requirements to grow new industries. That is why we pay our politicians.

Thinking you’re right does not mean you are. The 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi said ‘Somewhere between right and wrong there is a garden – I will meet you there.’

Social media, with its up to the minute is the game-changer. We see almost daily how the dynamics of a revolution has been changed by power of social media. With an avalanche of public opinion these political opponents may seriously consider talking to each other, I mean respectfully, honestly and without a whisper of sledging and who knows what bounty that could bring.

Tell your politicians of choice- there are some very nice gardens around Parliament House – get to it.



Give me a jar of coloured pens ………….

IMG_5093If you are looking for a technique to make planning your work easy and affectice; whether it be the first draft stage of a speech or any written work , become a child again and create  a colourful Mind Map.

Mind mapping originated in the 1960s with Tony Buzan and allows you to generate an organic explosion of ideas.

Just like a road map a Mind Map will give you an overview of your topic, enables you to tap into the wealth of your imagination,  collect together large chunks of data and be enjoyable to review and  consider how to progress.

1. Take a sheet of blank unlined paper. Use it landscape rather than portrait style.

2. You will need a container of coloured pens and pencils.

3. In the centre of the page draw an image or write the topic  that you want to explore from there create logical and illogical branches of thoughts to spin off from the central title.

The one above is an old one of mine.  I create Mind Maps not only for work but for everyday issues where I need to see things more clearly. This Thoughts Shape Your Life Map  is very busy, the ideas just kept coming and I was running out of room but the finished Map gave me great clarity on how my everyday, every moment thoughts affected my life for the better or worse.

Rehearsing a Speech for Success

Winston Churchill 1941
Winston Churchill 1941

Winston Churchill’s war time speeches inspired a nation to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds. But few knew that  Churchill suffered from a speech impediment, he had trouble with the letter ‘s’ which he pronounced as ‘sh.’ After consulting the finest specialist of the day he was advised that there was nothing clinically wrong with him and that all that was needed was ‘perseverance and practice.’  Which he did.  It is documented that he spent up to eight hours rehearsing a speech.

When I first started speaking in public I rehearsed endlessly.  It  became a repetitious mind numbing recitation. I thought of it as a necessary exercise to safeguard to myself from the effects of stage fright which froze my brain and tightened my breathing. I determined that if I mastered the rhythm and flow, the pace, the pause, the open stance of body image and practiced putting the oomph into the delivery then no matter what amount of flight or fight adrenalin my system pumped into my body, I too like Winston would over come and let people see the real lectern me.

It took years before I realised that beyond the first few fresh run-throughs my endless rehearsals were simply reinforcing my fears. What were my feelings and thoughts as I rehearsed over and over? My thorough and diligent practice focused on stage fright, being terrified at the lectern and the humiliation of being swamped by nerves.

When you rehearse with an underlying structure of fear that is what you will create at the lectern. You’re telling your subconscious that you expect to forget your words, to have a dry mouth, to shake, to have stomach churns, to increase your heart beat and tighten your breathing.  Grinding  your fears so resolutely into your psyche that you may even emotionally throw the ‘towel in’ halfway through an oration.

Stage fright is a constant for some people, it is for me. It’s a taken. You acknowledge it and allow it to be, knowing that the flight and fright syndrome will always power you. When you don’t fight it – it loses its fearful intensity.

My enlightened rule of thumb for rehearsing was stumbled upon by accident when I was driving to take part in yet another speech contest.  I was sick with nerves.  I stopped the car and  there on the side of the road I decided that if I could not have fun at the lectern then public speaking was not for me.   What is the saying – when you need it the teacher will appear? I remembered vaguely an article on the power of visualisation and the rest is history. Oh and the bonus was I started to win speech contests! Now this is what I teach others about rehearsing a speech –

Always set your intention, before you speak out loud your speech, to visualise yourself at a lectern, you are smiling, the audience is returning that joyful energy twofold, intent on your words, connecting with you at an authentic level. Run through the speech a few times until the words flow organically, replacing any trip-up words or phrases with your language that is comfortable to you.

On the day, just  before you give your speech take a quiet moment – acknowledge your fears tell them its okay, then visualise an image of yourself walking to the platform, you are looking relaxed, you see yourself at the lectern and smile. As you speak you have sense a knowing that you are truly connecting with your audience and they are loving it. Hear the applause, you are having feeling good, receiving the affirmation with delight.

Then go sock it to them.

Needed Mentor Co-op for Writers and Artists

alphabet-15461_150During the Renaissance it was the fashion for aspiring artists to attract wealthy patrons who supported the struggling artist or writer and who acted like an agent in finding the right clients for their protégé.  Today if you don’t have the an agent it means you have to do the hard yards to promote yourself.

The disparaging label of self-promoter is often wrongly given to people who network with ease,  people whose nature thrives in the milieu of social networking. How incredibly fortunate you are if you are creative as well as a natural born marketer.

But for the vast majority of us creative folk the marketing of ourselves and our products is an internal battle that is hard fought with the knowledge that if we want to sell or promote our work it comes down to DIY. Each avenue of self-promotion that we study is hampered with fear about our capability to make it work.

How many thousands of writers and artists out in the world know that their lifelong expression of their heart is the only path for them.  Accepting that each day of working at their craft learning, experimenting and honing their creation will be without remuneration of any kind. But then it is complete and for us writers we hawk our manuscripts around the publishing house and for the artists it is the galleries.

Dealing emotionally with the rejections before trying again and again. Buoyed by the stories of house name authors who met the same fate with their first work.  Agatha Christie, five years of rejection, J K Rowling, C S Lewis, Stephen King with his first novel Carrie, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was rejected because it was ‘so badly written,’ eventually picked up by Doubleday and went on to sell 80 million copies world wide and Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections before her epic work Gone with the Wind was published.

Self publishing of course is a good way to get your work out there but you still have to market it. To me there are few creatives who have that strong action based networking desire and know-how to promote their work.  They would rather be telling the story than selling the story.

What myself and these fellow artists need is a co-operative mentor, a group of people who are there to encourage, advise, guide and when the final product is finished, to promote it. Bit like The Den on ABC television where mentors invest in small operations wanting to grow into full bloom abundance and taking a cut of the business.

Could we make it happen ?What do you think?

The Pitfalls of Failing to Understand Your Audience

Two case studies from my conference organising days that show why it is vital to research your audience’s needs:

A speaker at the conference was a well-known celebrity. He is a very good speaker with valuable information to share. His signature style is very direct and to the point. Most audiences tolerate this style as part of his character and authority. Indeed some people find his style intoxicating.

He was addressing an audience of Consumer Relations Managers; people who spend their working days dealing with volatile customers and their complaints.  In his session he did not temper his manner of delivery, but was just as forthright and bombastic as normal. The audience found his style inflexible and arrogant. A large majority of the audience hated his presentation and documented this freely in their comments afterwards.

An eminent university professor presented a paper to an audience of industry managers in exactly the same manner that he would present to his students. The audience, professionals in their field, were looking for a different level of information and were distinctly uncomfortable with the speaker’s patronising manner. Instead of the presentation being a rewarding experi­ence for them it had the opposite effect. On the exit survey they documented another thumbs down result.But if the outspoken celebrity and professor had bothered to consider their audience then they could have enriched their connection with the audience.

Friday Tips – Speakers Notes

I much prefer speakers to use memory prompts as speakers who read their speech frequently lose the life force of  delivering an audience grabbing presentation. Why, because they are tied to their printed word, often fearful of losing their place which invariably means they do leading to more discomfort behind the lectern.  Eye-contact is patchy as they try to keep on track. The speech controls them instead of them controlling the speech. But if you feel you must here are some tips for managing your speaking papers.

Type the speech with double space – use only the top half of A4 paper – (if you continue the text to the bottom of the page guess where your eyes go as you read it) It is important to maintain eye contact – read a sentence, use your finger to keep on track and look up at the audience come back to your place, read a sentence…….. Use a highlighter to score beginning of fresh point being made.  Number each page clearly at the top right hand corner.  Practice moving the presented page smoothly across to one side or place behind the other notes. Don’t forget to rehearse it, time it, pace it. 

I recommend Memory Prompts – one liners that take you from point to point.  Write the speech in its entirety and then rehearse it using a highlighter to indicate each point, not complete sentences, just the nuts and bolts of the point. Retype the points in double spacing. Number the prompts clearly. Rehearse using the prompts and checking with the speech notes.  File the speech. Rehearse using the prompts only. Rehearse using the prompts only until it runs smooth, reviewing any stumbling blocks and rewording in language you are comfortable with. Rehearse and time it.  Ready to go get em!

You simply need to get out of your own way.

There are thousands of  published authors  longing for people to read their literary masterpiece. It must be the same with any artistic work.  Artists hanging on the moment when their work resonates with a buyer.  Musicians who compose soul connecting music and lyrics  waiting for the disc jockeys of the world to play their tracks over and over again.

Losing You, my second book, is a story of a woman trying to make sense of her husband’s death.  It is a  story that shows the power of the human spirit in overcoming adversity and one that I know that will touch and help others in an authentic way. Each chapter, each paragraph  is  stamped with my creative soul that  longs to connect with others.  I have  5 star reviews on Amazon.  So why isn’t it flying off the E-Book shelves?

Is it the quality of the writing? Maybe but what constitutes good writing? Isn’t that in the eye of the reader? From all the books I have read and creative writing courses I have completed,  I hear over and over that a good story will overcome any paucity of literary capabilities.

We have all heard of the first book soaring up the sales chart, some of which have distinct critical merit (as appraised by respected and known literary critics) and some that are disdained by the critics and seen as a ‘would-be wordsmiths’ who have managed to nail a gap in the market.

As writers we  take these successful writers as our yardstick.  With chagrin we accept they’re  intellectually better writers  than ourselves or  writers  who are cleverer than us  not because they have any greater talent but simply  because we see them as reader smart. We tell ourselves that these writers are  better, cleverer, more worthy than ourselves.

But this is all rubbish. The truth is that we frequently, strike frequently, we regularly sabotage our own success. We say we want success and then bask  in a slip steam of self-doubt – not good enough, not worthy, not capable, not deserving and the numero uno fearfulness.

Is it any wonder our books don’t sell?

What we think we create – cause and effect.  This principle is no longer lightweight, it is quantum physics proven.  The universe does not judge and discount self-abusive thoughts.  It simply provides what we consistently give energy to.  So how do we clean up these negative thoughts to visualise our book racing off the shelves.  It is simple, first you need to define why you want it to be a bestseller and to be consciously aware of  those myriad of niggling, juggling negative thoughts that invade our neurons minute by minute.

From what I understand the universe rewards clarity of thought so with your definition  unsullied by negative beliefs you simply need to get out of your own way and focus on what you desire. Feel it, live it, breathe it and claim it. It’s yours.

Okay move over doubt. Okay already here I go:

I am the author of the best-selling novel Losing You. Losing You is not only is a great read, it inspires, uplifts and connects at a spiritual level with my readers.

Friday – Writing Tips from Successful Authors

alphabet-15461_150With thanks to Time Out New York for publishing great tips from successful authors. My pick of the bountiful crop.

Reza Aslan ( Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, $27) “The best advice I can give an aspiring writer is the one I received years ago: Nobody cares about you or your work like you do. Your agent, your publisher and your publicist are all wonderful people who work their hardest for you to succeed. But in the end, your success as a writer depends almost wholly upon your own tireless efforts to promote your book and make sure it gets the attention it deserves.”

Edwidge Danticat ( Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf, $25.95) “It might sound corny but listen to your heart. Let that inner voice guide you, the one closest to your truest self. The story you are most afraid to tell might be your truest one, your deepest one. Don’t let neither success nor failure deter you. Remember the excitement of those first days, those first words, those first sentences—and keep going.”

Ben Dolnick ( At the Bottom of Everything (Pantheon, $24.95) “Get a kitchen timer. Writers are ingenious at redefining what qualifies as doing work (‘If I just spend this morning cleaning my desk…’). A kitchen timer tolerates no such nonsense. Set yourself a daily writing quota (as little as a half hour is fine at first), set the clock and get to work.”

Anthony Marra (@anthonyfmarra) A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, $26) “Read widely. Write for three hours a day, six days a week. Throw out the red pens and retype your work. When the frustrations accumulate and you want to give up, keep in mind that your solitary struggles to shape language into meaning will become the most profound moments of your creative life. Enjoy yourself.”

Friday Tips for Speakers – Praise of the Pause

The Pause, a  second or two without speaking, is one of the most powerful elements you can use in speech delivery.

The Pause is to public speaking as a verbal underline or CAPS’ are to writing. Use it to emphasise your point or to add drama to your words.

The Pause will quiet a noisy audience.  Remember the school teacher who could quell a noisy class with a long cool look at the students. An over enthusiastic question time can rattle a speaker and it can get uncomfortable at the podium. Maintain quality eye contact while employing an extended pause and you will be able to take back control.  Bonus of the mute seconds is that it gives you time to think of a diplomatic or courteous answer.

The Pause is an effective tool when you are presenting a workshop. In your introduction to the workshop explain that when you need to recapture the group’s attention, following an interactive session, you will stop talking and raise your arm.  They in turn should stop speaking and raise their arm until the whole room becomes quiet. Works like magic.

At the lectern, just before you speak, Pause, make eye contact and smile. Try it – you will find the audience will reward you with a boost of pure welcoming energy.

Friday Tips – Travel Writing

Grand Palace Bangkok
Grand Palace Bangkok

What is common to both good fiction and travel writing?  Read Benji Lanyado, Guardian writer and blogger’s valuable advice on  what should be every new writer’s mantra Show Don’t Tell.

‘My golden rule when writing a piece is to include as much visual description as possible. It’s easy to presume a lot, but your readers don’t know what you’ve seen. So explain it as vividly as possible. Don’t ever describe something as “characterful” or “beautiful” – this doesn’t mean anything to anybody but you. Describe things as if you were explaining them to a blind person. To say a building is “old” isn’t good enough; explain the colours, the peeling stucco, the elaborate, angular finishes on windowsills, the cleaning lady in a faded blue smock who was leaning out of a second-storey window with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. There is a thin line between elaborate, colourful, evocative writing and pretentious tosh, but it’s better to lean towards the pretentious tosh side of the spectrum than to be dull and presumptuous.