Never Ever…

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For years the same question haunted me, ‘Who the heck am I and why am I here?’

So decade or so ago, with naïve, bravado, I began a series of serious self-development endeavours, determined to overcome self-doubts and discover the authentic ME – whoever I was, warts and all.

Which led me to joining a year-long transformational workshop that could only be described as boot camp for the soul. Ironically the marrow of the work I chose, posed an intriguing question, ‘what do you love?’ ‘What do you love’ was the starting point and compass throughout the experience of change.

My ego threw up an imposing and confusing maze of things I loved — family, friends, creativity, theatre, literature, cooking, history, cold chicken and bubble and squeak, flowers, music, romance, knitting, patchwork, watching netball, friends, puppies, beach walks, public speaking, travel, lunches out, organising anything, movies, ABC radio/TV, writing, beach walks, coffee, George Clooney and new clothes. It seemed I loved everything ….

I was in a hurry for answers as time was a-marching but I found this quote that spurred me on…..‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ George Eliot, ‘Mill on the Floss.’

I found transformational work capricious, one minute I was rutted and gutted and the next it cleared as though it never was. Gradually I began to understand that while I broadly embraced so many aspects of life, the vital and intrinsic ME is at home when I am — communicating either through the written word or public speaking as a means to serve and connect with the rest of humanity.

The first glimpse of this love and service of communicating to others happened well over seventy years ago. My family lost everything in the London blitz in World War 11. Homeless, my mother, sister and I moved drifted around England wherever a billet or bed could be found.

My constant companion was my imaginary friend Sonny; I carried him around in my father’s battered attaché case. It was an earnest relationship — I shared secrets with him that I would never tell another soul. I remember – in between air raids — telling Sonny ‘One day I will write a book and I will talk about it and people will listen to me.’

It was a momentary whim that never really saw the light of day, mugged continually by an impoverished sense of worth embedded by the wartime loss of education and deprivation.

Instead everyday life – marriage, children, bereavement, single motherhood, sickness, a new relationship, family growth and building a business in midlife with no experience and no capital — became my world.

But I was always scribbling short stories and in my working life getting my food and travel articles published by newspapers and magazines. I was contributing to a writing group and doing creative writing courses. This coupled with an eighteen-year membership of a speaking club, meant I was incubating my dream.

My writing was a hobby. Communication to a wider audience through my public speaking was a hobby. Hobbies – yes simply hobbies but somehow I never strayed — the more I wrote and communicated the more I began to hunger to be true to myself. I wrote more, communicated more to wider audiences. The more action I took the more realistic the dream became.

Today I am centred, I find joy and fulfilment in expressing myself through the written and spoken word.

I am living testament to ‘it is never too late to be what you might have been,’ I have written two non-fiction books and one fiction. And I talk.   On cruise ships. I lecture on history, culture, travel, and writing enriching guests’ travels.

Oh how I love it.

Who’d have thought that little girl’s fantasy of achieving something beyond her wildest expectations could happen?

It just goes to show that you should never ever — not ever give up on your dreams.

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Use Your Intuition for Podium Recognition

imagesIntuition is the gut feeling or insight that we all experience, but too often we allow our intellect to overrule the ‘sotto voce’ in our heads.

Many emergency workers whose job it is to keep people safe, trust their intuition inexplicably and act upon it immediately without questioning.  Like the story of the firefighter, who dousing a seemingly easily managed fire, knows instantly at gut level that he has to get out of the building.  He makes it out just in time to witness the building’s massive collapse and its eruption into a blazing inferno.

Intuition is an immediate knowing, a first flush of thought before the intellect tries to reason it out. It provides us with a sense of knowing that this is the right or wrong course to take, the decision to make or the person to trust or distrust.

Albert Einstein, a believer in the power of imagination and intuition said  “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift”.

6In public speaking, intuition will unfailing guide you to a greater speech and a more dynamic performance.  Use intuition to edit your speech and guide your choice to pick the holistic memory chunks or prompts to keep you on track at the lectern.  Use your intuition to measure the response of the audience so that you can refine or add to your words if needed.  At question time let it direct you diplomatically in your response to each of the questions

Encourage your intuitive ability  by choosing to become more aware of that gut feeling, that small voice in your head.  Challenge yourself to identify  who may be on the caller on phone when it rings or when standing at a bank of elevators ask which one will arrive first.  So at first you maybe wrong – but the more you practice the intuitive message becomes undeniably evident.

 Mary Atkins – Author of the definitive self-help guide to public speaking  Finding Your Voice – ten steps to successful public speaking.    Available in two editions  (same content but different covers) throughout the world and now on Kindle.

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Or you can purchase the book direct from me $A25 plus postage –  go to Contact Me on this website.

 

 

I Want What She Has – Charisma

UnknownCan you transform a person from a pedestrian, competent speaker into a compelling charismatic orator? The answer is yes you can.

For the past thirty years I have trained food professionals and media celebrities to find their voice, worked with keynote speakers to hone their presentations, adjudicated school debates, organised food and wine conferences with speaking and entertainment programs that left the audience wanting more and produced live cooking shows using the talent of Australia’s leading chefs and celebrities. As the author of Finding Your Voice – 10 Steps to Successful Public Speaking and an award winning speaker I can say, without false modesty – I know what it takes for a speaker to light up the auditorium.

Is it enough  to articulate well, present your facts logically and perform capably? With preparation and practice any speaker will become a competent speaker. An audience will appreciate these speakers’ efforts but will this adequate proficiency stay with them?

Don’t you want the audience to leave the building with your name on their lips and your message in their hearts?

This magic ingredient that lifts you from the mundane is your style, your brand, your charisma.

First lets look at how charisma (from the Greek meaning gift) is defined by others who have a vested interest in understanding this characteristic. Research from psychologists, talent scouts and even a high-powered charisma coach showed that there is no chutzpah fairy Godmother at our birth randomly waving her DNA wand – ‘here Norma Jean and Oprah a bucket-gene-full of compelling-appeal for you gals but none for you lot.’ They agreed that charisma can be a learned behaviour.

Common characteristics they identified were:

  • Emotional expressiveness – in other words allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
  • Empathy with others – socially sensitive
  • Exuding joy and warmth
  • Being present in the moment, being in the flow
  • Confidence
  • Stand firmly in your power
  • Mirroring others body language
  • Accepting your introversion or inadequacies
  • Voice – a measured tempo and lowering your intonation at the end of the sentence.

So the promise is –  if you practice standing chest out, shoulders back, arms wide you are seen as powerful. If you practice being in the moment, being socially aware and caring you will be flagging your empathy. If you accept your inadequacies and use visualisation techniques to boost your moral you will overcome and be centred and strong. If you risk telling others a secret or a weakness you will have emotionally connected with another. If you mirror others body movements then they will like and trust you. And if you train yourself to lower your voice, present in a measured way and put warmth in your voice from a smile on your dial you will have achieved the holy grail of panache gravitas – yes, yes, yes  – charisma.

To me the most important things in this worthy research is that when you have the courage to accept your shadow and light and  be vulnerable where all barriers are down, firm in your stance of bugger what the world is deciding about you – you are authentic. You have no need to fudge emotional and social expressiveness and sensitivity that becomes a taken. You will be in the present. You will naturally stand in your power and your voice takes on its own dimension of authority.

Consider comedian Billy Connolly who exudes high-octane charisma as he invites us into his fragile world. Even though his language would normally offend we don’t mind in fact see it as part of his charm as we rock and lock into his brand of humour. This man is no oil painting there is no glossy image, he looks as though he could do with a good hair and beard trim but we don’t care he gives us unfettered admission into his spirit. His transparent spirit of mischief and joy, making light of his foibles and life wounds connects  us at a deep level of consciousness.

Is it worth the risk of being true to yourself? You betcha. Just ask any speaker who has crossed the divide between platform and audience. ‘It is like holding the audience in the palm of your hand,’ said one speaker glorying in the joy of connection.

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*Want to know more?  Read my previous post  ‘The Path to Your Real Self’

* For Millennials  – substitute Russell Brand for Billy Connolly!

 

 

 

 

Follow the Crumbs ……

Follow the crumbs....
Follow the crumbs….

Since 9.11 there has been a spate of reported incidents of people randomly seeing the number 11.11. You know the type of thing –  11.11 jumps at you from a page, a scoreboard, bus time-table,petrol bowser or a mystical grab of a digital clock at exactly 11.11. Chance maybe, coincidence definitely but for some it is happening beyond mere chance and coincidence.

A journey of self-discovery will nudge us with cryptic clues that are intended to guide us. Three words, Finding Your Voice, the title of my first book  had been flirting with my subconscious to no avail for several years. After all I had found my heart, writing was without doubt the imprimatur of my soul. I needed no goading no nudging into writing, my computer became my altar where running words in my head was given the breath of life from the keyboard. But during this past year or so the synchronistic crumbs of FYV have been unrelenting in getting me to see a bigger picture.

Sometimes things can be so blooming obvious that we are blind to them. But my muse was not – she was insistent that social injustices needed a commentary until words circled my head like vultures looking for a feed and only quietened when I found my voice through my Blog or a Face book posting.

Finding Your Voice, which I had chosen so decisively for my book of self-help guide to public speaking, was much more than a title; from the very start I could now see that it had been an intuitive directive for me to find my own voice. Yes I spoke in public but throughout my life I had always held back anything that might be regarded as contentious. But the paradox was any voice suppressed is under enormous pressure and when grievances reach danger levels we erupt. All of the stuff that I should have said in a reasonable balanced way blasted pugnaciously from me like a scene from The Exorcist. So for someone whose ego so desperately wanted to please and be liked it was a tough road to consciousness.

I understand now how each synchronistic piece of the puzzle fell into place knowing that finding my voice and speaking or writing it in a well-considered manner is inherent to writing with authority as well as being crucial to my well-being and sense of authenticity.

But of course the crumb trail of Finding Your Voice is still much more. Look out for my next Blog about how I can help you find your voice, your truth.

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Finding Your Voice was published by Lothian in 1985 and was promoted as the definitive self-help guide to public speaking. The first part of the book was the how to and the second half devoted to every type of presentation that may be undertaken by the reader – from eulogy to debating and workshop presentation to after dinner speaker. Now out of distribution it is available in public libraries and recently can be purchased as an E-Book on Kindle.

 

 

Mystical union between a speaker and audience

Punchy, quality content must be a taken for any speech of merit but it is in the delivery that the true mettle of the speech will be proven.

Speaking Clubs offer regular speaking practice  and this will develop lectern confidence.  If you  couple this with learned techniques, like the pause, rhythm and colour in the voice to emphasis your message you will become a speaker of some competence.

I think the difference between a competent speaker and a memorable one is the individual who creates, what can only be termed as, a mystical union between him/her self and the audience.

This charismatic difference is found in a speaker who is authentic, completely warts and all true to his/her self.  Sometimes it needs a bit of coaching to push past our ego that wants to be seen as the dynamo at the lectern. It takes courage to accept the fact that you aren’t perfect. But when you are  unafraid to step into your authentic signature style – the audience will recognise the integrity of your language, posture and intent. They will reward you  with their responsive energy and you the speaker will experience the joy of  holding an audience in the palm of your hand.

Pet peeves. Speakers who do not run to time, complacent speakers who think they can wing it or use  jargon – so elitist.  Speakers who shy away from using a microphone,  read from their notes with no eye contact, But my all time head banging irritation is the rising inflection. No ladies and gentlemen it is not nerves that makes the voice squeak  it is a habit which is a barrier to the effectiveness of your communication. While the audience is still hanging with the question mark tremor at the end of your sentence that’s all they hear. It’s a habit a silly habit, record and listen to it and make an effort to quit it.

Here ends today’s lesson folks!

 My book ‘Finding Your Voice – Ten steps to successful public speaking’ in 2005. encapsulated  four decades of my speaking, training/coaching, speaker management and evaluation passion. Promoted by the publisher Lothian  as the definitive self-help guide to public speaking.

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.