On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Who would have guessed that the most educational part of my week would take place at my cousin's wedding? It was a gorgeous and decadent affair with orchid's flowing over the rims of silver bowls, pink feather bouquets, Cava everywhere and a dessert feast that would tempt even the stricktest of dieters.

For me, however, the heart of any celebration is revealed in the speeches. The groom's father, known in our family as "Uncle Bruce" is the most accomplished of speakers. A career as a Chartered Accountant, and a longstanding President of numerous boards, his experience shows with the ease in which he presents. His speeches are by the book and yet they transend rules. The result is personal, touching, and revealing. My professional ear was keenly attuned to the nuances, while my heart was open and moved by the weight of such an important speech.

What can we steal from Uncle Bruce? The key to this particular speech was his use of audience. He began speaking to the wider group that consisted of strangers and family alike, bringing us all into a common understanding of his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law. Then he gradually transitioned into speaking to the groomsmen, many of whom he had known for thirty years. This transition allowed him to reveal a different side of his son's character, he even referred to a pivotal event in their lives that he could not describe in detail. Naming this "secret" honoured the many parts of our lives we do not discuss in public that have an important impact on the development of our character. The groomsmen were visibly affected by this reference and we, as an audience, were invited in to a more intimate relationship.

His final transition was perhaps the closest to his heart, as he addressed the parents of his new daugther-in-law. He recalled his own experience watching his daughter get married over ten years ago. He spoke with great empathy and specificity recalling his own feelings of joy, trepidation, and hope. It was with great care and sensitivity that he welcomed this couple into his family and vowed to care for their daughter, as he would his own.

Uncle Bruce's daughter, Leanne, unused to speaking in public, also got up to deliver a wonderful speech. As I complimented her at the end of the night, she resisted accepting such words. I wanted to say, "To me anything heartfelt, meaningful, brave and personal is better than all the well-polished words of a well-crafted speech."

So go ahead, be brave and speak from your heart. If you need help knowing where to start, begin with your audience and trust that knowing who you are talking to will also reveal what it is you want to say.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Benefits of Being Silly

Linking my week's activities and observations is at times a daunting task. However, as disparate as my experiences were this past week, a definite theme emerged as I quickly scribbled some of the highlights from this past week on a piece of scratch paper.

Scene one: I'm sitting with one of my private students in a board room at the university. For the past several weeks we have been observing his tendency to de-voice at the end of his phrases. As we intone and speak/sing funny phrases together he finds a full vibration all the way to the end of his sound and the tone is clear. Unfortunately, as soon as we move back into spoken words the de-voicing kicks back in. "Why are you doing this?" I ask cheekily. We both giggle and then are quiet. A moment of silence as he ponders what to say next. "I think it has to do with giving myself permission to be silly."

Scene two: A sunny (finally) summer Saturday morning in my living room. A student and I are rolling on the floor shaking our feet and making silly sounds. This student has done this type of exercise several times before, but today she feels uncomfortable, the sound is muted and when we sit up to reflect on the experience, she doesn't want to make eye contact. "I felt intimidated by the fact that you could express things so freely. I don't like the way I sound."

Scene three: Tuesday night at the Vancouver Public Library. A room in the basement is brimming with three hundred eager listeners as Dr. Gabor Mate makes his way to the podium to speak about his recent best-seller on addiction. He speaks about the hidden causes of addiction: the need to overcome pain, to experience pleasure, to fill a void or emptiness inside of us and finally the desire to feel exquisitely alive, to stimulate our endorphins.

Final scene: Two two year old boys are rolling on the grass, as the butterflies hover above their heads. They giggle and laugh and then jump up and down screaming at the top of their lungs. "You're so silly!" I tell them, laughing and envious of their freedom and joy.

As Dr. Mate introduced his work on addiction he described the process of inquiry as being akin to looking into a kaleidoscope. In his opinion, assessing the causes for addiction must take into consideration the physical, mental, emotional, and social history of an individual. Once these elements have been observed, the observer must shake the kaleidoscope over and over again to look at all these components in a variety of different ways. The ability to be silly is like our kaleidoscope as we investigate our sound. We let go of the physical, mental, emotional and social constraints we have placed on our expression.

Try it, make some silly sounds and observe how it feels, what thoughts are evoked and how it sounds.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fearless Speaking

As the summer months hit, hopefully you have a little more time to pick up a book or, if all else fails, pop an audio recording into the car CD player as you journey off to some exotic sunny location. There are two books that I would highly recommend. The first is "Seven Steps to Fearless Speaking" by Lilyan Wilder. I was excited to find an honest and helpful resource for people who become either mildly worked up or absoluted debilitated when speaking in front of a group. The plan she creates for facing these challenges is clear, detailed and realistic. While she wisely refrains from offering a quick fix, the countless stories she provides remind the reader that with careful and conscious work we can all achieve more comfort and pleasure presenting our ideas in public.

My second suggestion is a book called "Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and Stephen R. Covey. Reading this book was an extremely humbling experience for me. I recongnized the myriad of ways I impede clear communication. If I can ever begin to implement the communication skills they advocate, life in my household alone will definitely become easier and more enjoyable.

Pick them both up if you get a chance and enjoy the exotic summer vacation!