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, October 18, 2011

Sustained Practice

My husband is passionate about music. Due to the fact that our children go to bed early his ability to practice the piano in the evening is encountering a brief hiatus. Fortunately for all of us, he has rediscovered his love of the guitar and has jumped into his training with his usual zeal and determination. Once he sets his mind on something, his commitment to practicing that skill can only be deterred by births or deaths, and his guitar playing is no exception. Every night he spends at least an hour and a half practicing and then another half-an-hour doing music research. I count myself as being a fairly committed individual but he puts me to shame every time!

A friend once told me that if a person spent five-minutes every day exploring a subject, by the end of the year they would be deemed an expert on that particular topic. I think that is probably a gross overstatement and am more in line with Malcolm Gladwell's ("Outliers") idea that it takes at least 10,000 hours to develop a skill to the point of mastery.

On the other hand, five minutes is better than no time at all, and at the moment it is about all the extra time I have, which is why I am drawn to Craig Valentine's "52 Speaking Tips" audio postcards. If you sign up, each week you will receive a five minute tip that you can spend the week experimenting with. Craig Valentine is Toastmaster's 1999 world champion and after listening to the first session I feel like I have something concrete to focus on this week. The first lesson is on finding a foundational phrase and using it to structure your entire message. His belief in creating this program is that sustained practice leads to real growth. I have seen it in my husband and countless others and look forward to giving these exercises five-minutes of my time each day.

Check them out and let me know if you give them a try:


Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost and Found

How fortunate I am to have had a vacation and better yet an opportunity for a working vacation where the work was as stimulating and as uplifting as a journey to a tropical island. (Well, maybe that is a slight exaggeration). I spent my holiday this year on Vancouver Island, on a bluff overlooking the most stunning vista: ocean, island and mountains for as far as the eye can see; deer practically eating out of my hands and hummingbirds resting just inches from my nose.

Now several years ago, while shopping for a present my son's second birthday, I met a woman who is a poet, facilitator, social worker and much much more. Upon meeting we found we shared a mutual interest in and passion for the concept of "Women's Voices". For years we had contemplated merging our two specialties, writing and voice work, into a workshop designed to explore these two areas simultaneously. Thus was "Lost and Found" born two weeks ago on Vancouver Island. While I warmed us all up vocally and physically, the wonderful JS Nahani guided us through a series of thought provoking writing exercises. I was impressed by the amount of clarity that was gained, the quickness by which we were able to open up and reveal unvoiced truths and the confidence I left with, having made contact with these truths. The combination of opening the physical voice and the written voice was indeed as profound as we had expected and at every turn in the facilitation I could visualize further methods of integrating the work. It makes me question how I can integrate more written work into my sessions and how the use of the physical body and voice can enhance and deepen written material for many.

The workshop was help in a wonderful gallery of which I have included the link.

Mariner's Lookout

Thank you Henry of Mariner's Lookout for the perfect space and beautiful art and to all of the amazing participants I look forward to hooking up in the future. If you have further ideas on the connection between writing and voice send them my way. I will keep you update as "Lost and Found" continues to grow... Next workshop will be held in Vancouver this fall.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Camp Fire Songs

One of my favourite parts of teaching is when a participant starts to really enjoy creating sound and they say something like, "Oh, I remember when I was a kid I made up these great songs." or "I love singing in the shower." Memories of a freedom they may not have felt for a very long time bubble to the surface. Usually, the next class they will arrive with stories about how they sang in the car for the first time in a very long time. For me summer brings these memories to the surface.

In the living room of our house that was build in 1907 are three built- in bookshelves, two of which hug the entry way to the front foyer. In one of those, on the second shelf up, was where my mother kept her dog-eared Girl Scout Guide Song Book. Whenever we went on a camping trip my mother would not only pack the most exquisite gourmet meals to be prepared over an open fire she would also bring her little guitar and if there was time after the tent preparation, exploration, cooking and cleaning, she would sing songs from her Guide days: Barges, Kookabura, This Land is my Land and many more filled our heads and hearts connecting us to each other and our mother's previous life as we munched on S'mores.

CBC currently has an article posted inviting you to send in your favourite camp song:


What I have decided that I will do for my children (maybe more myself, if truth be told) is to print out the lyrics of my favourite songs and put together a little book that we can take with us on our next outing. Better yet, I can teach them to the kids in the car on our way to our holiday.

I found a very extensive repository that included so many songs I hadn't thought about in years. Here it is for those of you who might want to keep that voice in shape in a slightly different way this summer:


May your songs be lively, your S'mores be messy and your summer nights breathtaking!

P.S. In case you have been deprived S'mores here is the basic recipe.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer Reading

Ah, summer. Finally we have some gorgeous weather and as I have a little bit of time to build on and refine our Presentation Skills sessions for the Fall I have found a great resource. Scott Burkun's Confessions of a Public Speaker is refreshingly honest and simple. The disclaimer at the beginning sets just the right tone, "This book is highly opinionated, personal, and full of behind-the-scenes stories. You may not like this. Some people like seeing how sausage is made, but many do not."

Regardless of whether or not you enjoy seeing sausage being made, if you have ever had to appear in front of an audience and had any feelings of confusion or unease this is a very humorous but helpful way to look at some of the issues and practicalities in presenting. His website has lots of examples of his work, so enjoy the summer and get readin'!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Actor training and Presenting

What makes me qualified to teach Presentation Skills?

When my son was born, I had taken a break from acting for about a year and was working almost entirely with very novice actors, business people and educators on voice and presentation skills. For the first time in my life I was not immersed in the world of the actor and had very little contact with that community. At that time my brother-in-law was performing in a show so I went to see the show to support him (and because it was a great excuse to do one of the things I enjoy most). The show was an exceptional piece (which isn’t always the case) but mostly I was struck by the elegance, the power, the stature and ease of the actors. Having spent time away from this world, I had forgotten how the years and years of training added up to create master communicators as well as actors. These particular actors all had master’s degrees from very fine internationally recognized institutions as well as long lists of professional experience with some of the finest theatre companies in the country. It is no surprise that so many actors go on to be Public Speakers, Leaders of Organizations and Politicians. One of my students once told me that Ronald Reagan had been quoted as saying he didn’t know how any politician could succeed without training as an actor.

Now Actor training is always a bit of a mystery to the general public. What happens between those closed doors and why would it help me? I spent my childhood in three different places outside the home, one was in acting classes (my love) and the other was at political rally’s (my father’s choice) and the final was at church (my mother’s choice) and I think that it was in these three arenas that I was able to develop and assess different modes of communicating with people. In the arena of politics and church there was very definitely some politicians who were great communicators and some who were very poor. On the other hand, almost every actor was an extremely strong communicator and that made perfect sense to me. In the case of politicians so much of their training and interest could lie in other areas and although the ministers might have loved the liturgy and had a great spiritual connection their technical skills might not have been developed.

So I ask the question again, “What does actor training look like?” Contrary to what other people might believe, actor training looks at some very simple concepts in a very complex, deep, and layered way. It asks how can a person:

1) comfortably be in their body as other people watch them, without any of the physical ticks or patterning that may have developed throughout one’s life?

2) move in a way that expresses their thoughts fully, making use of their entire body?

3) speak fully from a point of deep connection to their soul and move another human being with their sound?

4) listen fully and respond instinctively and honestly?

5) Weave and create an intricate and vibrant story from their imagination?

The means by which these goals are attained are varied and creative but underneath them all is the development of the person to overcome those negative thoughts that might shut him/her down; stop them from expressing fully. Actor training is never ending, it begins at the moment one is born, learning from watching others, and continues every time an actor steps both onstage and offstage. I believe it is the same for every good presenter. Life is the teacher and we learn when we have the confidence to step bravely forward and present ourselves and our stories to an empty room or an audience of 500.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Live Longer

It is with great sadness that I read today of Arthur Lessac's death. Now who is Arthur Lessac you might wisely ask?

Arthur Lessac has been one of the most influential North American voice teachers of the last century and it was reading his seminal work, "The Use and Training of the Human Voice" that first piqued my interest in teaching voice work. He believed that the sounds in our language are like instruments in an orchestra and that one can develop both the body and the voice until it operates like a Stradivarius. Not only has he coached some of the most prominent actors of our time, he was a singer who performed with the likes of Paul Robeson and Burl Ives.

Now how does this relate to living longer? Lessac firmly believed that developing and using the human voice would, in fact, allow you to live longer. He died on April 7th at 101 years of age and roughly a month before that he was teaching at university in Croatia where he danced with his students in the streets!

I deeply regret that I never had a chance to witness this master teacher at his craft and am thankful that he has left behind a wealth of ideas that we can still access.

If you would like further information, check out the Lessac Training and Research Institute: