I remember teaching Qigong to breast cancer survivors in my little office on Broadway inVancouver in the 1990s. They were very good students and showed up faithfully to the class, always ready to do the healing work. Nonetheless, this  group of women solidified my direction as a strategic  communication specialist once and for all. 

I was studying  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at the time and was surprised to learn that breast cancer is, in TCM, connected to the liver meridian. That startled me – the harmful emotion for the liver, I know, is anger. I thought about that nugget of information and wanted to bring the discussion to the class.

Gently, I broached the subject with the group. Their response is something I will never forget: it was  swift  and filled with rage – not at me – but at the simple fact that they all had been angry for quite some time and it seemed that nobody had noticed. I asked them why they felt this way. Without fail, they told me that they felt they had never been heard. Moreover, they all said that they had never been able to really express what they thought and felt. They had never taken the courage to speak-up. And now life was dealing them a potentially fatal blow and no one knew who these brave cancer warriors really were –  in their heart of hearts.

 These students were all baby-boomers; women caught between the remaining social expectations of girls being nice and good and polite and that world of new feminism where women had shouted cries of feminist freedom from the top of their lungs. Although most of them had been part of the feminist movement and had heralded its cries, not one  had ever expressed herself.  None had ever told her own story.

I will never forgot  one woman who ripped off her wig to show a bald scalp and tore open her blouse to expose the violent scars of a double masectomy: “If my husband tells me one more time that I am beautiful just the way I am, I’m going to go crazy”, she  wailed . “I do not feel beautiful! I don’t know how to be beautiful anymore. Why can’t he just listen to me?”

 I remembered reading Karl Jung in college, “The personality is deranged until the story is told”. I  realized that teaching meditation was well and good – very helpful actually. But, it was only opening doors to deeper issues at the heart of the matter for these cancer survivors. These survivors and many more to come, I was to discover.

When I moved to upstate New York (Putnam County) in 2000, I began working again with people with chronic and terminal illness. Again without fail, as the meditations delved deeper and deeper into the un/sub-conscious mind of cancer survivors, an almost desperate desire to express themselves, to tell their stories emerged. More like erupted! 

I became aware that  many people on the journey to life’s approaching end were most frightened of leaving this world without ever having been heard. Afraid they would be left to suffer in silence. That they would die and no one would ever know who they really were. Years later, the majority of those with chronic pain expressed the same outrage as the breast cancer women in Vancouver. No one, including many doctors, wanted to hear their story, their pain and disabilities. How they struggled – just to be heard, to be taken seriously!

My storytelling show, “Stories That Heal” was being well received in New York and area at the time. It wasn’t a quantum leap to recognize that I needed to create a system for people to help to heal themselves through the rendering of their life stories.

Yes, teaching meditation is a wonderful job; helping people clarify their paths as they face the almost always inevitable end, or to just get through another day, is very meaningful and special to me. But, I began to feel that I was arriving too late. The damage was done! People need to know they have the right to Speak-Up! Then, they need to know how.

 I was already a professional speaker, had been a free-lance radio news broadcaster, the president of a Toastmasters club, an editor and writer. It was time, I realized, to use my voice differently. It was time to teach people to find their voices, to speak to be heard. To stand up and to  speak up. Hence, the birth of my Speak-Up Performance Classes.

 Communicating is at the heart of our experiences as humans. In the words of American poet, Muriel Rukeyser, “The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” Stories are what bind us together as human beings. Communicating our story well allows us to connect with each other on very deep and healing levels. It serves to rearrange our personalities in a much more wholistic manner.

For more information on Speak-Up Classes, please contact me.

Go well and speak from your heart.

 Who, other than Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, could have so aptly and eloquently coined such a wise and witty expression? None, I would say. Surely, Wilde knew of what he spoke, for he paid the huge price of imprisonment for having been himself. Yet he never betrayed his words.

 I love this expression and hear myself using it a lot when I teach communication classes. It says it all when it comes to communicating, as far as I’m concerned. And everyone understands immediately what I mean when I quote it. Matters not if I’m working with a CFO of a globalized company preparing his team for negotiations, or a single mom getting ready for a re-entry job interview, communication always comes back to the same one truth:

You are your message.

Not your words.

Not your voice.

Nor your body language.

 Rather, you – a composite you. Your use of language, tone of voice, non-verbal cues, your face and eyes, your attitude: these are the mechanisms that drive every message you communicate when you speak.

 Whether you are aware of it or not, all of you is what your audience sees, hears, and hence, believes. Or not.

 We all telegraph messages constantly when we speak – especially emotional messages.  Our every thought translates simultaneously to an emotion. With our 80 or so facial muscles we can communicate more than 7,000 expressions just from the neck up. Can you imagine?

 Clearly, it is best, first, to know yourself well and then, secondly, to stick to what you know best: You!

 Besides, Wilde is right: Everyone else is already taken. And really, who wants to be everyone else? I think we all just want to be ourselves and be heard and respected. I think that’s the point of communicating.

 Media mogul Roger Ailes says that  good communication begins with good conversation skills. If you can converse well, then  it’s  not a quantum leap to transfer those skills to your public speaking, negotiating, interviewing, teaching, even parenting – whatever communicating you need to accomplish.

When we are in conversation, we tend to be more relaxed and to speak most naturally and honestly. How are your conversation skills? Whether they are weak or strong, it’s a good idea to keep-up  your practice of this age-old art. Not only does conversing provide you regular practise at impromptu speaking , but it also develops great listening skills.

Ailes also notes that today’s audiences determine within the first 7 seconds of your spoken communication if you will be heard or not – based solely on the constant transmission of signals you emit in that brief space of time. It’s a good idea, then,  to practise in front of a mirror and study how your 80 facial muscles move in and out of those 7,000 expressions.

 So – what are you supposed to do in 7 seconds of “be heard or not” time?

How can you increase your chances of being heard?

Well, it’s a good idea to remember to:

  • Imagine you are having a conversation – use that tone of voice, feel that warmth of feeling inside.
  • Put the feelings and emotions you want your message to convey in your eyes: Say it with your eyes.
  • Use your eyes to connect to your audience.
  • Know how your face moves and communicates when you speak.
  • Soften your voice, lower the volume (especially when using a microphone), and vary your speed and inflection. Match your tone of voice to the intention of your words.
  • And forget about your body!!! That’s the last thing to worry about. Focus on being yourself and on delivering your message and, I promise, your body will automatically follow your words and will trace your intention throughout your message.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery but it will win you no points in your communication style. Just be yourself. After all, it’s you we’re listening to.

 Go well and speak from the heart.

Speak-Up and Find Your Voice

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

In the summer of 2002, I walked into the offices of Figure Skating in Harlem (www.figureskatinginharlem.org) in New York City to offer to teach a communication program to the girls enrolled in this very successful after-school program. My plan was to rewrite for their young students a lecture series I had been giving to Toastmasters Clubs and speakers in and around the New York area: “It’s Not What You Say but How You Say It!”

I was thrilled to learn from Founder and Executive Director, Ms. Sharon Cohen, that a public speaking program was a perfect fit for her organization. I began teaching the following October when the skating season in New York City begins.

My first class was wonderful; Ms. Sharon introduced me to the loveliest group of girls and young women I had met. I remember thinking – “this’ll be piece of cake.”

Second class – not so rosy. In fact, these youngsters were not interested in public speaking. Not even a bit! Their body language, one hip out with a hand planted firmly upon it, or  arms folded tightly across  chests, let me know, in no uncertain terms, that they were not having one thing to do with my idea of them speaking in public. No way!

Feeling out-numbered and somewhat intimidated, I made my way around the room. Standing before each one I mirrored their poses and said, “Your body language is telling me this is the dumbest class you have ever attended. But, just do me one favour: just keep coming and listening because, one day, you may be out in the world and maybe you will remember something that you heard in this class.”

As I imitated each one of them, I told them that I wanted to teach them how to stand up to the world out there. I wanted them to find their voices; to know that they could say anything if they knew how to say it. And as I went around the circle speaking to them, they began to drop the armour of their body language and by week four, I practically had a revolt on my hands. Most were vying to get-up, tripping over each other to stand up and speak up. I had 26 girls in a 50 minute class and 20 of them wanted a go at it. I gave them  all roles so they could have at least something to say. And speak they did! Thus began my first Speak-Up! Performance Club.

We followed three simple principles:

  1.  We will speak impeccably – meaning we must speak with respect. We will use language that evokes respect. We do not gossip nor criticize one another but rather, speak well to and of each other.
  2. We evaluate one another to motivate and never to annihilate. This because very quickly the girls began criticizing the clothing of another and questioning, “Girl, what were you thinking when you put those earrings on with that outfit?” Teenage girls can be so tough on each other!
  3. Because of this toughness, I created a “Sacred Circle Contract” for them to sign. Here they vowed to speak one at a time, to listen to the speaker, to evaluate rather than criticize, to honour that they all were each other’s teacher,  and to adhere to strict confidentially. Each student willingly signed the contract and I always had it to fall back on when the going got tough.

The Sacred Circle principle proved to be the bonding agent that brought respect, grace and dignity to the group. It also provided a deep safety net for the young women to speak-up. Most of all though, they loved being there for each other and took their supportive roles very seriously. They learned something from every evaluation they gave and heard.

I wanted them to find their voice. I mean, I wanted them to articulate what they believe to be true, good and beautiful. I wanted them to know and to declare who they are, where they come from, what they are passionate about, and where they dream of going. They were taught to use their voices in ways that make it easy for others to listen to them and, hence, hear them. We worked on identifying tones of voice, on intonation patterns and vocal variety, volume, and pitch – the elements of speech that determine if we are heard or not.

Week after week, their “declarations of independent thought and expression” became increasingly powerful. The evaluations got consistently clearer and stronger. The girls were encouraged and encouraging. They began to speak-up on issues that were important to them. They began having conversations with their mothers and people in authority. They understood that their grandmothers were right, “You can catch more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.” They got it: you can say what you need to say, you just have to say it in such a way that you will be heard.

Every season ends in an Awards Banquet at Figure Skating in Harlem. It used to be that Ms. Sharon had to hire key-note speakers for the banquets. But, after a few short seasons, she was able to cull her key-note speakers from our Speak-Up!  Performance Club. The Awards Banquets became much more meaningful for all of us as we heard witness to the successes our young ladies had attained over their years at FSH. As they were now on their ways to college, they were  ready and able to speak eloquently of the many lessons they had learned while being at FSH. They spoke of how, as a result of their training, they were prepared for the bigger world outside the doors of the skating rink.

They had learned two of the most important lessons in life: that when you fall down, you get up, you dust yourself off and you carry on.  And yes, they  learned that they each had a voice and  an inherent right, each one of them, to use their voice to stand up and to speak up from their hearts and minds. They learned to declare to the world who they are and what they stand for.

This is the work of which I am most proud.

Go well and speak from your heart.

 

“Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Ha! What a big ole lie that is. The words we choose and the way we say them can make  or break us. Think about it: a snide comment can cause unseen and untold pain deep within us; an encouraging word and tone of voice can give us all the courage we need to accomplish anything. 

Everyone I know has a story to tell of someone telling them they can’t and someone else telling them they can. It was my experience that that “someone” was usually a teacher, or an adult whose words or tone of voice could slice through me, wounding me deeply, or they could make me feel like the world was my oyster.

Of course, kids say pretty nasty things too. Verbal bullying has become  an enormous problem in North American society as we’ve seen on the nightly news lately.

Words have power and we are wise not to forget that.

When I was a little girl, my Mom taught me  (and  I learned it again in Broadcasting School) the old adage: It’s not what you say but how you say it! This is a motto to live by if you want to effectively communicate. I have centered lots of seminars and classes on this theme and have been thrilled everytime to see people change the ways in which they express themselves.

It’s a good idea to pay heed to how we are saying what we say. Tone of voice conveys a big part of our message – much more than words do. Words only count for about 7 – 10% of our entire communication. How we say those words carries far more impact than the mere words themselves. 

It is too easy, when we’re in a hurry or are multi-tasking, to sound curt and short-tempered. We can come across very differently from what we had intended. We can  easily lose the deal or hurt our children’s feelings with a wrong tone of voice.

Today, I present a challenge to all who read this blog to pay attention not only to what you are saying but to how you are saying it as well. Take just a nano-second to remember to get the words, the tone of voice and your body language all in synch. Think before you speak. Your audience will appreciate the split second you take to talk with them and not at them.

Go well and speak from your heart.

Greetings

Posted: May 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Hello World,
I’m a writer and communication coach and ideas are always bubbling inside me like a coffee percolator. Colleagues tell me I have to join the new world of technology and realize that I can, in fact, communicate with the world-at-large through a blog.

So, let’s see who’s there and who’s interested in discussing the ever so fine of art of communication. After all, communicating well is what I’m all about – no matter if it’s spoken or written.

My goal with this blog is to make a dream come true: to create a community communication space – virtual and physical studio spaces where people can come to learn both professional and personal communication skills. Followers on the West Coast of North America can easily come to participate in group communication and creative self expression performance classes in Canada’s Garden City, Victoria, British Columbia. Those who are far away are welcome to participate either through this blog and/or in classes in my virtual global classrooms.

Communication really is at the heart of everything we do. When we speak clearly and coherently, when we speak from our heart of hearts or from deep within our ‘knowing’, we are heard and our voice is recognized. Communicate poorly and we might as well remain silent because nobody will hear what we are saying. After a short while of trying to decipher poor communication, our minds wander away from the speaker and return to thinking about our own lives. That’s just the way we humans are. We have very short attention spans nowadays. We’ve grown accustomed to sound bites. Rambling with your words will get you a sea of blank faces from your listeners.

Go well and speak from your heart.

A Jungian Thought

Posted: April 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

“…but it you travel far enough, one day you will recognize yourself coming down the road to meet yourself. And you will say, ‘Yes’ .”

I love these words of Marion Woodman. I guess you could say I relate to them. I didn’t learn them growing up in my own Canadian culture. For in Canada, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. No, I learned to live these words in the 1980s when I lived in beautiful Dangriga Town, on the shores of the Caribbean nation, Belize.

It was dear old Miss Josie Lambey,  my “Garifuna mother” as she liked to call herself, who taught me to sit quietly and to listen as she told me the stories of her long life. We prepared foufou together over her little fire pit stove underneath her raised, little shanty in Bengueche district. Over time, she told me the story of her life.

Slowly we would simmer the coconut milk we had squeezed from the pulp, not ever letting it boil. That’d ruin the texture of  the fish – make it like rubber, she used to say. And then, she would begin, slowly unravelling another chapter of her life. We would eat together, sitting each in our own hammock and so many times after eating the heavy meal, mid-sentence Miss Jo would just drift off to sleep.

At first, I thought it best that I just get up and leave. But, Ms. Josie didn’t think so. She was vexed, she told me the next day. I didn’t understand. She said she was vexed with me because I had left before her story had ended. That’s as bad as interrupting a story she told me. From that day on, I always waited for her to wake up from her nap and finish the story.

I’ve thought a lot about what Miss Josie taught me those days: she taught me to just slow down; to take time to listen; I don’t have to fill in the sounds of silence with chatter or activities. Sometimes, she said, you just need to sit down and rest awhile and know that the best is  yet to come.

Funny, but in just sitting there, so many afternoons, waiting for Miss Josie to wake up from her slumber I learned the significance of Ms. Woodman’s words. In learning to listen with both my ears and more importantly with all my heart, I came to hear the larger, universal meaning of her stories.  The long pauses of her naps were just periods of mental and alimental digestion for me. As I swung back and forth in my hammock pondering her words, I couldn’t help but see that no matter where we come from, we really are not very different at all – at least not in our hearts.

Guess you could say that Miss Josie taught me that silence really is golden; that listening is equally golden.  I learned a lot about myself those long and golden afternoons, hanging and swinging, just waiting to listen to more of this story of  the life of this dear, old woman.

Go well and speak from your heart.