Becoming a Better Feminist. Part One: Agency

I started my own bizznizz and it made me a better feminist! Who knew?!

4 years ago a series of unexpected events kind of pushed me into starting a business.

It was never my dream, my plan, nor my ambition. I was a cello playing English teacher with a profound love of literature. I certainly had zero business experience. 

But, honestly, it was the best thing I ever did. And it made me a better feminist.

I’ve come to learn that we can be agents of positive change.

This is no small thing and I want to explain very clearly why.

As women, until very very recently, we’d not really been taught to have agency and the best we could have hoped for was to marry well (in a lot of countries this is still the case).  Agency isn’t a desirable characteristic for a good wife. Much better to be accepting, adaptable, and able to make the most of what we have around us.  Obviously these are useful skills too, but what happens when we don’t want to accept, adapt to, and make the best of what we have around us? 

In the initial stages of my life as a businesswoman I wasn’t thinking much more past “Oh my God – what am I doing?!”  Zero business experience meant that my business management skills were limited, as was my confidence in my “businesswoman” self.

However, a very surprising thing started to happen to me as I evolved into, and as, a businesswoman. I started to realise, to actually see, that by practising agency it gets easier and can be used to incite positive change. By practising agency you become more confident in your decisions and you start to notice that you have an opportunity, which quickly becomes an ability, to shape what you have around you.  

I’m not saying everyone needs to become a business owner to learn this. I’m saying that we are not powerless. We can learn to be agents of change. That we can have a positive effect on what surrounds us. And this felt like a good time to remind you of that.

I think the events of last year have left a lot of us feeling quite impotent. I think some of the issues we are facing, and I’m not just talking how to recover from a global pandemic – I’m talking institutionalised inequality, climate change, the rise and unknown implications of AI, the greater divide between the haves and the have-nots, the list goes on and on and on.  All of this can leave some of us so overwhelmed that we spend a lot of our time in a state of stunned helplessness. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that we remember that we can have agency, that we can exercise it, develop it, and use it as a force for positive change.

When I asked at the start what do we do if we don’t want to accept, adapt to, make the most of what we have, maybe it sounded a little like I want to start a revolution, smash everything up and start again. There’s a part of me that would like that, but there’s also a part of me that loves so much of what we have achieved as humans and believes it would be a terrible shame to destroy it all. 

So let’s turn to Kintsugi for guidance. Know it? 

It’s the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. The smallest of cracks to the cleanest of breaks are filled with a binding material laced with gold. The process doesn’t try to hide damage, it actually honours it, by turning it into something beautiful. The integral repair work is highlighted.  Kintsugi makes a broken piece whole again, perhaps even stronger and more resilient than before, with visible golden scars that glitter as they commemorate the trouble the piece has been through. 

I don’t think there could be a more apt metaphor for what the world needs right now.

We could approach life like this, right? While I do feel there is an urgent need to empower and elevate women I do also want to include everyone in this next request. 

As we move through this coming year, can we remember that our actions have an effect and let that effect be like that of a gold laced binding agent? 

Practise agency for positive change

What Story are you Going to Tell?

This article was written before the start of the Covid pandemic and the murder of George Floyd but I decided to post it anyway as I think that what it has to say is more relevant than ever. Simply, we need to co-create fairer systems.  

NOTE – This article is a long read. Not very fashionable – I know. I’ve put the main stuff in BOLD for those of you who prefer a quick read.  

 

I studied literature at university and have always had a fascination with stories, where and who they come from, and what they tell us about the world. As I read Hardy’s tragic Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Lawrence’s sexually charged Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) – which wasn’t actually openly published until the 60s and even then was subjected to an obscenity trial – I was clearly being told, by white men, what a (white British) woman could expect from her existence at the time of writing. I also reflected on how much that had changed in the years between these two novels. My conclusion – a lot. 

 

Reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Everisto (2019) recently, clearly highlighted to me how the concerns and fates of female protagonists and what they can expect from their environments has radically changed in the last 100 years. Moreover, in this case, we are reading about the fates of Black women by a black female writer.  

 

You only need to look at the phenomenon of both Fleabag and I May Destroy You – recent TV series – to see the extent of progress in terms of what stories are now “acceptable” to society and who gets to tell them. The global success of these shows illustrates not just that their audience was ready for a wildly new narrative on how a woman can navigate her way through the world, but we were actually HUNGRY for it. I would argue desperate for it!  

 

CULTURE IS A TESTAMENT TO PROGRESS – IT OFFERS COMPELLING PROOF THAT PRESCRIBED NARRATIVES CAN BE RE-WRITTEN. And right now we are in a very exciting time – a real paradigm shifting moment and I strongly believe we need to be aware of that, honour that, and act accordingly. 

 

The stories that we read or see on TV or in films are the most obvious form of storytelling, perhaps the clearest place to see the messages inherent in a narrative, but we mustn’t forget that we are surrounded by multiple types of storytelling and that we are influenced on a daily basis by their power and the messages and ideas embedded in them.

 

We can sometimes run into danger as we quite often accept a narrative and its messages and ideas without giving them much thought. We associate A with B purely because we’ve become so used to hearing a particular story. We just repeat a dominant idea that has become so much part of our (collective)  imagination that we don’t even question it. This happens not just at the individual level (“I’m unlucky in love!”), but in families (“Uncle David is crazy!”), cities (“Paris is the city of romance!”), ethnicity (“Latinos are good lovers!”).  

 

Big businesses spend millions on corporate storytelling because they know stories stick. 

 

The power of repeated stories should never be underestimated. They become folkloric. They become our truth. And sometimes when something is so embedded and has gone unchallenged for so long we forget that, like the fate of women in cultural artifacts, these narratives can change. 

 

I was myself on the receiving end of what I interpreted as a clear case of someone unconsciously repeating a dominant story line the other day (which pushed me to write this article) and I want to share with you how it made me feel.

 

I went to a coworking space in central Barcelona to ask the manager, a woman I had previously met at an event to promote female empowerment, if I could run a workshop in the space. I was told “Yes, of course” but that I should do it for free, not because the philosophy of the space believes in offering free training and services for its community of users (which I would have totally respected) but because “that’s how things are in Barcelona. This article is not about whether there are professional circumstances when you should work for free – there obviously are. This article is about the effects of the unconscious retelling of a story (that doesn’t necessarily serve a community), the auto-pilot responses that we sometimes give when we’ve forgotten to question an accepted truth, an accepted narrative. This article is about it being time to push for open inclusive dialogue, about wanting to create an environment where everyone can have a say, where we can collectively make decisions and finally facilitate fundamental systemic change. This article is about TELLING A DIFFERENT STORY.

 

On an instinctual level I felt like this person hadn’t fully realised, or doesn’t truly believe, that we can instigate change if we want. I would love this article to make them feel empowered enough (if they ever read it) to embody Mahatma Gandhi’s words: Be the change that you wish to see in the world. 

 

But enough with inspirational slogans. We need to talk about the insidious effects of the administering of such rhetoric, of being told “that’s how it is”. I walked out of that coworking feeling confused and disappointed. By the time I got home confusion and disappointment had turned into shock and anger. I realised I’d been shut down, silenced, told “how it was” (worse, by someone I would never have expected that from). I felt exactly how I’ve been made to feel many times by a patriarchal model of leadership that I’ve spent my professional career trying to avoid (because, so that my thoughts are crystal clear, IT’S AN INCREDIBLY ANTIQUATED SYSTEM THAT HAS CEASED TO BE OF ANY USE TO THE WORLD AT LARGE – IT UNDERMINES, IT PREVENTS INDIVIDUAL GROWTH, IT’S REALLY BORING).

 

Of course, I can (and will) go and find somewhere else to do my workshop. But this article is not about me and my workshop. This article is a plea to look at something way more important that affects ALL OF US. 

 

The thing is, frankly, we still have in place patriarchal power dynamics, even in forward thinking environments, unconsciously implemented by people who I am sure would be horrified to hear they had embodied a model they are trying to change. I spend quite a lot of time going to networking events for female entrepreneurs. They focus on empowerment, inclusivity, diversity – they are very inspirational. And it’s great that these networks exist. There’s a lot of talk about “change” being possible, but at the same time a certain subtle reluctance (caused by fear?) to let go of tired old narratives regarding what a person with a position of power does. It’s a narrative that actively suppresses the voice of the many and gives a platform to the voice of the few. This is not happening through malice (I sincerely hope) – it’s through lack of awareness, lack of belief perhaps, fear of the new, and a fundamental lack of discussion on the topic. 

 

What this all comes down to is what I see as the common feature that current buzzwords “inclusivity”, “diversity”, “gender equality” share. The thread that binds these three concepts together is giving a voice to the voiceless. In essence, creating an environment in which EVERYONE is able to write their own story.  

 

I need to say that I’ve never been publically vocal about my thoughts on the big stuff. Like – dismantling the patriarchy, inclusivity, diversity, feminism in general… you know… The BIG STUFF! I do, however, spend a lot of time reading and thinking about these things and will often bang on about it to my lucky (haha) friends, family, and sometimes even strangers (especially after a glass of wine or two).

 

When I analyse these concepts they come back to the same thing. It’s simple. People need to be allowed to construct their own story. Not have a story dictated to them from above and, let’s face it, usually by a privileged white man – or someone who behaves like one because they believe their position of power calls for it.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that we are in a period of great change.   

 

Let me qualify – the patriarchy, with all its old ideas relating to the exertion of dominance, hierarchical structures that are designed to serve the few, being dictated to on ideals and standards, having tones set, suitable behaviours imposed, norms and values enforced that have been filtered through the lense of a privileged white male, all of this is on its last legs. This narrative is changing in front of our very eyes. We are witnessing positive advancements every day and, as this shift will benefit everyone, it is a joy to behold. Of course paradigm shifts are not easy. There is a struggle going on and we need to know what side we are on. Are we going to continue to impose on people because “we know what’s best” and because “that’s how it is” or are we going to create an environment that encourages discussion, negotiation, the sharing of ideas, that takes an active interest in what everyone has to say about how they would like their story to unfold? We need to decide, and then act consciously, mindfully, and authentically. We need to question our motivation and be sure that the story we tell, even to ourselves, reflects our truth. 

 

I want to give you a non-professional example that clearly illustrates how careful we need to be with dominant narratives. Have you ever spent an amazing night with a gorgeous 25 year old Lithuanian professional basketball player? The kind of night where as you’re skipping home with an enormous smile on your face the next morning you feel perfectly content with what you have shared and don’t feel any need or desire for it to be anything more than what it was… when suddenly a little voice pops up in your head and asks “so, are you going to see him again?”, a question so inappropriate for the situation that it almost sounds insane?

I caught myself in this situation a little while back. 

 

As I listened to this little voice, goading me to chase a certain narrative, trying to diminish my happiness, making me feel like this wonderful experience wasn’t enough, I understood something transformational. This question, this thought, had come from a lifetime of films, songs, books, throw away comments made by friends and family members, that have told me “how things are”. I felt so liberated in that moment of realisation. I remember thinking “WOAH NOW!!!! Who’s idea is this??? It’s not mine!! I wasn’t at the meeting that decided the objective is  long-term relationships. Who deemed them The Holy Grail? Who said they are infinitely more valuable, honorable, desirable than one night stands with Lithuanian basketball players? It wasn’t me! FUCK THAT!! I’m not going to be bullied by this idea. I will decide what I value, what I honor, and what I desire, and when. Thank you.” 

 

During the conversation with the coworking’s manager I felt that the “that’s how things are in Barcelona” comment had come from somewhere else. It didn’t feel like it authentically belonged to that person. And of course, my reaction was: NOPE – I don’t accept a narrative I didn’t agree to that is going to dictate how I move through my life. And, more than that, I’m ready to fight for a world where no one has to. 

 

There are more initiatives, movements, and organisations talking about equality than ever before. We are living in an unprecedented time. I feel genuinely optimistic that we can have, finally, a real chance at creating more equal and inclusive societies in which we ALL get to decide our own fate. I believe we are in a moment where we can start to construct our own honest narratives that clearly demonstrate our personal values and ideals. This is a conversation I want to be a part of, a conversation I want all of us to be a part of. 

 

So over to you – please tell me “What story are you going to tell?

 

Planet Venus Women: Sarah Jane Seatherton

At our last Coffee Morning networking event we met Sarah Jane Seatherton! We were absolutely mezmerized by her energy so we sat down for a chat with her about her entrepreneurial journey. Read on if you want to find out more!

Tell us about yourself … who are you?

I am Sarah Jane Seatherton and I am nearly 45 years old. I’m a cellist, I play the cello. I started “Do It Daily”, which is my company, about 3 years ago without any business experience.

Describe yourself with 3 words.

I would probably say “optimistic,” “rebellious” and “honest.”

Tell us a bit more about what you do?

What’s interesting about starting your own project is that it evolves as you do. I think any person who starts their own business does it for very personal and emotional reasons.

My background is as an English teacher. So, most of what I do on a certain level is helping people improve or perfect their English. When I analyze that and what it means to me, I understand that I am helping people find their voice in a second language. I’ve worked mostly with women in my career and I realize on reflection that I am helping people find their authentic voice so they are able to communicate consciously in whatever situation they need to do that.

I started doing workshops to help people (small business owners, festival/event organisers, artists) define their message and their values, their story! And then find the words to talk clearly about it. That’s the point. “How do we get your message expressed so that it represents fully your values, your mission and your purpose.” I’ve recently started doing individual sessions with people who have something specific to do. For example, I’ve been working with a woman who helps to run an urban culture festival in Galicia to write to potential sponsors. I do it because what generally happens is when people are in a project or their own project, they get lost in goals and the business side of it. And that disconnects them from that reason why they’re doing what they are.

Because in the end if you strip away all the practical stuff like making money or the logistical element trying to put things together; there is a heart in there that has something important that it wants to do and say.

Has that helped you also for yourself to bring out your own message across better?

Definitely. This is something that’s really important. My message from when I began my business to now is really different. As I am evolving, my story (because this is essentially what it is about, right? It’s about our stories) is also evolving and changing. The world around me is evolving, and consequently the environments that I put myself in are changing.

It is a constant evolution. You don’t just find your message and say “that’s it”; in fact, it changes as you do, as your business does and as your clients do.

We have to be constantly checking in with why we’re doing what we’re doing. “Have our values changed?”

I’ve just recently written an article which was a difficult one to write. It pushes some buttons and it challenges all of us. This article is about the type of thing that I talk to my friends about over wine because I’ve always been vocal in friend groups, but I’ve never spoken publicly about feminism, diversity or inclusivity. And this article is very much “This is what I believe, this is how I feel; If we’re going to make any real change, things have to change” and it’s heavy. We’ve got to be in this together and there needs to be a dialogue.

I saw this Adidas ad that said “Change is a team sport”. The message here is that everybody in that team has to have a voice and a say. We need to have environments in which collective decision making processes can happen.

For example, what’s messed up about patriarchal models of leadership is that one person makes a decision and we all have to say “Okay.” And what we need to be doing is give the voiceless a voice. We need to be fully aware that underneath all these female empowerment associations that’s what we’re trying to do and we’re all in this together. But it’s a completely new model and I understand that people are scared of the changes required to make this possible.

What do you aspire to do?

In terms of aspirations I really want for my business to absolutely reflect my values and beliefs. Inclusivity for example. So people that work for corporate companies or can afford to pay me an X amount per hour do so; which then means the people who can’t pay that same amount can still have access to what I do regardless. I aspire to be as truthful as I can be and do everything that I can to help create environments where everybody gets a voice and a say.

Small businesses are going to transform our world, if we let them.

People are bored of big businesses; they’re tired of giving their money to entities that don’t have aligned values and, of course, there’s a lack of trust. Basically, we have a beautiful opportunity for all of these small businesses to start functioning in a way that moves and shifts the existing paradigm. It is an amazing time, so let’s be radical about it and let’s start making opportunities accessible to everybody. Getting people to be responsible for how they act. It is about trusting women, people in general to act in a way that facilitates fairness. As an example, you’ve got an event that you want to put on. So if people can afford to pay 100 euros, then can you please pay 100 euros; and if people can’t, can you please pay what you can afford, if that’s 10 euros – ok. We need to create environments of trust where the people who have these 100 euros will go “Yes, here you go, take my 100 euros, actually, take 150 because I want to make sure that the people that can’t afford it will be able to come.” This is the only way we will start to see genuine inclusivity and diversity.

Why did you come to a Planet Venus event?

So I went to Downtown offices when I first came back to Barcelona. I had my little business which was like a year old and I went to my first networking event and I was so scared because it is so out of anything that I would normally do. And I remember going to that event and there were 30 women of ages 23-53 from all different countries around the world and everybody was doing these different things and I felt like “wow,” these people are quietly dismantling the patriarchy. So when Downtown offices closed and these girls took over and started promoting as Planet Venus, I just came to the first event.

I like the energy a lot and I think there’s really good intentions behind what’s happening here. I think this is a space for people to be able to openly discourse what we are doing and it feels positive.

Discipline is Freedom

I started playing the cello at the age of 35. Since then I’ve played in an orchestra on the stage of the Gran teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and recorded an alt-rock album with a group of wonderfully talented musicians in Belgrade. Not bad, eh? And absolute proof that anything is possible.

Learning the cello led me to create Do It Daily. I notice a HUGE difference when I practise every day and when I do one month’s practise in an afternoon. It made sense to me to create a teaching environment that facilitated daily access to English. I wanted to encourage my clients* to practise English every day. 

*We’re all very happy with the results by the way – but that’s another story for another day! 

I want you to take a moment and think about what the phrase “Discipline is Freedom” means to you. 

It’s originally a quote from Aristotle and is generally interpreted to mean that if we can learn to control our compulsive behaviours, both good and bad, through self-discipline, we can then have the freedom to choose how we live our lives. Rather than feeling like we are the victims of our desires, our urges, our impulses, we can have agency. We can be sure that our actions will produce the effect we want.  

Jocko Willink, an ex-navy SEALS officer, talks about discipline leading to “success” (which I understand is his definition of freedom).  He says discipline comes from within and is a fight, a continual battle, with yourself. When you are winning the battle, Willink says, the reward is the power to choose the kind of life you want. 

In part, I agree with both these men.  I recently learned, however, exactly what the phrase means to me personally. At the same moment I realised that every individual will have their own definition of what “Discipline is Freedom” means. 

Here’s mine – 

I moved house last year and now live very close to a group of people I know a little who also happen to be musicians I admire very much. I was invited to their house a few weeks ago. “Bring your cello” one of them said to me. I’d never imagined playing with them before, I’d always been the audience, and the idea filled me with a degree of panic! One of the biggest challenges I face when playing the cello is that of silencing my mind. Being able to control the effects of nervousness that come with “performance” is notoriously hard. Being able to silence the inner dialogue – that is usually critical – and focus purely on the music is what I spend a lot of effort doing.  

I imagined being with the musicians, who I’ve spent years in awe of and having a big loud voice in my head shouting at me, telling me how inferior I was. I imagined that my nerves would not let me concentrate, would not let me focus, not let me feel the music and enjoy the experience. 

I decided to go anyway. 

On the day none of what I had imagined happened. On the day my mind was quiet. After just a few minutes of playing with them I wasn’t nervous at all. My 9 years of cello practise meant I could contribute (simply) to what these amazing musicians were playing and, more importantly, I was able to express myself unself-conciously, enjoy the experience, get lost in the experience. It was exhilarating. It felt like freedom.  

How did I get to this point, I asked myself. Through discipline? Of course you have to make a commitment to learning an instrument, to learning anything. Would Aristotle say I was disciplined? Would Willink say I had total control over my behaviour? Do I feel like I have won the battle with the part of me that wants to watch Netflix and eat chocolate instead of practise scales? 

Honestly, I think the answer is no!

When I look back and reflect on my time learning cello I see that I’ve had incredible support all the way. It hasn’t been a battle with myself because the discipline wasn’t only coming from me. When I’ve felt like it was too hard, or that I wasn’t progressing as well or as quickly as I wanted, when I couldn’t find the energy to do what was necessary, someone – a teacher, a friend, a more experienced musician, was there, to encourage me, to push me, or to say the exact thing I needed to hear to make me want to continue. To make me want to continue trying. 

There are so many parallels for me with learning an instrument and learning a language. I’ll never be able to play as well as I do in my dreams, and the process is endless!!

Most of my clients feel the same.

That day, after being able to play with the musicians I had admired for so long, I understood more about why I started Do It Daily. 

My clients are busy professionals. They have great demands placed on them, of all kinds, all the time. To add disciplined language practise to that list of demands is a lot to ask!

I realised that a part of what we do at Do It Daily is to be the support you need when you can’t find discipline. That way, when the big moment to perform comes, when you need to express yourself consciously, coherently, and confidently (in the form of a presentation, a client dinner, a friendly chat with the visiting CEO) you will have absolute freedom to do so. 

Is it time to rethink success?

I think we can agree that modern society places a lot of emphasis on “success”, “being successful”, “succeeding”. It’s a heavily loaded concept with deep rooted connotations, and it doesn’t always feel attainable.

I often think about the concept of success in relation to my students.

What does an English language learner’s marker of success look like? How does an English language learner quantify his or her success? What does success actually mean to an English language learner?

These are questions I ask myself regularly. It’s a topic that interests me enormously. I dedicated a whole blog post to it last year.

What, I wonder, is an English language learner’s definition of success?

The dominant education systems provide very clear parameters for students regarding success. From Elementary school to university to adult education in all its forms success is defined in very simple terms: Exam results.

Exams, assessments, and tests allow students (and teachers) to quantify ability or knowledge. A mark out of 10, a percentage, an A, B, or C, tells a student how “good” they are, how “well” they are doing.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this: it’s a safe, and some would argue proven, way for students and teachers to evaluate progress.

When I consider this model in relation to English language learners however, two questions arise for me.

ONE: If a student is successful in their exams, will that guarantee them success when it comes to “real life” demands?
TWO: If we place so much emphasis on the outcome, the mark, the result, are we neglecting to value something else?

I recently watched a lecture by a British comedian (Deborah Frances-White) in which she raised many interesting points, one in particular stood out for me.

Adults are very reluctant to do things that they don’t think they’ll be good at.

Think about that!

We tend only to participate when we know we have a good chance of doing well at the activity in question.

This seems extremely limiting! And it makes me question how well the traditional education system prepares students for life outside the safety of the classroom environment.

How can a language learner be helped to make the transition from doing well in an exam that he or she takes in the classroom to participating  in a high-stakes professional setting? And what about those that don’t do “well” in their exams?!

How can students go from confidently (or not!) answering a question in an oral test to confidently (or not!) putting forward their opinion on a conference call when their boss is listening? What about volunteering to give the sales presentation to the potential clients who are visiting the office next month?!

If students don’t have much experience in communicating in a professional setting and they can’t guarantee they’ll do a “good” job they will naturally try and avoid any situation that demands they use the English that perhaps they feel insecure about.

If they won’t try it how can they practise it? How can they get comfortable at doing it???

I would like to suggest it’s by RETHINKING WHAT SUCCESS ACTUALLY MEANS.

In one of her talks Deborah Frances-White invites an audience to consider the reaction of a room full of children to the question “Can I have a volunteer please?”

We all know the answer!

Children will do anything to get picked to be the volunteer.

How do adults respond to the same question?

They will do everything NOT to get picked to volunteer.

WHY?

Because while an adult is assessing how they might perform at the unknown task, a child is thinking “Whoop!! Pick me!! I really want a go!!

A child values “THE GO”.

A child doesn’t concern itself with how well he or she will do at the task. A child doesn’t think about accomplishing the aim of the exercise. A child doesn’t care about being “good”, they care about having a go! They just want a turn. They just want the opportunity to try.

A child measures their success by how many “GOES” they had. A successful day is a day full of “GOES”.

There’s so much to be learned from this.

We need to stop measuring ourselves purely based on performance, we need to value (and ENJOY) the act of having a go!

So here’s my challenge for you this year:

Instead of assessing yourself in terms of performance, can you give yourself marks for the amount of opportunities you take?

Can you congratulate yourself every time you have a go?

Can you value participation over outcome?

Can your success in 2018 be measured by the number of goes you had and not by what you accomplished?

A Practical Guide for Preparing Presentations

Art work by Marina Milev

 

 

Giving a presentation in English when it’s not your first language (or even when it is!) can be a little daunting, especially when you don’t have much time to prepare it.

Follow these 4 simple guidelines to ensure you deliver a clear, strong message every time.

1. PLAN…yes, you need a plan! I’m not talking about a detailed script that you and three advisors spent two months on.

I’m talking about making THREE notes: mental OR written.

MESSAGE: Know what your MAIN points are.
STRUCTURE: Know the most COHERENT ORDER for those points.
IMPRESSION: Know what FEELING you want your audience to walk away with.

When you have that….

2. FREE-STYLE!

The vast majority of professionals I work with have more than enough English to not only talk intelligently about their area of expertise, but about a wide range of subjects. I am sure you can too!

I’m not suggesting you free-style your presentation on the day, that would be asking for trouble! I do suggest you free-style into a recording device (your phone will undoubtedly have one). Play it back to yourself and then use the recording to

Notice your weak moments: the moments where you mmm and errrrr and aaahh.

Decipher the moments where it’s IMPERATIVE that you get your message across.

3. SCRIPT THOSE PARTS.

Take the time to create a powerful sentence that encapsulates EXACTLY what you need to say.

PRACTISE THOSE PARTS ONLY. Don’t waste your time going over the parts you can do easily.

Spend your limited preparation time on strengthening the parts where you feel insecure. The areas where you are already strong will flow naturally anyway. You don’t need to worry about them or put your energy there.

Lastly….

4. KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Please remember that your English is NOT being judged. Your MESSAGE is being judged.

Luckily for you, presentations are the most effective when the speaker uses clear and concise language that the whole audience finds accessible. Presentations are not the medium to show off your elaborate English skills. Keep it simple, take it slow and DON’T EVER FORGET to…..

I’ll leave that to you!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone about to give a presentation?

 

How to be a Successful Learner.

Art work by Marina Milev

 

6 Essentials.

Having been a teacher for the last 17 years I have dedicated a lot of time to the pursuit of being a good one.

When I decided to learn to play the cello at age 35 I quickly realised that whilst having a good teacher certainly helped, it was me doing all the hard work!

I started to think, read and ask about what it means to be a good LEARNER.

Here’s what I discovered….

1. PERSEVERE

First and foremost, we have to persevere. We have to KEEP AT IT. We must KEEP GOING.

We have to make a sustained commitment to what we have chosen to do.

Why is this so hard? Why can the learning process frustrate us so much? Why do we start each year with such good intentions that abandon us before we’ve reached our goal?

I believe, in part, it’s because we want to be perfect.

The first thing I need to make clear here is that seeking perfection is a fool’s game!

As we get better in our chosen field we become more demanding of ourselves, which means we will never reach that desired state of perfection because it’s parameters are constantly evolving just out of our reach!  Think of it as trying to sail to the horizon…we’re NEVER going to get there.

We frequently forget this however and so we want to be able to deliver a persuasive presentation in a second language, perform a complex piece of music, play a winning round of golf, run a highly successful business, or be able to do the salamba shirshasana as well as we do in our fantasies.

More often than not, we can’t. This makes us feel far from the ultimate goal we have set ourselves. It is demotivating and disappointing and makes us question the point of our endeavour.

I LOVE everything about my experience with the cello, even so, I regularly feel like I’m never going to be able to play to the standard I would like and so why bother?!?!

For some of my students, those who DON’T LOVE learning English, getting through this is even harder.

In these moments, it becomes paramount that we…DO NOT GIVE UP! We do NOT QUIT!

There are numerous things you can do to get you through these dark times [click here for some tips]

The absolute best thing we can do in these moments is …

2. GET INSPIRED

I can’t stress the importance of feeling inspired enough.

This spills over into all aspects of life!

When we are actively and meaningfully engaged we not only enjoy more of what we are doing but absorb more of it too.

As learners we need to ensure we are connected to what we are doing.

We need to keep the learning process feeling fresh and dynamic. We need to be actively looking for things that interest us.

We need to take control of our learning process by being self-directed.

We need to ask the people we admire questions and we need to make suggestions to our teachers.

We need to discover what resonates with us.

Not only will this research make our learning more relevant to us, but it will have the added bonus of keeping us fully engaged with what we are doing.

It will prevent us from thinking about the goals we set ourselves, which all too often distract us from the process we have to go through to reach them.

By keeping ourselves inspired we ensure that during the time we dedicate to learning, either with a teacher or alone, our attention will be on what we are actually doing and not on what we want to be able to do.

And of course, the only way we are going to get closer to what we want to be able to do is by working on what needs to be done to get there!

If we want to be truly successful learners, we need to work on becoming good learners, both effective and efficient!

We will  achieve this by working on our ability to…

3. FOCUS

In my experience as a student trying to learn to play cello and as a teacher observing my students trying to learn English, complete concentration on the task at hand is something incredibly hard to achieve.

We all constantly have distracting inner-dialogues. Perhaps we are thinking about the important meeting we have in the morning, or what we should’ve but didn’t say in the last meeting. Perhaps we are thinking about how much better we want to be and how far we are from that point. Perhaps we are thinking about what we want for dinner!

Not one of these thoughts has a place in the time we allot to learning. They serve no purpose.

They only distract us from what we should be doing and in the case of negative self-criticism, which I think all learners have subjected themselves to at some point, can actually damage our development.

We have to learn to turn all inner-dialogues off and truly be present in our endeavours.

We need to work on being able to focus if we are going to become truly great learners.

It’s widely acknowledged that the results of such intense concentration are astounding.

We should all be making a commitment to ourselves in our chosen field of learning to dedicate some time to complete concentration each day. I ask my students for 20 minutes a day of their undivided attention.

It takes a while to get used to focusing with such intensity but IT WORKS. I can testify to this as both a teacher and a student. I can also assure you that it’s something we are all capable of.

Integrating perseverance into our activities, finding ready channels of inspiration and learning to focus like Buddha himself are all well and good, but what we really need to do now is …

4. ACCEPT.

This one is hard to stomach, but it’s also incredibly liberating once it’s been assimilated.

Ready?

I know, as a cellist who started playing at the age of 35, that I will NEVER dominate the cello in the way that Pau Casals did.

This is devastating and incredibly disheartening!

BUT…it’s an unchangeable fact.

So, what can we do with this information?

Personally, I have learned  not to demand of myself totally unrealistic things, like being able to play like Pau Casals!

More importantly I’ve learned to change my thought pattern about the process.

It has gone from “Why didn’t you start earlier?” and “You’ll never be as good as Pau Casals” to “Wow…..look at what you have achieved” and “Who would ever have thought you would get this far”.

I am really proud of where I have come with the cello and remind myself of my progress often.

As a new small business owner [which, I’m discovering, is all about learning!] I know that I will never have the International presence of IH or The British Council.

Does that de-value what I do? NOOOO!!!

My contribution is equally as valuable, if not as big!

Many of my English students are frustrated with their level. Students that started learning at a later stage in life, that have never lived abroad or never had an English-speaking lover, [which is apparently the absolute best way to learn a language!] often get disheartened, frustrated and demotivated.

I get them to look at all they have achieved rather than all they haven’t. 

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to get to be Pau Casals, Shakespeare or the guy who founded IH anyway…

And that’s OK.

It is important for our sanity to accept our position in the grand scheme of things and learn to be OK with exactly where we are on our path at any given moment. We can never, however, use that as an excuse not to try …….really hard!

Now it’s time to….

5. BE AUDACIOUS!

You need to challenge yourself if you’re going to develop.

You need to put yourself in scary situations. You need to be open to experiences where your heart rate quickens with nerves!

Here I need to stress that before you jump boldly where you’ve never been before, you are not to use the experience as a way to torture yourself afterwards with how bad you were!

Go into it with as little emotion as possible.

Observe yourself neutrally.

If you make a mistake, which you more than likely will, correct it, do it right next time and move on. Don’t waste anytime telling yourself off!

There’s no value in it.

For my 40th birthday I gave myself a present of a year at the Liceu music school in Barcelona. It was an exhilarating year but also petrifying in so many ways. The most challenging moment was performing on the great stage in the Liceu theatre. I had prepared for it as best I could but was, understandably, painfully nervous. Once I had got over the initial shock of being on a stage where performers I admired had stood and having thousands of eyes on us, I focused on the job at hand and it was OK. Most notably, I didn’t die! Yes, I made some mistakes, but there were some beautiful moments too and it helped me see what I needed to work on.

Most importantly, the experience pushed me to want to be better.

An English student of mine was asked to pick up some British artists from the airport who were performing at a festival in the centre of Barcelona. “I’ll have to talk to them for the whole journey” she told me with nervous fear in her voice. She was scared, but she did it. Afterwards she said “Next year I want to be able to speak to them more”.

This is what I have experienced and seen time and time again.

When we put ourselves in scary situations, we want to do it again afterwards.

We want to have another go. We want another opportunity to do it better.

These challenges we set ourselves drive us to want to be better. This is a great motivator.

Which brings us to our final point….

6. KNOW WHY

Why are we learning what we are learning?

For many people learning English is about being able to get a better job to be able to provide a better life for their family.

Learning karate might be about fulfilling a childhood dream.

Learning how to run a business might have come from wanting to have greater autonomy over who you work with.

Whatever your reasons for learning what you’re learning, studying what you’re studying, doing what you’re doing they are valid and important and you should constantly refer back to them.

When the going gets tough remind yourself of why you started your quest.

And then go back to number 1!

I would be interested to hear about your learning experiences. Please share below.

Vintage video