Five simple things I want to tell girls about speaking in public

It is a truth universally accepted that women have to contend with prejudice both overt and subtle when standing up to speak. When the audience ((no matter its size or gender make-up) has completed its superficial scrutiny of what fashion statements our clothing and body shape are making (inexpensive elegance from Les Chinese and sponsored by Cadbury in my case,) the group will eventually engage with our message.

The challenge is to ensure that our messages are not lost in poor presentation skills. Here are a few pointers I have found useful in my own delivery as well as in coaching young people in the classroom.

  • Own your space.
  • Don’t giggle.
  • Lower your pitch.
  • Slow down.
  • Stay away from insipid expressions and apologies.

Own your space:

Any good communication depends on what I call ‘crossing the gap’ from speaker to listener. If you are called to share an opinion or give a talk, your primary task is to carry your message from your own genius to the hearers.’ Don’t shrink from traversing that space with your body language. An audience will applaud anything if it’s said with enough panache. A bombastic oration which is flimsy on content is always better received than timid eloquence (which may explain the popularity of certain politicians and churches – despite the patent lack of spiritual or bodily gain from Doom, snakes or loud praying – ask Brighton and Pastor Lukau of the the coffin fame.)

Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating vacuous braggadocio performances, but a confident pose is a sure way to have your audience sit up and take notice (and I don’t mean like Mr Moyo’s fake rising from the coffin!) I am assuming you have profound wisdom to share – so stand and deliver it with aplomb. Much has been said about the Wonder Woman stance being an effective warm up before an important speech and I must attest to its efficacy. Also, studies have proved it, so you don’t have to just take my word for it: Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is brilliant:

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Something else women are not taught is the authority which is communicated through a firm handshake. We don’t need to get into the relative power plays engaged in by persons of Mr Trump and Mr Macron’s ilk. Men may well use the strength of a person’s handshake as a measure of their personal value, and no matter how much we dislike that, if you’re going to allow your hand to flounder limply in someone’s grip like a pap snoek, you may not be taken seriously. I also find that men will hug a female colleague, before they shake her hand, and although one may well hug them because they are close friends, it isn’t professional. Be the first to stick out your hand and initiate the gesture.

Don’t giggle:

Nothing says “I am inadequate and insecure’ like a giggling Gertie. Every description of giggling fits includes two interesting words: ‘silly’ and ‘girls.’ While this may have your inner feminist fuming, we cannot argue with the fact that self-conscious tittering (no matter your gender) makes your audience see how uncomfortable you are in a situation and definitely has no business gurgling out on a podium.

The problem of course is that oftentimes our unconscious Piglet or Nervous Nellie bubbles forth uncontrollably at inopportune moments, especially when we are anxious. We know instinctively we shouldn’t be letting that flutter of foolishness loose, which is why if you google images of giggling most pictures depict a person with a hand covering the twittering. It must be so because even the giggling emoji says so.

So explore techniques to calm yourself before your big moment. Avoid big sighs or obvious palm pinching though. Try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathing deeply. Plan and practise your opening.

Lower your pitch:

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student teacher, I eagerly asked for feedback from my charges. ‘You have a squeaky voice’ was not quite what I was expecting, but in hindsight marked a singularly significant shift in the gravitas with which I was perceived.

Anxiety can alter our pitch so cultivating relaxation habits before a presentation and consciously lowering your voice will help you come across as more authoritative. Lions are taken more seriously than hyenas. It is horribly unfair that men automatically command attention simply by having deeper voices, but women can consciously lower the pitch – you don’t need to be Batman gravelly or Louis Armstrong deep – just avoid the trill and shrill.

Related image


“Monica:
[complaining about her Thanksgiving] Did anyone ever give a hoot about what I wanted? NO, NO, NO, NO! And I’m just… [her voice gets very squeaky and high-pitched]
Chandler:
Okay, Monica, only dogs can hear you now. “

Friends, Season 1

Slow down:

If you ignore the horrible grammar (sorry my American friends) in the graphic below, you will see just why you should reduce your pace. Coupled with a high pitch you can end up sounding like Minnie Mouse, according to Speech Coach Patricia Fripp, if you speak too fast for your audience and they definitely will not get the gist of your message.

https://www.fripp.com/are-you-speaking-too-quickly/

Remember the first point in this article: own your space – that means YOU regulate the pace. Your audience is not going anywhere. They are yours to entertain.

Image result for speaking too fast cartoon

Avoid insipid expressions and don’t apologize:

  • ‘Hi’ and/or ‘guys’ (too casual seems sloppy)
  • ‘I just want to say’ (Just say it!’)
  • I’m sorry I’m a bit nervous’ (We immediately do not trust you or your message and can’t wait for you to leave the stage, because your nervousness makes us anxious)
  • ‘Um,”ok’, ‘like’ repeated use of ‘so’ (Filler words show us you are nervous and they are downright annoying, which means we listen for them instead of your message.)
  • ‘Oops I’m not very good with these electronic devices’ (See above)
  • Adverbs like ‘literally,’ ‘actually,’and ‘really.’ (They (in fact) add (very) little to your argument and (actually) become like filler words – irritating)
  • ‘Stuff,’ ‘things’ (Name them)

Be powerful:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai

‘Sleep knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care’

Image result for wat is die slaap n wonderspete ding

I was once booked off work due to exhaustion – my whole body was so depleted that I was forced to rest in bed for a week. And so I got to contemplating this thing called ‘sleep.’ Don’t google it – you will be inundated with more articles than there are sheep to count!

Ironically I am usually one of those permanently somnolent sisters who can ‘nap’ for two hours every afternoon quite happily, but blow me down, when told to do so (my greatest wish) by someone with an MChB , I just can’t seem to do it.

It’s guilt. Good old Catholic guilt that is stopping me and as soon as I snuggle in deliciously, self-satisfyingly telling myself that Dr Kindheart said I should, my eyes pop open as I panic about the road repairs at school, the looming Umalusi visit, my business plan, payroll, the school’s birthday celebrations, my trip up north… and … there goes my ‘nap.’ Despite the meds she has given me, I am as wide awake as a  raver on E.

And of course it has to be this week that the usually cannot-be-reached or do-things-next-year repair division of our landlord arrives to fix the extractor fan and ‘Oh we’ve like to quote for the house painting you requested two years ago!’

I had no idea how much the toddler next door cries, nor how many barking dogs or bloody pigeons there are in our neighbourhood; nor how many cars drive past our house. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes which snarl by, sans silencers, or the loud teenagers passing by on their way home from school, disturbing my beauty sleep.

And then I begin to worry about my emails: should I put an ‘out of office’ notice on or will that make the school look bad; or me look weak. But hell I feel weak. But I don’t want anyone to know that. Decisions decisions. I keep telling myself to relax and enjoy the legal break and remember why I need to rest.

What is scary is how serious it is if we do not have enough sleep. My husband sent me an article detailing what happens when you stay up late each night as I do. All those nights staying up to finish a report, work on the budget, fight with the payroll program or finish a Powerpoint presentation could be killing me. That ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ thing  I say all the time, is all wonky. First of all I didn’t say it first, Bon Jovi did (figures)! But more importantly secondly the shorter your sleep, apparently the shorter your life.

And I like my life, so sleep I must. The article also shocked me about how not sleeping enough can make you obese because it messes with your insulin absorption. That must be it! There I was thinking it was all those choccies I sneak in when I’m the last one awake into the early hours of the night. No – it’s lack of sleep. Never mind killing me; all this work is making me fat – oh my Aldo shoes! We can’t have that!

Image result for cartoon pic of a tired woman trying to sleepSo I dutifully take the meds the doc gave me to force me to catch up sleep, but blow me down it’s had the opposite effect – a bit like a Duracell bunny on Red Bull. I find myself in a constant state of panic, mainly about what I now haven’t done at work.

And the FOMO: It was my school’s birthday week this week (yeah we go big – no birthday for us – plus the release of our super cool music vid which we shot last week- I had great fun boogying on my desk) and I so badly wanted to be there, but I made myself stay at home – mind you a mother never ‘stays’ at home even on sick leave – someone had to go to the shops and juggle the credit cards to buy provisions for the hoards when they return and feed the mutt and moggy.

Not sure why I’m feeding the pets mind you; they seem intent on killing each other and have been banished outside in the rain (it’s drizzle really) – that’ll teach them! Oh hell the washing is still on the line … up I get again … before it gets wet.

Finally, I nod off. then my beloved husband tiptoes in after school, in lead boots, snuggles in with a lovely cup of tea, slurping sweetly as he taps on his cellphone … and … PING …. I’m awake – to the mellow sounds of his soft snores. So much for ‘knitting up the ‘ravell’d sleave of care’ – I never was very good with a pair of needles. Methinks sick leave ‘hath murdered sleep’!

I think I’ll just go to work.

Pack up your troubles

Image result for labrador with head out of the window

Nellie our almost-Labrador is a bit of a bangbroek when we walk her on the beach. Starting with the short trip in the car,  she is overly hesitant and needs a backseat minder to prevent her from leaping out. She immediately goes into submissive mode if a dog is even remotely scary, as if anticipating future trouble. Yet on the ride home, tongue lolling out of her mouth she happily drools all over the seat.

Sunday morning walks do that for us too: we set out tired and stressed from the work week and return home soul-fueled for the days ahead; troubles, if not forgotten, are seemingly more manageable.

My 81 year-old aunt who still manages the office of a busy law firm, always tells us not to ‘borrow tomorrow’s troubles’ and she makes a good point about anxiety which I have taken to heart over the years.  I often took beach walks with all 5 children in the early days of being a single parent. Mainly because it was free, but sea air seems to soothe hurts and even betrayal. (And a cheap ice cream satisfies even the most restless of lads).

My little kit bag of daily worries has felt quite heavy enough generally so as not to give me time to anguish over the future, however there have been those desperate moments when the present turmoil  stretches out seemingly interminably into the distance, and one wonders when it will never end ; like trying to soothe a colicky baby; like waiting for the final whistle of your son’s hockey match when you are so cold you can’t feel your toes anymore and the south-easter has penetrated every layer of bulky clothing you have on; like wondering how to make a few rands last until payday. Like waiting for child support payments that never come …

The thing about borrowing troubles is that they may never happen. I once applied for a head’s post which I wasn’t really sure I wanted, but which I felt I ought to apply for because my skill set was sorely needed and I agonised for a whole weekend about what I would do if I were offered it. Of course I didn’t get it, but what I did get was a clearer idea of what I did want and what I do love so it wasn’t an entirely wasted angst; yet the interest on my borrowed troubles wasn’t really necessary.

And there are all those times we google our symptoms (big mistake) and are convinced that we are in the grips of some rare, but always fatal condition. (I have imagined myself  about to die from brain tumours, various latent cancers, twisted intestines, imminent heart attacks, dangerous abdominal conditions and shattered bones, only to have a mundane ailment diagnosed upon visiting le docteur …

Take the current water crisis in the Cape, when Day Zero seemed imminent: normally sedate matrons were filmed trampling one another when water deliveries arrived. We all began stockpiling water and worried that we weren’t storing enough. Then, out of the blue, the crisis evaporated (pardon the pun) and we are left drowning (sorry can’t stop with the ironic puns) in plastic 5l bottles. Now we are fretting about plastic waste …

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we do not take steps to avoid conserving water and living as eco-warriors; we should just beware of being eco-worriers.

Then there is crime. I refuse to live my life in fear of attack at every moment. Sure, I take precautions; I drive defensively (‘It’s not you it’s the other idiots on the road,’ my dad used to say); I am alert, but I refuse to allow criminals to win by constantly living in fear. I am fortunate though to live in a fairly safe street, so I suppose I am speaking from a position of privilege.

What do folk tend to worry about? In general, financial fears, concerns about health and relationships are common, although a quick poll of my own offspring added things like death and the pointlessness of life (always one nihilist among us), failure, going blind, double hand amputation (dramatic artist in the house) and never finding real love.

There is an interesting monthly online poll, which tracks national fears around the globe. In three years South Africans’ have remained fairly constant in their brooding.  This year these were the recorded concerns of South Africans (with access to the internet)

Top five South African issues

  1. Financial/Political Corruption (68%)
  2. Crime & Violence (63%)
  3. Unemployment (55%)
  4. Poverty/Social Inequality (29%)
  5. Education (27%)

These are not that different from the worries of 2015:

  1.        Crime (79%)
  2.        Lack of employment (79%)
  3.        Government corruption (78%)
  4.        Energy Shortages (72%)
  5.        Poor quality schools (61%)

(Statisticians don’t panic, I know the percentages don’t add up – these are percentages of people who mentioned these things. )

So we are grappling as a nation with pretty fundamental concerns. And these are constantly with us, creating huge burdens on our sub-conscious and implicitly affecting the country’s zeitgeist. And let’s face it, these are not worries a brisk walk and ball-throwing with the pooch can cure. They are the cause of things like road rage, family murders, suicides, domestic violence and gangsterism.

And there are those days when that last straw just tips us over into profound desperation. I remember in my own life, having dealt with all 5 children, including myself, being beset by a particular virulent gastro bug which resulted in my standing stuffing sheets into the washing machine at midnight, only to have the washing machine go on the blink. I have a distinct memory of standing there in untold despair and angrily raising my arms in the air, shouting at the Creator in my moment of doubt, ‘Where are you?!’ Do you really exist?!’

At that moment, my phone rang and a close friend of mine, Bernadette, was on the line, saying she had been thinking of me and wondering how I was doing. That care banished my sense of hopelessness and feeling of being alone in the world … and I haven’t ever raise my voice in anger to the Lord again. I wouldn’t dare.

Three years ago I was suffering enormously in a position which became more toxic every day, yet like the proverbial frog in boiling water I didn’t realise it until I was ‘retrenched’ quite out of the blue. Despite the enormous shock of it all and the incredible hurt, and anger, and a deep sense of betrayal, I didn’t cry much, even though, since I was three days post my fiftieth birthday, there was immense dread of the future looming with no job ‘at my age’, I think I was carried on the wings of angels and eventually was offered a hugely challenging and immensely rewarding position as leader of a massive school with a definite mission.

So how do we combat this weight of societal ills that permeates our lives? I don’t want to seem frivolous, but despite all the worry, 3 years down the line, the same issues are still there. So either we accept them as constants, try to change them in every way we can: with our vote; with our outreach; with our sweat at the coal face of life, OR when all is said and done, take the mutt out for a walk, put your faith in the God of your understanding and remember if you go in your daughter’s car you don’t have to wipe up the drool when you get home!

Image result for labrador running on the beach cartoon

Order in The Disorder

Hairspray cliparts

There is a can of Wonder Set Hairspray on my dining room table. Of course there is also an abandoned artwork with accoutrements (Sean having realised he’d better mark his 80 First Year tuttlings’ essays.); a Lego spaceship which Liam uses to imagine his fantasy game and Andrew’s music books and car keys (The latter will be sought frantically when he wants to leave.); not to mention assorted mail, uncollected laundry (I don’t deliver), shopping lists (directed at moi) and a derelict coffee cup. The mess explains why we have recently taken to eating at the kitchen counter and not at the designated expensive Coricraft dinner table anymore.

But it is this royal blue aerosol can which captures my attention. You’d understand the anomaly it represents if you knew my children: Three of them have been gifted with the Celtic splendour of rich, curly (to die-for in the eighties) red curls, which challenge all attempts at taming. The teenage boys sport foppish New Romantic locks which must flop into their eyes or be tied up in whimsical knots which explode like sweet stringy fountains on their crowns , napes (or foreheads), depending on the length of fringe allowed by Mom or girlfriends. And Lizzy couldn’t care about what her locks look like so long as her ‘do’ is healthy. Andrew hasn’t enough to spray and I have been banned from ‘big hair’ by the Carlton Hair Police. So what is it doing, lurking on the table?

This tin of hairspray is a random misfit even in the world of sprawling eccentricity which is our home. I wonder how many other houses have toiletries so prominently displayed in their living areas. Do other folk possibly sport toothbrushes in their lounges or rolls of toilet paper at their front doors; or are we alone in our mixed grocery household? It is of course used by Artist Number 2 to protect her charcoal sketches I think or possibly to protect the Pastels Prince’s creations. And truth be told it is at times kept company by a roll of toilet paper. In some ways it is symbolic of the acceptance of weirdness in our family.

But the Neat Nut in me rebels at the sight though and screams to return all items to their rightful places. Before I can work down there, I have to sweep and mop and tidy. That’s how I survived when my 14 year old marriage began to crumble. I cleaned. Everything. I had the cleanest house in Cape Town. Seriously. I did skirting boards, window sills and light switches every day; windows inside and outside once a week. I changed bedding for 6 people every week (every day for three weeks when I saw three nits on one child’s head). All before 12 0’clock so I could feed Liam and then fetch the others from school. I was like an anorexic bringing order to my world in the only way I could control: instead of mastering my appetite, I had a perfect home.

When I met Andrew, on his inaugural visit to our house with Lizzy and Mika, the first thing he asked with surprise was ‘Where’s the mess?’ Now he falls over it (largely because he made it of course) and I remind myself that it’s ok for a place to have a lived-in appeal. I’ve never told him about the mad clean up that happened that day because the Bentleys were coming for tea. And mess has become a reminder for me that I do not need to remain in such rigid control of things anymore.

However I think I may have passed this disorder about order onto my children: Caitlin, the accountant, is a natural organiser, but the day (yesterday) Michael entered my boudoir uninvited and told me to tidy up the mess (ok so a few of my clothes were chilling with the clean linen – all right the coats had brought out the beers and it was quite a party on the chairs in the room), I knew he was as damaged as me.

Perhaps he sprayed his hair with Jane Seymour’s Firm Control?