The only way is up...eventually!

I’ve noticed that over the last couple of weeks my opening comments have taken on the form of incisive and rather pithy observations about…the weather!  I heard myself say the “Cold isn’t it?” line twice in quick succession last Friday.  On both occasions, what followed was a friendly exchange of related anecdotes where all involved cordially agreed that my opening statement was indeed correct and we then went about our business!

Well, yes it’s cold, because it’s November in Britain.  It’s autumn and the same thing happens every year.  In June, when it’s summer (apparently), the temperature is much warmer and that also happens every year.

Gravity guarantees that what goes up must come down.  It’s just a pity that it doesn’t work on fuel prices!

What life has taught me is that certain things are a given, they are totally reliable in terms of what we can expect – the weather is one and gravity is another.

That’s comforting knowledge to have when life metaphorically “smacks you in the face!”

In this same period when I have assumed the role of a meteorological commentator several of my delegates have been going through a really difficult time.  This is not the place to highlight specifics other than to say their comments to me have gone along the lines of  “Right then you’ve just heard how things are going for me, so ok Mr Positive what’s positive about any of that!?” 

It’s very challenging to find the hope, the light, the upside on something like the death of a beloved pet, a relationship break up, a divorce, a job loss or money worries.

Sometimes we have to grieve, to mourn, to allow ourselves time to re-group, re-think or heal when life deals us those cards.

Life’s ebb and flow means that we can rely on the fact that sometimes we’re up and others we’re down.  The comfort comes in the hope that our tough times will eventually give way to easier, more positive circumstances.   

When author J.K. Rowling went through her darkest days of unemployment and depression, her experience of “rock bottom” was her foundation to build back from.  Again it’s sometimes comforting to believe that things can’t get worse which follows that they can only get better.

When life is tough hold on to the idea that “this too shall pass” and just like the changing seasons it will.  The trick, in my experience, is to also truly appreciate the days when life isn’t smacking us in the face!

A dream can be a nightmare without a goal!

Aged 15 my first job was working Saturday’s on a seafood stall in Sheffield Fish Market.

It was a 5-minute walk to the bus stop where I would stand waiting, thinking and day dreaming.

Sometimes, my bus would arrive very quickly and others I’d be waiting ages and then the proverbial “two buses would arrive at once”.

Dreams, I now understand, can be very much like buses!

Now aged 51, and after a rather longer wait then my younger self’s ride in to Sheffield City Centre, two dreams have arrived - one directly following the other.

You see I’d dreamed and talked and imagined and talked and fantasised and talked about wanting to become an Author for a long time.  A long, long time.  And, well…nothing happened.

I’d dreamed and talked and imagined and…you get the picture…about becoming a Professional Speaker for an equally long time and, well nothing happened!

Then rather like a brick falling on my foot I came to a rather sudden and quite painful realisation that my dreams were not going to become anything more than that if I didn’t DO SOMETHING about them.

I then ‘got serious’, stopped talking and started doing.

I signed myself up for an on-line course in how to become a Published Author.  I booked myself on a Saturday morning event in Leeds to visit the Yorkshire region of the Professional Speaking Association.

FACT CHECK:  When I say “I” what I actually mean is “Pam signed me up” and “Pam booked me on” as we’ve found there is far less chance of computer carnage and rude words when I don’t try to do these things for myself!

Here’s the point…this year, I became a published Author and was elected as a Member of the Professional Speaking Association.  Because the dreams became goals which led to specific actions, effort, work discipline, re-organisation of priorities and time, which in turn led to actual RESULTS.

Dreams require mental effort and imagination.

Goals require actual effort and work.

So, now my new goals for 2018 include publishing my second book – ‘Improve Your Life: The Art of Successful Communication’ and continuing to develop my skills and profile as a Professional Speaker.

Dreams are wonderful in fact they are essential.  However, setting goals and working on them is the only way any dream will ever become a reality.

What’s your dream?  What goals do you need to set to make that your reality?

I'd like to share a secret!

I don’t ever look forward to ‘networking’ events.

I do, though, really enjoy events where I can ‘build relationships’ - same thing, just a different perspective.

Recently, my wife Pam was given some feedback…about me.  The comment from someone I know quite well through ‘relationship building’ events went along the lines of “I can’t imagine Craig doing public speaking because at networking he never says much.  I’ve watched him.  He’s a very good networker!”

I do like to confuse people. I find it keeps them on their toes.

I learned how to network by watching others do it and deciding what I liked and what I didn’t like about what I saw.  These days my chosen communication style in this very specific arena is to listen far more than I talk.  It’s simple and consciously deliberate and more importantly, it works for me.

I build relationships by being genuinely interested in the individual next to me.

I never ‘sell’ or ‘tell’ about what I can do for them or the people they may know.  I listen and ask questions which means I get to know them over time.

I believe that if you see a person as a potential source of income or referral then you are not treating them as a fellow human being.  In my opinion, this is not the way to build trust or long-term relationships.

If I’ve learned anything about communication in networking environments it’s to listen 70% of the time and talk 30% of it by hopefully adding something of interest or value to the conversation.  The classic two ears, one mouth example is a perfect reminder to listen twice as much as you talk.  I’ve learned built relationships and even made friends doing precisely that.

Oh and yes, here’s one more secret…it’s won me contracts and referrals countless times…not overnight, that’s true.  Then again, to build relationships and friendships takes time, effort and consistency.  If the opportunity presents then I can propose solutions based on my skills and services but by that time people know that they can trust me.

There you are that’s something I like to do - I’ve under promised and over delivered – two secrets for the price of one!

10 great ways to mess up any presentation!

After all these years I am still amazed at the number of ways some presenters choose to mess up their few minutes in the spot light.  Please stop it!

In no particular order, I offer a selection of ten classics.

1) Please don’t tell me that you won’t “bore” me for too long.  Now I expect to be bored!

2) Please don’t tell me that you are not an “expert” if the person who introduced you told me that you were!  Now I’m just confused.

3) Please don’t distract me because you have chosen to turn up looking like an unmade bed.  I know that first impressions aren’t fair but there they are anyway!

4) Please don’t choose to present with equipment you haven’t already practiced with.  There’s simply no excuse!

5) Please don’t incorrectly deliver or attribute any quotes or research you use.  If I know you are wrong I won’t believe anything else you say.

6) Please don’t “wing it” – you should prepare yourself, you owe me that in return for my attention!

7) Please don’t talk at the floor, the ceiling, the flip chart, the screen or the wall because I’m not sitting there AND every once in a while look at me!

8) Please don’t tell me what you are going to talk about and then talk about something else.  I’ll feel cheated!

9) Please, please, please don’t think it’s clever to swear your way through your talk.  Sometimes a “bloody” or a well place “s**t” can be effective or funny BUT not all the time AND never ever drop the “F-Bomb” on me!

10) Please don’t throw lots of big words, jargon or abbreviations at me because I won’t understand, I’ll switch off, I’ll feel like an idiot and then I’ll blame YOU!

Thank you!  Any questions?

A sunny disposition on a cold winter's day - your choice!

On Facebook a few days ago there was a post heralding that it’s just 10-weeks until Christmas Eve.  Wasn’t Easter only last month?

So, very soon the clocks will go back an hour, it won’t be long before it feels like it doesn’t get light until lunch and starts to go dark about 2:00 p.m.

Yes, my friend, winter is a coming.

This is the time of year to turn up the dial, not only on the central heating but also on your positive attitude.

Remember!  regardless of the external circumstances, the dark, the cold, the frost, the ice, the snow, the freezing fog… how we choose to react to it is our decision alone.

“Oh I hate this time of year!”  “Oh it’s so depressing!”  [Insert your own “Oh….!”]

Why not instead have a relentlessly positive approach to the next few months?  The weather may well be wintry – what do you expect - it’s winter!  Whilst you can’t control the weather, you absolutely can control your reactions to it.  If you choose to.

And anyway, before you know it you’ll be moaning about having to cut the grass.

How I didn't come first yet still won!

For the past six months I’ve been doing everything ‘right’!

Each morning I’ve written out my goals, during the day I’ve repeated my affirmations, I’ve visualised what the end result of success would look like - in vivid detail - and I’ve meditated. Add to that hours and hours re-writing and honing my script and then even more hours practising my speech.

I quite literally could not have done any more to get myself ready to win.

My clothes were perfect for the occasion, a very smart black three piece suit, new white double cuff shirt, patterned silk tie, highly shined back shoes. I was dressed for success.

As I took the stage as the first of the five Finalists taking part in the Professional Speaking Association’s (PSA) ‘Speaker Factor’ competition, at the annual Inspire conference, a surge of adrenaline gave way to a feeling of confidence. I delivered my four and half minute speech to the one hundred or so strong audience to the best of my ability.

I walked off the stage to the sound of sustained applause. I believed I was going to win!

I didn’t win!

Or did I?

I joined the PSA earlier this year, on the back of having my first book published, as a networking, personal development and profile raising exercise.

The Inspire conference was a wonderful opportunity to build relationships and make new contacts. Over the last few months of attending regional meetings in Leeds I have learned so much from some really great speakers and the conference was wall to wall with world class content.  The exposure my Speaker Factor experience offered me in terms of raising my profile quickly and positively was priceless.

All the mind-set work got me through to the Final. In fact, my visualisation of standing on stage, with the PSA President, in my dress suit, wing collar shirt, bow tie and even shiner shoes, the audience on their feet, camera’s flashing, me holding the framed certificate happened exactly as imagined. The only element that was different in reality than in my visualisation was that my certificate had ‘Finalist’ and not ‘Winner’ written on it!

This is one of those ‘shoot for the moon’ moments where I’ve landed in the stars instead and I’m really okay with it.

My new friend Heather was a worthy winner and she deserved it.

I did phone her a couple of days after the contest. My opening comment was “I think there’s been a mistake, you have my certificate!” She saw through my attempted Jedi mind trick.

Yes, it would have been the icing on the cake to actually ‘win’ but life goes on even when all the effort falls a little short. The real trick is to set another goal and get straight back at it. That’s the mark of a true winner.

Now that's a first!

This week I delivered my first webinar on several key strategies taken from my first book.

There will a second webinar in a few weeks, whilst at the same time I work on my second book.

I love this quote from Henry Van Dyke: “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

That was me for years - silent! It’s different now - you can’t shut me up!

What changed was that I overcame my doubts, fears and anxieties which for long enough had been my reasons for not even attempting the ‘first times’ of so many things.

I vividly remember my first driving lesson in that white and orange Talbot Sunbeam (I know!). As I followed my instructions of “foot down Craig, into one” and I brought up the clutch pedal, gave the engine a little power and slowly released the handbrake I can still recall the sensation of how that tiny car was so enormous to me and also how totally clueless I felt.

I can easily recall my first attempt at a solo Sunday roast dinner. Oh dear me! Everything was either under cooked or overdone and nothing was ready to plate up at the same time – not that any of it was worth putting on the plate.

The memories of my first ever talent contest are as clear today as they were when I was 14! I was so overwhelmed with nerves that I didn’t eat for the two days prior to the performance and was shaking like a leaf as I stood by the side of the stage waiting to be introduced.  My 5 minute routine of ‘comedy’ impressions impressed neither the audience nor the judges. That’s showbiz for you!

Those first time experiences all had the potential for me to not have a second go. It happens.

The fact is that although I’m no World Champion Racing Driver I really enjoy driving these days.

The evidence is that whilst I’m no Michelin Starred Chef I enjoy messing about in the kitchen and can plate up some really nice meals these days.

The thing is I went on to perform in theatres, summers seasons, pantomimes and cabaret all over the UK and these days I ‘perform’ in the roles of Speaker, Author and Trainer AND really enjoy it.
What I accept as normal ‘these days’ was only possible because the results from the first times were not  allowed to mean there was never a second time.

My point is this … if you have decided that after the first time you are not going back for a second go at public speaking, cooking, driving, martial arts, golf, painting or running or anything else … perhaps you might change your mind.  You never know you could even get to enjoy it!