Peppa Pig doesn’t do it


     Left-brain: “This picture displays random dots.”  Right-brain: “Ah, I see a Dalmatian dog sniffing amongst the leaves.” Image from Iain McGilchrist: The Master and His Emissary


I love the internet as much as the next person. I don’t want to go backwards, I really don’t. It is interesting how little losses keep popping up though. The spatial and directional awareness of being a good map-reader, for instance. The ability to find a book or a word quickly and easily through familiarity with the alphabet. Problem solving through thinking. Spelling. Memory. Concentration.

I was powerfully struck by a recent example. A teacher attending a talk on the brain in Toronto by Iain McGilchrist commented, “I am a teacher of 7–11 year-olds. My colleagues and I have noticed in the last three or four years that we have started having to teach children how to read the human face.” It turns out that all that time engaging with the mother’s face in the first years of life is vitally important for a child’s ability to understand expression and to empathise. Substitute the distraction and over-stimulation of TV, I-Pad and other technology and a vital development stage is missed. Peppa Pig doesn’t do it. Who knew?

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres, clearly separated, and each hemisphere brings into existence a quite different experience of the world. Technology is a reflection of a world dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is certain, rigid and exclusive – more scientific it would say, as it categorises and processes material with a detached narrow focus – and it has the data and the gift of the gab to promote itself. But the right hemisphere understands relationship, nuance, humour, symbol and metaphor. It rapidly takes into account more and better integrated information over a broader range, though without the voice or statistics to proclaim its rightness.

It’s a bit like our two eyes – each eye sees a different image, but that difference is crucial so that we can understand distance and perspective through processing information from the two different images. Identical images wouldn’t help us at all . So too with the hemispheres of the brain – they perform different jobs: we need their different attention, preferably the right hemisphere as pre-eminent to give us a broader more holistic understanding, and the left hemisphere as its executive to move to action.

The left-hemisphere squabbling over Brexit is an example of the impossibility of resolution when thinking is confined to left-brain certainty, rigidity and exclusivity. The world is full of such examples.

We used to think that a left-hemisphere stroke was a disaster because often sufferers lose the power of speech as well as use of the right hand. But John Cutting, a psychiatrist who spent years with people who had had right hemisphere strokes discovered that they couldn’t understand humour, metaphor or any implicit meaning, nor poetry or tone of voice, nor read faces or body language; and these disabilities in the end represented a much greater loss of their humanity for them and their families.

So back to recognising faces, does it matter? Of course it does, hugely. But the advantages are neither precise, certain nor measurable, so the left-brain doesn’t really care. There’s no easy economic case to be made. The influence on the bottom line is not direct. The effect on exam results and league tables hard to argue. The relationship with IQ indistinct. The connection with delinquency and crime is unproven. As for connection with empathy and kindness, well where’s the proof, and where do empathy and kindness stand in the pecking order anyhow? Meanwhile, the right-brain knows that relationship is pre-eminent.

There’s no doubt that we live in a world that favours the left-brain and ever more so. The left-brain likes to think that it’s the grown up in the room, when experience suggests otherwise. How appropriate this week that it’s the children of the world who stood up and demonstrated against climate destruction, the gravest problem our planet is facing, while the grown ups wittered on about ferry companies with no ferries, expensive preparations for avoidable no deal scenarios widely seen to be disastrous and hero/villain arguments about long dead politicians. If your right-brain is functioning, you’ll appreciate the irony even if, like me, you find yourself speechless.

Let’s nurse our sense of irony; let’s read a poem; let’s use our creativity to find new ways through, round, over or under the current chaos; let’s imagine the world we actually want; let’s value the humanity in each other; let’s be kind.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.
A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Art of Communication

Left-brain/right-brain is one of the themes of my latest book. I’m very excited about it – it’s been four years in the writing, and comes out in just 3 weeks time – on 8 March. You can pre-order your copy here or from your usual channels.

Here’s a summary – hope it inspires you to buy a copy!

It has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually
becoming dialogue.
Ali Smith: Autumn

You can get so far in conversation by becoming articulate, having things to talk about and learning the give and take of two-way discourse and the skills of debate. But that isn’t sufficient to give you a meaningful or wholehearted connection that leads somewhere genuinely new or worthwhile. This requires different abilities, such as intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty. Unlike the left-brain patterns and rational themes most often taught as “communication skills”, these abilities depend on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain.

When you take the step change to learn these new, sometimes counter-intuitive, ways of relating, conversation can become the source of extraordinary vitality, capable of generating new insights, breathing life into relationships and even producing powerful new thinking able to transform the world we live in.

I set out to discover what makes such conversations so extraordinary, and what we can learn that will guide us to have them more often.

This is a book for leaders and business people, but also for anyone who suspects that conversation could be something more – more genuine, more energising, more generative, more creative and generally much more productive.

Go well,


“The Blackest Month”


Old Man's BeardThe blackest month in all the year
Is the month of Janiveer.

The beginning of the month came and I had nothing to write, not a single idea. It’s never been like that before. Okay, I’ve had a bad cold and feel a bit strung out, but even so.

In popped a favourite gremlin – that all or nothing one. “Ah ha, that’s it, that’s the end. Good while it lasted, but you’ll never have an idea again.”

It took me a while to dispatch that gremlin, but when I did, I then reflected on what the absence of ideas was about. And I realised I felt weary:

“Too many words” was the first thing to strike me. Too much said. Too many blogs, too many articles, too many opinions, too many solutions to life’s questions, too many huge promises, too many summons with peeps and tweets and alerts – I felt tired with it all.

Too many adverts crowding the sides of my Internet pages purporting to know something about me. Too many ulterior motives – blogs posted in order to attract advertising, or to sell something.

Too many circular arguments such as “Brexit means Brexit”. Too many words distorted way beyond any sensible meaning – such as “freedom”, and “control”. Too many promises that eschew a large glaring part of the truth. Too much playing with language, like “bringing peace” through provocative acts of aggression. And little optimism on my part to do anything about any of it.

It suddenly struck me that the feeling was one of watching a theatrical production, where I was a spectator and nothing more. Several years ago, the novelist Elena Ferrante wrote in a letter to her publisher that to be an Italian in the Berlusconi years was to be like an audience rather than a citizen. Berlusconi, she said,

has completed the transformation of citizens into an audience, and is for now the most unprincipled exponent of the reduction of democracy to imaginary participation in an imaginary game. He succeeds thanks to his tendentious monopoly of the medium that best realises and imposes that suspension of disbelief.” (from Frantumaglia)

I recognise that feeling today. So what’s the answer?

I haven’t got one … or maybe just one tentative one today. After all, this world circus I’m talking about is a story, one version, chosen mainly by powerful interests, politicians and the media. It’s not the only story, and it’s certainly not a reliable one.


So, in the spirit of David against Goliath, here are specks of other stories:

The farmer John Leis Stempel writes about wandering as a child one day through high wheat that came as high as his armpits. (NB it’s in his beautiful book: The Running Hare). He suddenly spotted a corncrake standing silently close to him. For perhaps a tenth of a second their eyes met. The experience was so intense it was able to “expand and inform existence ever after.”

And another: Mary Oliver when she watched a white swan take off and stream across the clouds (from The Swan). “Did you see it?” she asks. “And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?”

Or myself, still a child, standing on Wittering sands at low tide one cloudy late afternoon when the wet sand reflected sea and sky, and feeling tiny, but glad to be tiny, a minute part of that immensity that stretched in every direction and tugged my heart with it.

Wordsworth wrote in The Prelude about “spots of time” that have a “renovating virtue.” What moments capture that sense of what matters for you?

A friend sent me a poem at Christmas. I’ve posted it on my website under Links/Poems. Frances Horowitz writes:

I shall not be careless this year:
I shall not forget to see the wild garlic blossom
-as I did last May, and the May before.

I don’t want to be careless this year. I want to capture those tiny moments of immensity – you know, those unique scraps of consciousness that make life worth living. Crazy maybe, but I think that with all of us in it together they have a power that we might need right now.

Bring it on, 2018. May it be an exceptional year for you!




NLP Coaching

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) still stands out for me as a repository of some of the most useful leadership and coaching tools on the planet. I have recently been coaching people – individually or in pairs/small groups – in some of the most exciting of these tools. 4 Sessions of 1½ hours would give you an excellent grounding. Email me or call on 01306 886114 for further information.


New Year, new resources? You might think that your own particular difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how simple conversations with a coach help you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice … or not? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

My books

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.


Stop putting me in Boxes

I have this little half-jingle going round my head about foxes and boxes. I look it up. It’s from When We Were Very Young by A A Milne:

Once upon a time there were three little foxes
Who didn’t wear stockings, and they didn’t wear sockses,
But they all had handkerchiefs to blow their noses,
And they kept their handkerchiefs in cardboard boxes.

Only the foxes aren’t in boxes. It’s handkerchiefs. Boxes though. I get the feeling that there’s a lot of stuff in boxes these days, and not only peaches and chocolates or even handkerchiefs. People too.

Do you know what boxes you are in? I filled in a preferred supplier form the other day: “What is your ethnic group?” There was a list with 18 choices, and my group had English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish all lumped into the one box – boxes within boxes: tick.

“What is your religion?” The box is much too small for me to write what I’d like to write: “Catholic in a Salzburg Baroque church last month listening to musicians from Munich, Muslim for one day a while ago at an amazing lecture on mediaeval Islamic astronomers, rooted in the Church of England one quiet moment in an English country church; Buddhist that peaceful time in the ashram – and those Methodist hymns …” Run out of space, what next?

“What is your sex?” “I’m a woman.” Yes, but what kind of woman are you? Hetero? Gay? Lesbian? Bi-sexual? Trans? Pansexual?

Even as I write these words I feel myself losing you. Talk about boxes seems a bit dangerous. Might I be displaying prejudice here? Did I get the labels correct? Am I anti anything I shouldn’t be anti?

Alright, I’ll try to explain better. First, there is a huge amount of sorting into boxes in our current world. Sorting gives us information; information allows us to make decisions and decisions are useful if not necessary. Also, sorting gives us straightforward decisions, so that saves money. Think of the difference between marking a public exam paper where you have to assess the merit of a piece of reasoned thinking and one that has multiple-choice answers. The latter is much easier – and cheaper. (“Here’s an idea! We’ll make it more accurate by increasing the number of boxes. What about 1 to 9 instead of E to A*?” Yeh, right …)

With the best of intentions we do this stuff in business too. Whether it’s MBTI, FIRO, DISC Personality Testing, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, INSIGHT or one of numerous others, we categorise people. I know, I know: it’s useful. With the best of intentions also we test for health and social care, “Can you fill a kettle?” “Can you pour boiling water into a cup?” “Can you safely climb stairs?” Now we know what help you need.

Now, apart from the fact that results are not quite as cast iron accurate as we’d like to think (a nonogenarian I knew with dementia had an amazing ability to perform like someone 20 years younger just and only on test days), my question is this. Maybe we begin to believe that knowing people and getting the best of people is that simple? – That once you know that (in a self-reporting questionnaire) they come out more as a thinking rather than a sensing person you have all the information you need to know them and what motivates them. I don’t think I’m that simple. Do you?

In addition, I suspect that the more we divide people into boxes, the more we focus on people either being in our box (one of us) or being different from us (alien, not one of us).

Arundhati Roy in her second novel published recently introduces us to a mishmash of different characters deliberately hard to define or categorise. Roy confesses that she just loves “all this kind of lovely muddle of stuff.” For all that, her purpose is highly serious. Describing the situation in India, she writes,

Caste is about dividing people up in ways that preclude every form of solidarity, because even in the lowest castes there are divisions and sub-castes, and everyone’s co-opted into the business of this hierarchical, silo-ised society. This is the politics of making a grid of class, of caste, of ethnicity, of religion. And then making the grid ever more fine is very much part of how you rule the world, saying, ‘You’re a Muslim, you’re a Hindu, you’re a Shia, you’re a Sunni, you’re a Barelvi, you’re a Brahmin, you’re a Saraswat Brahmin, you’re a Dalit, you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re trans –”

There are many, many boxes and, as she says, putting people in boxes doesn’t help world peace.

I’m attracted to people who don’t easily fit the boxes. Arundhati Roy herself was the daughter of an explosive relationship between a high status Syrian Christian mother and a low-status Bengali Hindu father. Yanis Varoufakis, Greek ex-Finance Minister whose excellent latest book I read last month, was son of an equally unlikely pair. His father, George, was a communist, imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs, and his mother was a member of a paramilitary right-wing group (“Stasi stuff”) tasked with ‘keeping an eye’ on George. Children outside the grid of boxes have to find their own way and grow up to think for themselves.

It’s easy to despise or hate people who are in a box you’re not in, once you’re able to label the box. As Mathilda’s father Mr. Wormwood (thanks Roald Dahl) shouted at his daughter, “Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” We could add: I’m Remain, you’re Brexit; I’m well-off, you’re on benefits; I’m English, you’re an immigrant; I’m fit and healthy, you’re disabled; I drive an eco-car, you drive a four-by-four; I’m Labour, you’re Conservative; I went to private school, you went to a local comprehensive. And vice versa, and on and on, even to the extent of, I love my kind, I hate your kind; I’m good, you’re evil: I deserve to live; you don’t deserve to live.

But even our current tyrants were babies once. Could we rein back on boxes? In times of crisis we manage it. Men in the trenches, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, were forced by the constant presence of death to remember that we are all human. Sometimes when children die, as in the Manchester bombing, we all suffer together in mutual recognition of childhood – through our own childhood or through having children of our own – and we come together through that common link.

I realise that each one of us is at the centre of our universe – every single person in the centre of their world, making their own sense of experience with the hand they’ve been dealt, not immune to vulnerability or heartache or moments of joy. It’s hard to realise though – to really get it. In those moments when we do get it – when we think of others as two-legged, human, complex, unique, strange, just like us, then, and only then, we have a chance of connection. And boy, do we need human connection on our planet right now.

Let me try that form again:


RACE: Human



That’s more like it.

September feels like a new start for many. Have a great month.

Go well,



What else?

As always – my books – translated into ten languages:

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others – pure consciousness even! Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.


What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach will help you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.

David Thompson

David Thompson helps people communicate with clarity, creativity and confidence – much what I do really. He writes some good blogs on his website – have a look here. I once heard David recite some Shakespeare and was electrified.

A poem about connection

I like this poem by Hafiz on connection. Written over seven hundred years ago but the humour’s still current. What do you think of it?

With That Moon Language

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this: this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a moon in each eye,
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

There are various other poems that are favourites of mine on my website. Have a look here.

So, beyond protest, what?

The Washington Post contacted more than 400 charities with some ties to the current President of the USA in an effort to find proof of the millions he has said he donated to them. They were mostly unsuccessful. Here's one of David Farenthold's many checklists.
The Washington Post contacted 400+ charities with ties to the President to find proof of the millions he says he donated. They mostly failed. Here’s one of many checklists.

What can an ordinary person do about the extraordinary frightening state of the world? I’ve been struggling.

I started to write a newsletter a week ago, started another on Tuesday, found a new theme on Friday – but whatever I started turned into a rant connected to recent events in the USA. And what’s the point of ranting against a ranter who feeds on outrage and opposition? Moreover, everything I touched seemed to get more complex and difficult as I went.

What IS an issue?

I realised that whatever issue I chose, I didn’t know what I was talking about – I mean literally. What am I talking about – actually – when I talk about immigration, safety, terrorism, freedom, defence, abuse, Islamists, justice, populism, nationalism or even Brexit (I know, I know, it means ‘Brexit’ – that pretty much sums up the problem!).

What am I talking about for instance when I talk about immigration? It certainly sounds like an issue, but the word immigration covers too much – it might be summed up for one elderly person as a person with a disconcertingly foreign look; as someone escaping from terrible suffering abroad for another; as someone disgracefully driving wages down for an unemployed eastern-counties man; as someone heroically holding the care service together singlehanded for the family of an old person in need, or as an unrecognisable term according to an English person living in Spain (What immigrant, I’m an expat!)

That’s the problem with abstract terms: until they are further defined no one can know what exact meaning is intended. We put our own meaning to the word and fight our corner, but often people in the other corner are interpreting the word with a meaning directly the opposite of ours. This makes it impossible to understand each other. Or we can agree heartily, while meaning something very different. This happens a lot, and is what makes these abstract words powerful tools for cynical manipulators.  As we are seeing … and have been seeing for quite a long time.

Issues and Troubles

Almost 70 years ago, the sociologist C Wright Mills wrote about the important difference between issues and troubles. He said a trouble is a tangible problem that concerns individuals in their immediate experience – it has a story. An issue is public – some value cherished by the public feels threatened. An issue is always expressed with an abstract word. Sometimes an issue gains all the attention of people and press, propelled by particular interests, but doesn’t connect with the actual troubles besetting people in their lives. (Politics is traditionally very good at this.) Sometimes, it’s the opposite: common troubles fail to get surfaced and formulated as public issues, and so fail to be addressed at a level where change can happen. (With me so far? – stick with it!)

So, for example, immigration is a huge issue, but what are the troubles that people (often with considerable help from politicians) attribute to it? – lack of work, a money-starved health system, the yearning for simpler days before mass travel? There’s very little mention currently of the various troubles that bring people to support the issue because that doesn’t concern its political backers; and only by understanding the troubles can appropriate practical measures be taken to solve the problem. Child abuse in the Catholic Church was a grievous issue, but only when the press brought to the fore the individual troubles – the harrowing stories related by victims – only then did something get done about it.

Why all this now? I think we’ve been led astray for many years by too easy acceptance of these abstract ‘issue’ words; we’re too easily horrified and outraged as well; too easily grabbing meaning from a headline, a tweet, an image or our favourite news outlet (unheeding of who is the actual power behind it); when our job probably should be to look more at the actual troubles that lie behind the issues and look very carefully indeed at their connection with named issues.

Time to turn detective

That’s what David Farenthold is doing. This highly impressive and surprisingly humble American journalist has been quietly and doggedly investigating the truth of the Trump Foundation for the Washington Post – tackling the issue of the President’s truth and generosity. He’s been painstakingly uncovering facts piece by piece, involving the public through Twitter, and going to source – i.e. the charities supposed to have been helped – rather than beating his head against the wall of Washington politics. (Photo of one of the lists he tweeted above) He’s discovered many lies and misappropriations, and the sheer amount of detail from named people in hundreds of different charities makes his stories convincing. I like what he’s doing. He makes me want to be better at seeking out genuine information; to be much more careful and discerning, more ready to explore different sources, more ready to question my assumptions – like a chess player maybe, who needs to use all his careful intelligence and attention to lock that king in a corner and call out Checkmate!

Only when thousands and thousands of us can support our facts and assertions with convincing detail will we feel powerful rather than outraged. Then together we might present some sort of a force for good.

Well, that’s today’s thought anyway. What do you think?

What Else?

Feel like something uplifting?

I can recommend any of the following:


Talks and workshops at St. James’s Picadilly in London on holistic thinking and spirituality. An eclectic mix of speakers. They certainly contain names of authors who have maintained their place on my book shelves through the years. Coming up: Deepak Chopra, Julia Cameron, Marianne WIlliamson, David Hamilton …

Brahma Kumaris Courses

Learn meditation, Positive Thinking, Stress-free Living and more. Courses in London and other centres in the UK and all round the world. No charge and zero pressure, though you’ll probably enjoy the course and want to donate. They offer great sessions and conferences for coaches – some coming up later in the year.


I wanted to recommend Everyday Osho: 365 Daily Meditations for the Here and Now for a wonderful daily dose of good sense and inspiration, but it seems hard to find at a reasonable price. So I recommend any Osho – he’s written lots of books, just pick a title. Even my county libraries have copies.


If you ever decide to be a coach – life coach, executive coach – you’re never going to wake up one day and think, Yes, I have arrived. Even for the most experienced there’s always something to learn . A current theme for me at the moment is how presence and detachment coexist. Only detached and you don’t really connect; bring your whole self into presence and there’s always the danger of introducing personal preoccupations and tugs on your energy. So we remain centred and earth based and at the same time dancing on the sharp edge of the mountain peak. We hope never to slide below a certain level, and every now and then, the results astound us all in their rightness.

Get a coach. Get a coach, it’s worth it. For sure you can be more, and you’ll gain so much in the process of becoming what you can be. People around you will gain big-time too. If you want to contact me to talk through what’s possible, email in the first instance.

I also offer coaching in all aspects of public speaking, presenting and voice. You can book up a single session if you want to dip your toe in the water.


I’m running in-house courses on Public Speaking, Leadership and Walking Your Talk, Unconscious Bias and more this spring. Do contact me if you’d like a personalised workshop on any of those or similar themes from a trainer who’ll understand the different needs of your delegates – it genuinely makes all the difference. 

As usual, my current books

The Art of Conversation
I gave an interview to Kinfolk magazine this week on silence in conversation – I found it a fascinating theme. The issue’s not out till summer apparently. The interviewer described the magazine as a high-end lifestyle and culture publication with a print readership of 170,000 people in over 100 countries. It certainly looks glossy!

Conversational skill does require ease with silence – it isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s much more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have satisfying and buzzy conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
Subtitle: 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. It’s about WHAT to do if you’re scared. And don’t worry – we’re ALL scared at times, but can overcome it.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.


Spotted my first snowdrops in the wild this morning, peeping out of frosty grass. Good to see.

Go well,


Lesons from Fools

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 21.32.18I’m in my twenties, and I shout over the boiling kettle to my flatmate in the other room, “Where’ve you put the tea?”

“In my sock drawer,” she shouts back, her tone of voice also suggesting, “Der! Where did you think?”

Who says everything needs to make sense?



Roald Dahl used to love the unexpected. The BFG (Seen the Spielberg film yet?) is a great example. He is satisfyingly scary – oh, that horrifyingly huge hand that plucks Sophie from her bed! (“Seriously, that book should be banned – it could cause children serious psychological problems.”) Yet, in a neat piece of shape shifting, we discover that our huge BFG is in giant-terms a runt himself, bullied by vastly huger giants.

Again, so ignorant a giant that he can’t even talk English properly (“Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me”), he makes many of the wisest comments in the book.

“Yesterday,” he said, “We was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two little winkles, we think it is not existing.”

Shape shift again – he’s simple-minded, yet with special powers: “I is hearing all the wondrous and terrible things,” he tells Sophie, “all the secret whisperings of the world.”

But to be serious, seriously …

But to get away from children’s stories, do you believe in seriousness? The world divides into the serious – everything to make sense, and the non-serious – lightness and humour, especially for events and situations that are serious or terrifying or just plain paradoxical.

Some examples of the divide:

Serious: Job interviews on the whole. Your reasons and explanations have to ‘make sense.’ When I had a job assisting in running job selections for one of the big accounting companies, the selectors mostly rejected CVs that didn’t fit a consistent pattern – for example, an unexplained career gap was considered a serious impediment to selection. By the way, just think of the people who wouldn’t be selected by such a ‘serious’ method? Albert Einstein – expelled from school, and in any case considered ‘slow’; Bill Gates – dropped out of Harvard; Stephen Spielberg – couldn’t get the school grades to get into University; and thousands of other remarkable people.

Serious: Politicians (many of whom have excellent CVs with not the tiniest chink of a career gap between Oxbridge and Political Adviser.) Most politicians like pattern and structure. They talk about “sensible people” as in “all sensible people will agree that I am right.” Oh and, “This is the right thing to do.” Very serious – very simplistic … very righteous …

Serious: a life that makes sense. Most people are reassured by a past that is coherent, even if it’s a complete shambles. Look out for the minute smirk of satisfaction when someone says, “I’m a failure because …;” (complete the dots: negligent parents, wrong school, bullying, unfair treatment…). Once they’ve made the past fit a pattern, it carries on just as coherently into the future: “I’m destined to continue a failure because I never had a chance because of _____” (same reasons). Seriously flawed thinking, but it “makes serious sense.”

What about non-serious?

Non-serious: “What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announces rather grandly.” Nonsense… funny … and true. Both humorous and profound in the same sentence.

Non-serious: Coaching – where humour is allowed to walk side by side with major life themes and difficult feelings – the humour doesn’t deny the feelings, it universalises them as a human condition and makes them less scary, allowing the work to be done.

Non-serious: Dancing, writing, running, painting, singing – ‘non-productive’ activities where joy underlines the energy, where results can be profound.

You get the idea:

Serious: You’re going to be a perfect accountant, your working life the perfect pattern of progression.

Non-serious: Well! They broke the mould when they made you! You’re unique, you’re original, you’re wonderfully, amazingly YOU.

In literature, wisdom often emerges from the mouth of the fool: Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, King Lear’s Fool, the wisdom of children, Winnie the Pooh – that bear of little brain, The Beatles “The Fool on the Hill” and on and on.

I have found that seriousness and rationalisation make me heavy, over-conscientious, detail obsessed and anxious. Lightness gives me energy, fresh ideas, and a better view of the whole, including other people. Anxiety shrinks and cripples; laughter releases and expands.

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. Oscar Wilde

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. Elbert Hubbard

Lighten up and you lighten up those around you. Fear crawls away to trouble people who are more serious. In lightness you rediscover flexibility; rigid control becomes redundant; the mind begins to play and discover new patterns; relationships become fresh and interesting; grace returns.

Autumn, new beginnings … what about treading lightly for a while? You might find yourself laughing at how many good things happen and at how much you achieve.

Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically. Nelson Mandela

And the rest …


Have you dipped your toe into any of my short chunks of learning – gifts to download from my website? Just sign up to the ones you want (I never share your email with anyone) Choose from:

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP


Coaching is for anyone and everyone. I hear from senior people in organisations who want to air ideas and solve problems, executives who wish to polish their skills, unemployed people who want to get back into the market, people who feel in a rut and wake up one day to make that first step – a phone call, people from all walks of life. Maybe it’s time for you to take that step? A few sessions of coaching are affordable and potentially life changing.

Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

Another great event in the Spirit of Coaching series, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in London – 2.00-5.30pm.

An opportunity to explore the depth and meaning of compassion and the important role it can play in the coaching process.  For all coaches and anyone interested in personal growth and development.

It’s free, but you need to register here.

My Books

The Art of Conversation    No one ever taught us the art of conversation – no wonder many of us struggle. Change your life with confident communication.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms    The practical answer to the fears and anxieties of presenting, speaking in meetings and expressing yourself when the going gets tough. 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies     Discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence     “The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Training Courses

Would your company benefit from a group session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Go well,



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Being human …

xl_TalkTalk_Logo1_610Giving a talk last week on The Art of Conversation, I mentioned a kind of conversation called Thing Talk. Thing Talk is conversation about such subjects as  weather, cars, fashion, computers, banks, money, widgets and whatsits, facts and information – any subject in fact except the people having the conversation – you and me. Subjects include abstractions such as management, quantitative easing, strategy, immigration, liberty, freedom, war against terror … how familiar we all are with such terms! But – note this – not a single personal pronoun: no I, no you, no me or us.

Thing Talk forms the common vocabulary of business and politics. If you have a business document to hand, have a look and count the number of objects and abstract terms – quite a lot? And now count the personal pronouns – not so many?

Thing Talk often uses passive grammatical constructions that dodge the necessity for personal pronouns, for instance, “It has been decided” or “Problems have been encountered”. It’s no surprise that business speakers use such non-attributable language to announce bad news:

After due consideration the environmental agenda has had to be postponed.
(not ‘we postponed’ or I ‘postponed’ – no personal responsibility)

But good news? Out pop the self-validating personal pronouns!

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I have extended our flexible working scheme to include all of you, whatever your role.

People can tie us in knots with abstract language – it’s unspecified and unmeasured and therefore hard to pin down. If you ever become mired in abstract Thing Talk and want to regain some control or get the other party to assume responsibility, bring you and me back into the conversation – that changes the dynamic!

It has been decided that … bla bla …

So what exactly have you decided to do?

Yet how often people look down upon those who don’t have the business and establishment jargon. A highly successful rugby coach being interviewed for a sports programme was asked to talk about the factors that contributed to his phenomenal success with his team. The rugby coach, not highly articulate, struggled for a while to express himself. Abandoning the attempt, he suddenly burst out, “Oh, damn it – I just love the b*****ds!”

– a pretty shrewd description in my book. Erich Fromm commented:

Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.

You and me – personal connection. That’s where trust is born. Build trust, and influence follows.

The hostage taking

Personal connection helped to save the lives of Camilla Carr and Jon James. This week I had a cup of tea with Camilla, a kind, warm and highly inspirational woman who gives talks all over the world to corporations and NGOs, in schools and in prisons, on the power of choice in challenging situations

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 14.58.54

In 1997 Camilla Carr and Jon James travelled to Chechnya to set up a rehabilitation centre for children traumatised by war. After three months they were kidnapped in the night by armed Chechen rebels. Held hostage for fourteen months they experienced everything from threat of execution, rape and mental torture to moments of compassion and kindness. They survived by using Tai Chi, meditation, humour, and crucially by creating a dialogue with their captors, looking beneath their masks of fear and anger to reach the small flame of love and laughter unquenched by the demonising nature of war.

Camilla and Jon wrote a powerful book, The Sky is Always There, on their experiences. Time and again, in the worst experiences of their captivity, they emphasize human connection. The book begins with this quote:

Being human
our nature is love
our nurture is fear.

The power of human connection

“Being human….” When we converse on a human level and express personal thoughts, feelings and intuitions, we have the opportunity to draw nearer to each other and build understanding and trust. When we use impersonal and abstract talk we maintain our distance and tend to keep prejudices in place. Drawing near (‘our nature is love’) we can influence each other; maintaining our distance (‘our nurture is fear’) we are much less likely to influence or inspire.

In our current world, all too often people’s use of language keeps them separated. You might want to spend a day or an hour listening to the everyday talk of your own environments to spot the language of personal connection and disconnection. It can be very revealing. Who uses which language? When do they use it? What about your own language?

Abstract talk is not going to save our planet; personal connection might.


A warm invitation to my new “Pay What You Will” NLP DIPLOMA!

3 x 2-day modules, starting March in Hammersmith. Register here.

Highly respected NLP Diploma in London, and this year – apart from a small fee to assure your place – pay what you will! I’ve run NLP Diploma and Practitioner trainings since 2005, and this is the first time, to widen access, that I’ve offered it on this basis.

Module 1 – Communication and Relationships   Mon-Tue 23-24 March
Module 2 – Leadership and Influence                 Thu-Fri, 23-24 April
Module 3 – Coaching and Change.                     Mon-Tue 18-19 May

This course gives you the best of NLP, and its benefits are many and lasting – the most frequently mentioned include enhanced communication skills, better judgement of others, increased self-knowledge and the ability to effect change and manage your own life better. You acquire a tool bag of invaluable new skills, and emerge more confident, positive, competent and proactive. You can read some former participants’ comments here.

The only required up-front payment is £24 per day booking charge (£48 per module) to secure your place. After that, you’re invited to contribute anonymously into a funding box at the course any additional contribution you’d like to make towards your own and others’ training.

YOU CAN REGISTER DIRECTLY ON-LINE HERE. Scroll down to the Pay What You Will offer, and follow instructions. Do give me a call (01306 886114) or email if there’s anything else you’d like to know.

Well-tested way to confidence as a speaker – the Voice of Influence Workshop

Next course 26-27 February 2015. Sign up very soon if you’d like a place. Book here.

If you’ve ever thought you’d like to be a more confident and effective speaker, but have felt daunted to do a course, don’t put it off any longer. In these two days in a very small group – with plenty of practical work and  a sense of humour – you find your voice, authority and ability to connect with any audience. You’ll go home with a whole variety of new skills and the sure confidence to know that you can speak powerfully on any occasion. Here are some testimonials from previous participants.

To book, or find out more, click here, or you can contact me direct. I offer discounts at times to those who would struggle to pay the full fee.


If you’re stuck at work or in life or don’t find satisfaction and joy in what you do, coaching can be of enormous benefit to find your purpose and direction. Email me or give me a call if you want to know more.

What else?

Free E-courses on speaking and confidence

Daily inspiration and ideas on Facebook. Also on Twitter!

My books – available on Amazon & elsewhere in print, audio & e-versions

The Art of Conversation  Whether you’re shy and don’t know what to say or feel you blabber on, or want to make more meaningful connections with people, you’ll find lots of helpful material.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms  If you want to overcome performance nerves, this reader-friendly book offers 25 different strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence – and they work!

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies  A comprehensive guide to voice and speaking – dip in anywhere and discover practical tips for developing a more robust and interesting voice. Includes audio CD.

Voice of Influence  Gets to the heart of voice – how to connect with other people and influence others through your voice. Plenty of personal experiences and practical advice.

Here’s to connection!

Go well,








Art of Conversation – Amazon Deal!

WOWEE! HUGE discount on 1 January only!

My book “The Art of Conversation” is part of Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal on 1 January. On 1 January ONLY click here. – special price on that day only!

The Art of Conversation

Conversation … Unlock the joys of connecting

Why is it some of us are stuck for words, but others blabber on? Why do we sometimes find ourselves stumbling, where others seem to converse so comfortably? Good conversational skills can transform every aspect of your world. The simplest conversation can hold a hidden thread of the most intimate and fulfilling connection…if you know the secret.

  • Learn simple methods for being heard and understood.
  • Overcome fear; find out how to break the silence and keep a conversation going
  • Explore different levels of communication – from the mysteries of everyday small talk to deeper heartfelt human connections.
  • Hold your own in tricky situations.  More …

Click this link on 1 January only! (Top row, scroll left).


Why are we so attached to words?

Tripping over words

Illustration by Rosie Apps from ‘Butterflies and Sweaty Palms’

He that would live in peace and at ease,
Must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.
Benjamin Franklin

Recently I’ve been falling out of love with words. Don’t get me wrong – a beautiful phrase still moves me, I still love inspirational quotations, Shakespeare astounds and delights me more and more. I’m aware of the irony of using words to say this!

But it’s true, I don’t trust them in the mouths of many people. Too many words, too much posturing, too much verbal skulduggery.

The trouble is that words don’t stand alone, firmly attached to their dictionary definitions; they gather reverberations around them like moss, and then work on us below consciousness as well as within consciousness. That can be magical in poetry but dangerous when there’s pretence of reason.

Take, as an example, easy and hard. We tell children and adults to work hard or to try harder but the word hard reverberates with its alternative meanings … rigid-impenetrable-resistant; arduous-fatiguing-exhausting; difficult-bewildering-problematic; grim-heartless-obdurate; bitter-harsh-severe; rough-forceful-heavy. The resonance of these other meanings creates tension, resistance and forcing – all counterproductive for learning and accomplishment; no wonder some children give up. We try hard at a sport by forcing and the next day we’re in agony; and then we believe the person who parrots the unproven “Work harder! There’s no gain without pain.”

Meanwhile we mistrust easy with its ‘un-easy’ resonances of undemanding-unchallenging-facile; vulnerable-susceptible-gullible; casual-nonchalant-laidback; safe-cushy-soft; loose-wanton-sluttish. Better to claim, “At least I worked hard, found it tough, got tired, put in effort. So easy gets a bad press. Yet, with ease, we learn and accomplish much more, much faster and much more pleasurably – and we notice and discover more too. Try telling a baby learning to walk and talk to work harder at it and see how much good it does!

These reverberations around words tend towards manipulation. Using today’s migrant, instead of yesterday’s refugee we can dispense with sympathy. Canny politicians use the word terrorist (them) to incite fear and anger, and peace force (us) to paint pictures of righteous courage and derring-do. The word defence covers acts of aggression. Protective acts provide justification for blowing up civilians and children. Solutions to conflicts are bandied about as if living and sharing with other human beings can be solved like a crossword puzzle. We listen to such words in the mouths of public figures and hear the predictable controlled tones that overlie any personal investment. The spin is so simplistic I wonder at our insouciance.

Meanwhile, we act as if words were everything. “Apologise!” we shout. So they apologise: I’m truly sorry (in a ‘pull the other one’ voice). “Oh, that’s alright then,” we say , “They said the word; job done.”

It’s no good – we can’t depend on words without human spirit behind them.

I watch a baby express himself and his whole body is involved. His arms whirl around with joy; excitement produces shaking through the whole body; crying vibrates through his whole being. That’s expression.

Let’s take words off their pedestal. Listen for a moment to what your body (every part of you except for your head) has to say. You may listen to an article of world news and want to say something in anger; but wait, what is your body saying? You discover sadness under your anger; wait again – and under the sadness you discover fear and vulnerability. Let’s speak from there and see what happens – we might just strike a chord in other human beings.

This applies whenever you speak, present or talk to others – when you go beneath the gloss of smooth practised words and communicate from a deeper more vulnerable place, you touch people and connect – and have the power to influence them.

An artist learning to paint is often taught to paint the gaps between objects rather than the objects themselves, and a new way of looking emerges. Let’s begin to do something similar and look between the words that people speak – to observe the pauses, the hesitations and changes in breathing, the hardness or ease in their demeanour. Let’s pause for a moment to lose the certainty of words that define, interpret, categorise and condemn, and find the wisdom of suspending judgement for a while and listening to deeper notes within.

Then let’s talk – for real – to everyone, to anyone. After all, our world needs saving, and the present ‘hard’ way isn’t working.

Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words. Rumi

Summer News

Voice of Influence Workshop – 20-21 October

Don’t be daunted – this is an ‘easy’ workshop, where people have a good time and at the same time achieve more than they thought possible. Find your voice and speak with confidence in public, even without notes. It was really impressive what people achieved last month in the July workshop. The next workshop is on 20-21 October, and I take only small numbers, so reserve your place soon if you’re interested. You can book on-line, or send me an email to reserve your place.

The Art of Conversation

My latest book is at its lowest price ever at the moment – click the link.

Read reviews, for example in Health Magazine and Frost Magazine, and my articles in the Daily Express, Red Magazine, and City A.M.

Information on my other books here.


I’ve just gone through the (fairly stringent!) hoops of the International Coaching Federation to successfully renew my professional coaching qualification (PCC). If you’re stuck at work or in life in any way or are not finding satisfaction and joy in what you do, coaching can be of enormous benefit. I’ve made my own biggest leaps through having coaching, and it gives me great pleasure to help others find their way. Email me or give me a call if you want to know more.

Facebook and Twitter

I post daily speaking tips and other – hopefully interesting! – stuff, and enjoy your comments.

I hope you are enjoying some sunshine and repose this August,

Go well,




Who showed up?

Smiley maskIt’s time for your next meeting. Yes, I know you’ve arrived – but which you turned up?

The 20th century children’s writer Enid Blyton wrote a series of stories about the Faraway Tree, a giant magical tree with strange houses and inhabitants among its boughs, and its top touching the clouds. When the children climb the tree to the very top they find themselves in a magical land. This land is different on each visit, because every so often the place moves on from the top of the tree to make way for a new land. The children must leave before the land moves on or they’re stuck there.

Just as those children get stuck in strange lands, we get stuck at times too – in particular emotional and body states. When I look at holiday photos of me, I find one of me doing a victorious open cross at the top of a hill, arms and legs stretched out in victory, and another where I’m on one foot looking utterly miserable holding up a flip-flop covered in cow dung. Now think of the difference if ‘cow dung’ me shows up in a situation as opposed to ‘victory’ me.

What about you? Who shows up – when you go to an interview, give a presentation, meet someone new?

Many of us overuse one state to the extent that we lose access to other parts of ourselves – just like overusing part of our body, always using the right hand for instance while becoming ever more awkward with the left. Some people get stuck smiling – even when they’re not happy. Some people get stuck in a tough image – hoping it protects the bit that isn’t tough – and lose access to their softer self. Some people get stuck with a particular voice, a pleasing or childish tone for instance, which hides the real person underneath. Julie Burchall’s incredibly childish voice is one such.

Winning state, losing state

The international swimmer Duncan Goodhew recounts the experience of different selves showing up to race.

He was 19 when he swam his first Olympics. The possibility of a medal was remote, but he was so certain of winning that he made his mother buy Olympic tickets even before he’d been selected. In the heats he broke the 100-metre breaststroke Olympic record.

Then, unlike other races in the past, he had 24 hours to wait before the final. The next morning he awoke feeling very nervous. They waited for 40 minutes in the ‘call room’ before the race, all in profound silence. He became acutely aware that he was with the 8 fastest people in the world and describes feeling as if he’d fallen down a plughole. His race was at last called; he dived in, and performed badly, struggling even for 7th place.

He realized afterwards that he had to answer the fundamental question of who he was when he raced. During the next 4 years, while preparing well physically, he also prepared psychologically, and got everyone around him to believe as strongly as he did that he was going to win. At the next Olympics, he sat in the call room on the floor in a corner and read a light novel in his own little space. He went out and won the 100 metres gold medal.

Who turns up matters when the stakes are high; but it applies all the time. On one occasion I was finding my coaching partner very difficult in an NLP exercise, and my NLP teacher Robert Dilts approached and reminded me quietly, “Remember, you are more than this.” Of course it was true. I was stuck in a state of frustration, when there were so many other parts of me that I could bring into play – curiosity, intuition, humour… . At that moment, I said to myself, “I’m more than this,” and found more creative ways to deal with the situation.

Beware though: in such situations your negative part isn’t usually particularly willing to leave the stage – because so long as it denies it has a choice it can blame the world and other people for your state rather than assume any responsibility for your response. It prefers to give you self-justifying reasons for feeling bad, rather than offering choices to feel and act differently. You may have to be quite tough with yourself to acknowledge that you do have a choice:

“I am more than this.”

Once you do, all sorts of preferable alternative courses of action and ways of thinking become possible. The next time you feel stuck, take on the realisation, “I’m more than this”, and see what shows up. I’d like to hear about your experiences when you do.

And only imagine how much more we can all be capable of when we’re able to choose how we want to be!


Voice of Influence Workshop – 27-28 February

This small-group coaching workshop enables you to find your voice as a speaker and presenter, greatly increases your confidence, and allows you to connect more powerfully with your audience. You’ll be a stronger, livelier and more authentic communicator.

The February course is just about full; so get straight back to me if you are interested in that one. I’m next running the course in June. Let me know if you are interested in that workshop and I’ll confirm the exact dates very shortly.

The Art of Conversation – comes out 28 April

My latest book is available for pre-order here.

Why is it some of us are stuck for words, but others blabber on? Why do we sometimes find ourselves stumbling, where others seem to converse so comfortably? Good conversational skills can transform every aspect of your world. The simplest conversation can hold a hidden thread of the most intimate and fulfilling connection…if you know the secret… By learning the art of conversation, you will have a magic ingredient for wellbeing, success and happiness in many areas of your life.

View my other books here.

Facebook and Twitter

If you enjoy what I write find me on Facebook and Twitter and join the conversation.

Poems on my website

I post poems on my website from time to time – here – and like the way they so often get under the surface of things. Here’s a timeless poem composed by Hafiz all of 750 years ago:

You’re It!

As a myriad things and
Playing a game
Of tag

Has kissed you and said,
“You’re it—

I mean, you’re Really IT!”

It does not matter
What you believe or feel

For something wonderful,

Major-league Wonderful
Is someday going


Have a good month! Go well,






I’m Sorry! (Not)

Stolen words