Stand up to your public speaking fears

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John Cooper of Comedysportz

John Cooper of Comedysportz

I’m not someone who has a ‘bucket list’ as such. But I am a great believer of putting yourself outside your comfort zone, especially if it helps further your ambitions.

Public speaking is one the areas I’d love to improve in. I’ve done a few bits and pieces for Manchester Girl Geeks but would like to build the confidence to give longer talks and workshops.

This week, I stretched myself by signing up (and showing up) to John Cooper’s ‘Present Yourself’ workshop in Manchester.

John is a stand-up comedian, writer, illustrator and part of the Comedysportz line-up of talent.

I met him a few weeks ago at Bliss Group‘s ‘Laugh Your Head Off’ workshop where I enjoyed a brief comedy writing exercise he shared with us.

I had so much fun with that I decided to brush up on my presentation skills with John’s public speaking workshop which builds confidence by using a variety of games and activities.

It was great to join a mixed group of men and women of all ages, backgrounds and reasons for wanting to develop their public speaking skills and confidence.

Here’s a few things that we tried out at the workshop.

Danish Clapping

Fast action hand clapping game done in pairs.  The rules are very simply, when your gestures match you high five your partner. Sounds simple right? Try doing this at high speed with someone you’ve not met before – a great ice-breaker high energy and lots of fun!

There are also more advanced variations of the game with multiple players, but to see what we did at the workshop you only need to watch up 1m 14s – after that it goes into some more complicated options!

Speak for a minute

Each of us were invited on stage to talk for a one minute on a subject of our choice. Because of the small group (15 of us) and John’s use of games and activities as a warm up, everyone felt comfortable (enough) to get up on stage and have a go.

The interesting thing about ‘speak for a minute’ was that our performances weren’t timed. Without this discipline most of us performed for two to three minutes, something than John re-assured us was quite natural.

The spontaneity of the exercise generated a wide range of topics, ranging from grumpy bus drivers, lawn mowing techniques, beauty treatments, the futility of bacon and long-distance relationships.

I really relished the opportunity to get up on stage to try out my own material and even got some laughs which was really thrilling. Who knew my brother’s daily porridge ritual would go down so well?

OK, so what next?

1. Go to another one of John’s ‘Present Yourself’ workshops, each one is a bit different so it would be a great way to develop my skills and confidence.

2. Consider signing up for the more in-depth courses offered by Comedysportz – now just decide between improv and stand-up…

Become comfortable with being uncomfortable

This is mantra that was repeated by the guy who used to run the circuits class at my gym. I started off hating this phrase but it helped to numb the pain of squats an star jumps and I slowly bought into it.

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Truth.

Here are some things I’ve done in the past year which encroached on my comfort zone:

And here’s my list of ambitions from January – it’s definitely in need of a review!

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!”

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A collage of my mother’s many psychedelic photographs

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!” is a common cat-call a woman might be subjected to (almost always by a man) should she fail to wear an agreeable facial expression when out of doors.

Vagenda magazine does a pretty good job of explaining just how annoying this is, and I hated it so much I (ironically) named my blog after it.

I’m not always cheery, I have what I consider to be a fairly normal range of emotions, but I reserve the right not to be cheerful on demand.

While it might be true that many things we ruminate on allow our anxiety to grow out of all proportion, there are times where we are dealing with something grave. Something painful or difficult and inevitable – specifically something bad that will happen – but in its own way that’s ok too.

Life’s not fair!

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Carol Ann Breen: 1st June 1947 – 22nd June 2016

My mum, Carol Breen,  passed away on 22nd June this year. She waited until we’d broken our round-the-clock vigil to finally ‘do one’. She’d also managed it through the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, though I don’t imagine that she was aware of that fact at the time.

One of the statements my mum used to come out with, far too often for my comfort, was “Life’s not fair”. I was not brought up with an expectation that life is or should be fair, which at times I found rather sad.

Cancer confidential

Around a year ago mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even before a full prognosis had been delivered, she was acutely aware of the fact she might have only a short time left.

She was deeply private about her diagnosis and prognosis, and like most things in life chose to deal with the details alone.

In early days of her illness, we had hope. We researched different treatments and looked for hospitals with expertise in treating this difficult to treat cancer.

Chemo and hoping for a ‘cure’

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In Eaton Park with mum, spring 2016

Mum started chemo last November, it had a terrible effect her causing severe nausea and weight loss – she used to boast about how she now weighed less than me!

In January, mum decided to try some experimental surgery. The site of her tumour was such that conventional surgery was not ‘viable’, but this treatment may have reduced the size of the growth that it would buy mum valuable months or even years.

Soon after the operation it became apparent that in mum’s case it had not been successful. This is something that we accepted as part and parcel of a treatment that was in its infancy and not extensively tried and tested.

Watching the days go by

From February this year, mum’s health took a nosedive. Fortunately my brother, Ellis, had been able to take some time out to be there for her in her own home – for this I am truly grateful to him.

She was too sick to continue with chemo and pain relief took over as the main focus of managing the effects of the cancer. She was taken into a hospice to have this stabilised but was glad to be back in her own home three weeks later.

The following weeks seemed to take on a timescale of their own…

The slowness of watching a woman holding on to life, contrasted with the rapidly revolving door carrying, doctors, nurses, carers, friends and neighbours into the home.

Beauty beyond the body

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At the boatyard for Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios

One thing we were adamant that mum would do before she passed away was to visit her exhibition which was part of Norwich & Norfolk Open Studios (along with fellow artists Denise Wingrove and Joan Sandford-Cook).

Ellis and I couldn’t persuade her to go to the opening weekend. Despite this Denise and Joan sold over £150 of mum’s jewellery and photographs.

The next weekend we took an uncompromising approach – we told mum she HAD TO get ready for the exhibition. Our usually stubborn mother allowed herself to be cajoled into the trip.

We are thankful for the help of friends Carole and Bruce and their delightful doggies Lulu and Leo in making this happen.

In the following weeks, mum began to let go as her health deteriorated. I consider myself very lucky to have spent time with her as she edged closer to death. Within three weeks she had passed away.

Carol Breen – a lasting legacy

Mum's photos (left) with Denise's collages (right)

Mum’s photos (left) with Denise’s collages (right)

We were pleased that so many of mum’s friends could come to celebrate her life in they was she would’ve wish – with wine, art, flowers and laughs.

Her digital photography was really something. You can view much of her wonderful work on Flickr – but she was also a talented silversmith, potter and sculptor.

She was also huge reader and we made sure that her precious collection of art books were given to artist friends in return for donations to two local charities.

The last word…

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With the funky gold Buddhist hearse we booked for mum (left to right) Ellis, Karen, Zoe and Linda.

I miss my mother terribly, even the times when she told me that life wasn’t fair!

I hope that I have inherited some of her creativity and resourcefulness, and I am blessed that I will soon be able to decorate my own home with  many of her artworks.

Thanks to everyone who cared about and for Carol, I’m not going to name names because you know who you are.

And. To anyone, anywhere who utters the words “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” to a woman going about her own business, I’d like to extend a swiftly delivered two fingers on behalf of my mother!

Cheer Up Love…

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In the business lounge of Norwich International Airport

Dear CheerUpLove.com,

I’m sorry I’ve neglected you. I’ve been busy, but that’s not the only reason that I’ve not visited you. True, I have been spending more time in Norwich of late, and granted, I’m working on an exciting new project.

I’ve been off courting inspiration at Thinking Digital London and Manchester’s Future Everything ideas-fests. And I’ve had some really interesting thoughts, which are currently in the incubation stage so not quite ready for you yet!

I have been enjoying doing my work as a board member of digital inclusion charity Tinder Foundation (completely unrelated to the app!).

painting-bannerI’ve not shared ‘My Week In Happy’ for a while, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt happy.

There is some sadness, but I don’t want that to get in the way of talking about the good things. Indeed, it’s possibly more important than ever to focus on the positive.

I have a few exciting projects in the pipeline, some of which I’m keeping to myself for now! In the meantime, I’m sharing with you some paintings which I unearthed in my archive (under bed storage).

I’d all but forgotten these colourful pieces and I plan to display them in my apartment. I can’t believe that I’ve already been here for a year – I feel so lucky!

 

Last minute New Year’s resolutions

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Enjoying the ball pool during with Girl Geeks in Manchester Science Week

It’s the last day of January and I still haven’t committed my New Year’s resolutions to digital pen and paper. I’ve needed to mull them over, organise them and let them settle.

I am not telling myself that I have to do all of these things. The list will also serve as a reference for longer-term aspirations.

Write more

This doesn’t just mean on my blog, but in my personal journals. Taking time to reflect on events and share my experience in a way I find comfortable.

Put pen to paper

Remembering that in an age where we can send a sentiment in a few seconds by text or messaging, the effort put into sending your thoughts through a physical medium speaks volumes.

Nail nutrition

I have been working hard for some time to find a healthy balance in what I eat an drink and continue to be guided in this. Today I made my first green juice.

Hit the gym (more)

Something I do already, but need to establish some firm habits. Went to my first Pilates class in an age this morning. It was tough but exhilarating.

Exercise elsewhere

I got a FitBit. It tracks lots of things like heart rate and sleep, but also very tangible and motivating things like daily number of steps and flights of stairs climbed. I’d like to walk at least 6,000 steps even on the most sedentary day.

Monitor my moods

I haven’t done this for quite some time and it will be interesting to see how the Mood Meter data fits in with what the FitBit captures in terms of wellbeing.

Reset my daily reminders

I use iCal to set mini prompts for me each day to make sure I maintain balance in life. These change from time to time so I need to get rid of any reminders that just aren’t relevant any more.

Develop my own ‘colour my week’ calendar

I’ve been experimenting in Google Calendar with a way of colour coding activities depending on how demanding they are so I can get balance across the week. A definite work in progress.

Read actual physical books

Instead of / as well as the many online articles and ebooks I dip into. I love the feeling of having a book in my hands

Speak more

Pick up the phone more often and meet friends in person. It’s too easy to rely on the convenience of email and messaging to make contact.

Put on an event

Happily I have achieved this already. I put on a ‘Meet the Bloggers’ event as part of Manchester Girl Geeks last weekend with six fabulous speakers. The room was packed the other volunteers, and folks at MadLab, made it a great and popular session.

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Me (front), with the Meet the Bloggers line-up. From left to right -Gill Kieran, Claire Gowler, Rosie Campbell, Natalie-Claire, Clare Sudbury and Sophie.

The event stimulated a lot of conversations between the bloggers and guests which carried on into social media after we’d wrapped up for the day.

I was particularly delighted when one of the attendees, Chrissy, wrote about how the panel discussion given the confidence to promote her own blog Making It Mindful.

My Week In Happy: Soaking up the Gong Bath

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With gong practitioner Martyn Cawthorne at his home Gong Spa

It is Saturday and a rainy Manchester afternoon and, along with two friends from Manchester Bliss group, are visiting the home of Martyn Cawthorne – gong practitioner and founder of Gong Spa.

Martyn gives the three of us a warm welcome before inviting us to prepare for the ‘gong bath’ which we have all enthusiastically signed up for.

What is a gong bath?

He describes the experience as:

“A unique experience in which you are bathed (clothes on!) in the sounds and vibrations of the gongs, which lend themselves to enhanced states of well-being, relaxation, happiness and pleasure.”

I’d had one previous experience of taking part in a large gong bath in a church hall, but what Martyn has to offer is a small, safe and intimate space which could be shared by up to three people.

The space is calm and softly lit, with four impressively large gongs suspended from a frame in the room and another resting on the floor. Other instruments are scattered around the room and will form a part of the gong bath experience.

We have a quick chat with Martyn about our needs and reasons for being there, before settling down on a bed and wrapping up with blankets. He explains to us that as the gong bath experience can be both physically and mentally intense, he’s going to give us a relatively gentle time.

What happens in the gong bath?

The session is an hour long and it’s important to feel comfortable. We’re  provided us with some egg-shaped shakers should we wish to indicate that the gong sounds have become too intense (we didn’t need them).

Once relaxed on the bed, the time seemed to speed by. Martyn opens the session with some ambient gong sounds before building up the intensity and varying the soundscape with other percussion instruments.

The vibrations from the gongs were instantly relaxing and I felt the sounds resonated throughout mind and body with a calming richness.

What does it feel like?

I felt my mind begin to turn over thoughts as it prepared to relax and let go, it was then that I started to locate the sources of tension in my body.

First comes a fluttering sensation in my side, before I develop an awareness of where the tightness across my shoulders originates – this makes me mindful that I need to take care of my posture each day.

As we opened our eyes at the end of the gong bath, it soon became clear that we had all had powerful but very different experiences.

One bather was so relaxed that she fell asleep (this is apparently quite common and does not prevent the gong bath from working). Another spoke of the vivid images she’d visualised.

We all felt that the gong bath had been deeply beneficial and wished to return, either alone or with partners.

Where can I take a gong bath?

Taking a gong bath aids meditation and is great for relaxation either individually, as a couple or a group.

Gong Goodies

Gong Spa – home of everything gong including dates of gong baths in Manchester and surrounding areas

Northern School of Soundsmiths – learn to craft sounds for your enjoyment and the benefit of others

Gong Spa Experiences – tracks to relax or meditate to – available to download

My Week In Happy: NQ Noms and Ladies That Launch

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Tuesday

I’ve noticed a recent trend to revive the term Cottonpolis as an alternative name for Manchester. This refers to the textiles industry on which the city built its wealth and global economic standing.

First it was the Women’s Institute – they have a Cottonpolis branch based in Ancoats, to the north-east of the city centre.

And then just the other week a lavish new eatery opened in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter, also proudly bearing the Cottonpolis title.

The restaurant is located on Newton Street, the less developed end of the Northern Quarter. Indeed, the frontage is so unimposing that I managed to walk straight past it!

Once inside, a weird optical effect also rendered @cubicgarden and @si_lumb invisible. Though later on we were successfully located by @herbkim.

The menu at Cottonpolis revolves around Japanese inspired ‘small plates’ – ideal for tasting a number of dishes – good, fresh and cooked to order.

Thursday

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Proudly wearing her  Principia flight badge*

Had it broad daylight @ohlittlechief and I would have found ourselves in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.

But it was 6.30pm and very dark when we arrived for a ‘Girls Night Out’ event put on by Manchester University.

Libby Jackson, Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency gave us a great introduction explaining how studying science – and a lot of dedication – had got her into her current role.

We then had the opportunity to try out some fun engineering tasks, including launching rockets and operating a robot arm.

But the highlight of the evening was getting a picture of @ohlittlechief posing with one of her heroes – the soon-to-be British astronaut Tim Peake*.

Tim’s launch in the Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station will take place at 11:02 GMT on Tuesday 15 December. Read loads more about the big event here and use #BritInSpace on Twitter.

*It may not have been the real Tim Peake but a well-lit cardboard cut-out.

My Week In Happy: Why I interviewed Helen Arney

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Well, “Why wouldn’t you want to interview Helen Arney?”, you might ask?

Helen Arney (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Of course she is super-smart, funny and chic, that’s undeniable. Which is why, when I was booking my tickets for Festival of the Spoken Nerd at The Lowry, I was struck by the fact that she did not have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her.

Almost a year before the gig, I’d been to a Wiki Edit workshop run for Manchester Girl Geeks by Wikimedia UK.

From this experience I learned two things:

  1. Editing Wikipedia is really pretty easy
  2. More than 80% of Wikipedia editors are male (according to some research)

What did I do with this knowledge? Pretty much nothing until I noticed that Helen Arney didn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Then I remembered something.

Fellow Manchester Girl Geek Karen Pudner (@kpudner) had created a Wikipedia page for code-breaker Joan Clarke, who worked alongside Alan Turing on the Enigma Project at Bletchley Park.

Karen started the Wikipedia page in 2013 having attended a previous Manchester Girl Geeks Wiki Edit Day.

This was the year before Joan’s contribution to the team at Bletchley Park was recognised in The Imitation Game. Since then the page has been added to and edited by dozens of other users.

If another girl geek could write a woman into Wikipedia then maybe I could give it a shot?

I was so excited by the prospect that it was with some abandon that I launched into writing my first lines of words on Wikipedia.

So I’ve made a start on Helen Arney’s page, which is currently a described as a ‘Singer stub’. If you would like to add an edit of your own I’d be extremely happy.

So, why did you interview Helen Arney?

As well as her obvious fabness (see above), I thought it would be lovely to have something that I had written to be linked to from the Wikipedia page. And reciprocal linked (of course!).

You can read what Helen had to say on physics, funnyness and frocks right here.