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!