Oct 14 2009

Competing in Toastmasters UK Division E contest

Since I last wrote, I ‘ve had another hip replacement.  It came out of the blue with the hospital ringing up to ask if I would be willing to go in the next day; there had been a cancellation.  The next day was actually my birthday. I had a spinal block rather than general anaesthetic so was able to hear the operating staff sing Happy Birthday to me.  Bless the NHS!

Thus there’s been a bit of a hiatus while I have been convalescing.

It didn’t stop me singing the soprano solo in Mozart’s K108 Regina Coeli in Leicester in September, nor from competing in my Toastmaster Club’s Humorous Speech Contest. I won. AND I won the Area Contest too. I’m already booked to travel to Glasgow for the Divisional Contest on October 25th. I hope to have good news to relay after then.

I was also thrilled to be asked to address the Shepshed Rotary Club at the end of September on my experience living and working in Oman.

“Every one was delighted with your talk. Timing was perfect, clearly audible. There was genuine interest displayed afterwards in the presentation and the content.”

John Fox-Russell, president Shepshed Rotary Club

Anxious to get as much feedback on my speaking style and technique as I could, I attended one of Priscilla MorrisDynamic Speaking workshops in Leicester last week. Priscilla is an experienced voice coach. All attendees were told to prepare a 5-7 minute presentation about their work. PowerPoint was optional, although this was a good opportunity to practice techniques for showing visuals. At the start of the session, we all got up in turn to make our filmed presentations, which will be returned to us as a complimentary DVD.

Here is Priscilla’s verdict on me:

“A really bright opening. You caught your audience’s attention. You had interesting content and you delivered with energy and purpose. You SOLD yourself very well. The face is expressive, enhanced by gesture. Contact is made with everyone. Visuals held interest.”

Priscilla Morris

Would you like me to come and speak to your group? I’m offering a list of speech topics to start off ideas, although I’m prepared to offer briefings on many subjects up to half an hour long.  Working experience as an information researcher comes in very useful for drawing together material!

Follow me on Twitter

And finally, it’s only fair to tell you that I keep people up to date with my goings on via twitter. That’s where you’ll find me.

Jun 22 2009

Sue Hutton – Competent Communicator!

Sue Hutton receives her Competent Communicator award certificate from President John Cox

Sue Hutton receives her Competent Communicator award certificate from President John Cox

Less than two years after becoming a founder member of East Midlands Speakers, a local club affiliated to Toastmasters International, I have become a Competent Communicator.

This means that I have made ten speeches in front of my peers following a programme set out by Toastmasters. Each speech had a particular theme, such as Get to the Point, Vocal Variety or Persuade with Power. As I progressed through the programme, each speech became progressively more demanding.

I spoke on topics as diverse as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dancing on the Dark Side (gothic bellydancing), Information Access and Water Usage in the UK. Although the schedule was interrupted for major hip surgery in February 2009, I managed to finish the programme in good time to contribute to the club’s bid to become a President’s Distinguished Toastmaster Club.

One of my favourite speeches was Number 6, He Who Must Be Obeyed! a humorous take on what it’s like to be a member of a choir.

By the time I reached the tenth speech, which required the speaker to Inspire Your Audience, I had very clear ideas of what was needed to make a meaningful presentation.

  • Passion
  • Enthusiasm
  • Interaction with the audience
  • Knowledgeability
  • Rehearsal
  • Presence

I am more than ever convinced that people wanting to make effective speeches and presentations could learn a very great deal from the skills of acting and performance.

You need to be able both to connect with and care for your audience to get your message across.

What do I mean by caring for your audience? Speak to their needs. Know your subject. Look them in the eye. Make your voice interesting. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

If you would like to know more, please contact me. I aim to write in more detail at a later date about using performance skills in speaking.

May 29 2009

Celebrating Felix Mendelssohn

I was proud to be asked to sing the solo in Felix Mendelssohn’s best-known soprano piece, Hear My Prayer, in a recent concert.

The Humberstone Choral Society in Leicester devoted its concert on May 20th to recognising the births of Henry Purcell in 1659 and of Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn in 1809, and the deaths of Georg Frideric Handel in 1759 and of Franz Joseph Haydn in 1809.

Hear My Prayer, a piece for soprano and SATB choir, is a paraphrase of Psalm 55. The piece segues into the very well known O for the wings of a dove, based on verses 6-7 of the psalm:

Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness.

I also sang the top soprano line in the trio for Purcell’s Benedicite Omnia Opera, an altogether more jolly piece.

During the second, secular half of the concert, I took on the role of Bloody Mary from South Pacific, singing Bali Hai and Happy Talk.

May 19 2009

Creative ol’ me!

People who have worked abroad are more creative. Thus spake The Economist this afternoon.

They’re also more creative negotiators.

The researchers from INSEAD and Kellogg School of Management, who came to this conclusion, hadn’t been able to work out why this should be so.

So perhaps I can give them some empirical ideas based on working in Botswana, Uganda and Oman.

You can’t survive in your job overseas without thinking your way around problems. ‘No’ is never an option. If something can’t be done the obvious way, you find another way around the obstacle.

As an expatriate, you are expected to be an expert. There’s no room for people who have to look up the chain for technical advice and expertise.

It actually helps that there aren’t the regulations and procedures that exist in big organisations at home. The minutiae of rules get in the way of doing things. Although you have to be sensitive to local norms.

There aren’t a lot of people doing the same job as you. As the ‘expert’, you’re expected to guide and manage your local staff into reaching objectives.

In my time as an information professional, I’ve done information research and written briefings, managed contributions to projects as well as doing my own field work, organised libraries, planned and managed library removals, helped to create computerised cataloguing systems, prepared and edited reports and other documents for publication, liaised with other departments over publication issues, dealt with printers, drawn maps, written and typed up copy at 3 in the morning, created job descriptions and training plans, planned video selections and created voiceovers, spoken voiceovers, interviewed people for radio, designed and written websites, etc etc

Thus you are the practitioner, the trainer and the manager all rolled into one, a ‘jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.’

My regret is that that hard-earned experience doesn’t seem to be appreciated back home. If they haven’t lived through it themselves, people have no idea of the versatility and creativity that you have acquired. Instead, job specifications ask for specific long-term experience in specific roles. As if versatility was a virtue to be shunned.

You’re just another Joe who skived off overseas to avoid the ‘real work’ of the 9-5 day.

In fact, the two awareness jobs that I did in the UK in the 1980s for SMEs on a shoestring budget required a broadly similar approach. No-one else would take the job on.

Don’t mind me. I’m just ranting!

Apr 27 2009

Vectors, nettuts and jQuery while convalescing

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve been recovering from major hip surgery in February. But I haven’t been idle.

I’ve updated the Gothla website for our third workshop and hafla weekend in mid-July 2009. This year, we’re featuring Ariellah, Morgana, Shakra, Asharah and Deva Matisa, internationally recognised exponents of gothic bellydancing.

PayPal has been expanding its merchant services. This year, I shall be able to download booking information directly and print out attendee lists for each of the workshops. Extra levels of security hopefully protect our account from fraud and unwanted chargebacks when someone wrongfully claims back money paid through their account.

I’m getting products ready for the Gothla shop, which is hosted by Spreadshirt, based in Germany. Spreadshirt works best with vector images, that is, drawings. We like to change the colour of our Gothla logo for our t-shirts each year and we would like to be able to sell a generic t-shirt based on the photo in our banner.

I experimented with a couple of programs that can transform photos (raster objects) to vector images.

I was particularly pleased with the results from VectorMagic, although it’s not cheap to download the software, which gives you more control than the free online conversion service. The Gothla logo converted without a hitch. I wasn’t able to reduce the complexity of the photo to a vector image equivalent which Spreadshirt could have used. But I suspect that I needed more knowledge of technique, such as reducing the photo to a layer mask in Photoshop before beginning to make the vector image in Illustrator.

The face of Gothla UK, a raster image

The face of Gothla UK, a raster image

Vectorised version of the face of Gothla UK

Vectorised version of the face of Gothla UK

Essentially, there were too many small elements in my vector version. The t-shirt process requires smooth, definite lines. Ironically, I could have got the photo printed on a light coloured t-shirt, but since the event is Goth, we require black backgrounds.

I did begin to learn something of how vector software works. I hadn’t used Adobe Illustrator before and was delighted to discover its many uses, like making unwanted backgrounds disappear. I think I’ll have another go using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator using ideas from t-shirt factory.

I’ve also had time and opportunity to read more. I’m currently learning jQuery, a Javascript library resource which enables coders to attach behaviours to element attributes in the same sort of way as CSS. The benefits of using techniques such as jQuery are their minimalist approach and friendly approach to web accessibility. Web surfers relying on screen readers should be able to read web pages without having to wade through screeds of Javascript code.

I’ve discovered Nettuts, a website featuring a host of web development tutorials which deserves very close scrutiny. Want to know about Ajax, or CSS, or PHP, or building content management systems? Make this website one of your resources.

And I’ve been twittering a lot. I find twitter extremely useful for picking up information and exchanging ideas. The growth in social networking has inspired me to devote a whole new page on my website to FriendFeed. This is where you’ll be able to find out what I’ve been saying on twitter and facebook, and what I’ve been bookmarking on deli.cious and stumbleupon as I’ve been surfing the web.

Jan 21 2009

Google Reader says ‘square is the new round’

Google Reader has declared that ‘square is the new round.’ That was the message that I spotted in the Google Reader blog a couple of days ago.

As well as introducing its new favicon, the tiny square image that you should spot in the address bar, Google has revamped its online RSS reader to reflect calmer, less intrusive colour schemes, AND, square corners.

In the several workshops that I went to last year on online optimization and marketing and SEO, attendees were told that Web 2.0 was characterized by rounded corners. Since we were all there to learn how to increase our online profiles, we were advised to use Web 2.0 graphical elements.

I decided to use rounded corners for my right hand links. But I never really liked them. They looked clumsy on the page. So I’ve been glad to revert to my normal rectangular style today.

Google has a point. Any element on a web page that distracts the visitor from reading and scanning the content wastes the visitor’s time.

Google’s Online Reader has to present a lot of information. I am only following 35 blogs and news sources in my Reader but that encompasses hundreds of stories a day. Somehow, Google has to get that information to me on one screen, so that I don’t have to scroll unnecessarily.

The re-design of the Reader aims to direct the eye to the main content. Collapsible menus allow you to focus on what you want to read first.

Some people monitor far more blogs than I do. I wonder how much time they actually manage to spend working, because monitoring news sources is a time consuming task.

I’ve adopted another way of accessing RSS feeds with Google. If you have a Google account, you can design your own Google entry page, called iGoogle. I have added tabs which focus on topics of interest to me.

I am pleased to share with you my SEO tab which I use to update myself with posts from writers blogging about Search Engine Optimization. It’s very far from being an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

And here’s a post from the Google Reader blog to show you how to start using Google Reader to access your RSS feeds.

Any questions, please get in touch.

Dec 30 2008

He Who Must Be Obeyed

East Midlands Speakers Club held its final meeting of the year over Christmas dinner on 15th December.

I was lucky enough to get a speaking slot and presented my Level 6 speech from the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual.

Since the theme was Christmas, and I was in the process of an intensive round of singing with the Leicester Bach Choir, I hit on the idea of singing snatches from Handel’s Messiah. Why? To illustrate how a choir is an example of achieving a goal under the direction of its Music Director – He Who Must Be Obeyed! Watch the video to see how.

I also delivered this speech at the choir’s Christmas lunch on the previous day. Since they were ‘more in the know,’ they fell about laughing!

If you live in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, or other parts of the East Midlands, and would like to use the Toastmasters International programme to develop your speaking skills and confidence, come and visit us at East Midlands Speakers Club. We meet every first and third Monday of the month at The Clockhouse, London Road, Shardlow, Derbyshire. Visit the website for more details and directions.

Dec 30 2008

Now offering SEO and Online Marketing

I’ve just refurbished my website and its companion blog, SoozNooz.

October through to December, I’ve been very lucky to be able to attend several business seminars sponsored by East Midlands Business Link, paid for by the East Midlands Development Agency.

The seminars have come at an auspicious time for me, covering issues of online marketing, search engine optimisation, selling online, pay-per-click advertising and social networking.

I’ve already implemented many of the practices suggested, which means I’m on the right path. All the same, I learnt something new in every session, making the investment in time very worthwhile.

I’ve discovered over the last year or so, that when I tell people that I design websites, they ask me to take a look at theirs.  “I’ve just paid out all this money on a new website, and I’m not getting any business from it!” they complain.

It takes no time at all on clicking through to their sites, to discover that the designers have not optimised them.  Simple things like Flash animations without entry text, no page titles, lack of copy text on the home page and generally, no targeted proposition or call to action.

I think there is going to be more and more emphasis in the future on making your website work for you, rather than just on building websites to have a directory presence on the web.  Online marketing is all about connecting with your customers.  Use your experience in dealing with customers face-to-face combined with web 2.0 technology to sell online.

For example, I’m hoping to have my bathroom overhauled in January.  It makes sense to me to look at bathroom websites to see what ideas bathroom companies can offer and evidence of their work.  Very few of the tradesmen who came to see me had an understanding of this need, often dismissing their websites as ‘something the wife does.’

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a structured process which aims to lift your website to the top of Google search engine results for your particular product or service.  There’s no mystery about how it’s done.  There’s plenty of websites out there falling over themselves to offer advice.  In fact, Google offers some of the best resources.  See my page on SEO for some starter links.

In the end though, do you have the time?  This is work that you can out-source. Or you may like some guidance on how to set up your own SEO strategy and maintain it yourself.  These are services which I am now offering.  Call me on +44(0)1509 650759 to talk through the options.

Dec 29 2008

Toastmasters International

I am now a member of Toastmasters International

I joined East Midlands Speakers’ Club last year to support two friends with whom I had worked in the 1980s. We chartered to Toastmasters International in June, celebrating by holding our first speech contest and  a charter dinner at the end of September.

East Midlands Speakers Club - Charter Dinner

East Midlands Speakers Club - Charter Dinner

Here are the members of East Midlands Speakers Club ‘dressing to impress’ at the dinner with the exception of me who was taking the picture.

Two of our members won our Area speech contest held on 5th October.  Judy Dyer won the humourous speech contest with her tale of Gregory, her green parrot, and Stuart Webb proved that he could speak extempore by winning the table topics contest.

They both went on to take part in the divisional (UK and Ireland) contest in York on 19th October.  Stuart came third in this national competition.

As for me, I have been participating in all the ‘leadership’ roles as required by the competent leadership award, and reached my Level 5 speech in the competent communicator programme last Monday October 20th.

The objective of the Level 5 speech is ‘Your Body Speaks.’ The evaluation concentrates on posture, gestures, body movement, facial expression and eye contact. I chose to speak about gothic bellydancing, which naturally gave me scope. Watch the YouTube video to see how I performed.

My camera had been set to video-email, which explains its tiny dimensions.

First published 25th October 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Singing John Betjeman

I look forward to the summer as a quiet time, but this summer has been anything but.  Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been using the time to catch up with tasks that I haven’t had the opportunity to tackle before.

This summer, I have finally succeeded in downloading video from both my JVC Everio (read how awkward that episode managed to be) and also from my JVC tape camcorder, which was used to film my show last year – How to Get On In Society! – a review of the life, poetry and broadcasting of Sir John Betjeman.

I was able to edit the files to produce videos of five of the songs that I sang, musical settings of Betjeman’s poems by Madeline Dring and Mervyn Horder, and uploaded them to YouTube.  Watch them at my YouTube channel

Performing at How to Get On In Society!, Leicester, September 2007. Song of a Nightclub Proprietress, poem by John Betjeman, music by Madeline Dring.

I also uploaded a video of Tom Chambers, a friend of my son George, reciting A Subaltern’s Love Song.  He really was the right age for it.  JB sounds just a bit too old and leery when you listen to him.

Well done Tom!

First published 21st September

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