Sunday, 15 December 2013

Pink Floyd's 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond' live acoustic cover by Mouth O...



Live acoustic cover of Pink Floyd's 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond' by Mouth On A Stick uploaded 8th December 2013 from their gig at The George and Dragon the evening before (link below). This is another live acoustic cover of one of my favourite songs by Pink Floyd 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond' performed by Mouth On A Stick (AKA Keith and Howard). Keith and Howard share the vocals - Howard is left and Keith is on the right.

From Mouth On A Stick's Lemon Rock page at http://www.lemonrock.com/mouthonastick

"Singer/bassist (Howard) and singer/guitarist (Keith) - both formerly of 80s rock band Liaison - renew their musical relationship in this energetic and fun acoustic duo. Performing a variety of hits and album tracks from the last 4 decades, the pair mix dual vocals with acoustic and bass guitar. Both talented singers, they share the lead and backing vocal duties during their diverse set of rock and pop covers.

Mouth On A Stick specialise in the eclectic. They are not your average duo - nor do they wish to be. Their set consists of a carefully chosen mix of songs from the 1950s through to the present day.

We think you will be pleasantly surprised by the song choice - from award winning pop singles like Elbow's One Day Like This and The Fear by Lily Allen to pop/rock anthems such as Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run and Won't Get Fooled Again by The Who.

There are also some obscure gems that you will undoubtedly remember but rarely hear these days. Brian Protheroe's Pinball and Dance With Me by Orleans being two such examples.

And just to keep you on your toes, there are a few classic album tracks like Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, from their million-selling Rumours album, or Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here from the album of the same name.

So please don't be upset if you don't hear 'Brown Eyed Girl' or 'Mustang Sally' - we like to leave that to the others.

Occasional guest appearances on percussion, guitar, vocals - and sometimes even saxophone, harmonica or piano accordion (!) by some of their talented friends, bring an additional flavour and unpredictability to many gigs."

They tend to play in the Herts, Bucks, Middx areas - for their full gig line-up please see their Lemon Rock page at http://www.lemonrock.com/mouthonastic...

George and Dragon Website
http://www.ganddnorthchurch.com/

87 High St, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 3QL
Tel: 01442 864533

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Learning to Drift with L2D (Learn2Drift)

It's about time I wrote a post on my favourite drifting academy L2D. What's special about this outfit is that their academies fund their activities on the British Drift Championship circuit, so when you go to learn with them your instructor is invariably a Semi-Pro, Pro or Super-Pro qualified driver. What's more their Super Pro driver, Jamie Kenyon (AKA Jamo) won the Super Pro championship at BDC (British Drift Championship) Round 5 this year - props for that; great driver and I can vouch personally for his instructor skills too.

Here is a video from my first 'school day' experience with them at the beginning of this year.


Learn2Drift of http://learn2drift.com were recently rebranded from SSDA (Slide School Drift Academy) and they host drifting academies at Birmingham Raceways and Bovingdon Airfield where this video was shot.

As you can see from the footage it was snowing lightly but the tarmac was only slightly slushy by the time I got there for the afternoon session; weather wise, that was easier on the tyres (and pit crew!) but it was still bloody freezing. That aside it was a terrific day. Learn2Drift is comprised of a group of professional and semi-professional drifters and in amongst their school cars they have competition cars which they also let you experience on occasion. All their cars are Nissans, not new cars but they're all well maintained and loved which I can attest to because I've been following their updates on Facebook for some time. Sadly, because of the snow the cars all had to have their front and rear skirts removed so they looked slightly 'underdressed' - but somehow they still manage to look stunning to me. One of the other things that endeared me to this firm is that all their cars have names and they're all female: Silvia, Pearl, NeoPearl, NizPearl.

All of the cars are road worthy and have up to date MOTs so if you live in the M1 corridor you might actually see one of them driving around. To put how striking these cars are into perspective here is a photo of Silvia getting a ticket from Milton Keynes constabluary because someone forgot to put on her front number plate. I love the way the L2D car totally eclipses the normally dominant colours of the police car!



Anyway, enough of my ramblings - let's get down to the day itself. I arrived at 12.30 for the afternoon session which cost me £69 (which I think is very reasonable). For that you get a doughnut and figure of eight session which was long enough to learn something and I can say that as a result of the excellent coaching I received from my instructor for the day, (Christian) I got to nail the damn things! I was chuffed to bits about this. The doughnut footage in the video is of me.

After that session we navigated a course of cones (where I did two perfect doughnuts with holes in), slid around other cones and generally had a blast.

To round the afternoon off I had three passenger laps where we were mostly sideways. I so want to learn how to do that!

As for the facilities they were good too - Learn2Drift have their own modified, single decker bus called 'Bert the Bus', (they're obviously into giving their vehicles names in a big way at L2D). 'Bert' remains resident at Bovingdon Airfield and is used for pre-session briefings, hanging out between stints in the cars (and keeping warm). Learn2Drift provide light refreshments as part of their packages.

To summarise, it was a totally superb day, great instruction, stunning cars (I love the L2D colours), good facilities, enough time behind the wheel to learn something worthwhile and great staff all round.

My photos can be found at Photobucket and Flickr.



Links and contact:

Email: info@learn2drift.co.uk

Tel: 07972 276242

By post:

Learn2Drift - Slide School Drift Academy Ltd
C/O Carr brothers Ltd
Upper higham Lane
Higham Ferrers
Rushden
NN10 0SU

Learn2Drift Official Website
http://www.learn2drift.com/

Learn2Drift YouTube Channel
http://www.youtube.com/user/SSDAdrift...

Learn2Drift on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/pages/SSDA-D...

Learn2Drift on Twitter
https://twitter.com/ssda_drift_team

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Piglet & Pooh Plan a Heffalump Pit

It's been too long since I updated my blog and surely there can't be many better posts to come back with other than an extract from on of my favourite books, Winnie the Pooh! Enjoy :-)

~~~~~~~~~

Pooh's first idea was that they should dig a Very Deep Pit, and then the Heffalump would come along and fall into the Pit, and--

"Why?" said Piglet.

"Why what?" said Pooh.

"Why would he fall in?"

Pooh rubbed his nose with his paw, and said that the Heffalump might be walking along, humming a little song, and looking up at the sky, wondering if it would rain, and so he wouldn't see the Very Deep Pit until he was half-way down, when it would be too late.

Piglet said that this was a very good Trap, but supposing it were raining already?

Pooh rubbed his nose again, and said that he hadn't thought of that. And then he brightened up, and said that, if it were raining already, the Heffalump would be looking at the sky wondering if it would clear up, and so he wouldn't see the Very Deep Pit until he was half-way down.... When it would be too late.

Piglet said that, now that this point had been explained, he thought it was a Cunning Trap.

Pooh was very proud when he heard this, and he felt that the Heffalump was as good as caught already, but there was just one other thing which had to be thought about, and it was this. Where should they dig the Very Deep Pit?

Piglet said that the best place would be somewhere where a Heffalump was, just before he fell into it, only about a foot farther on.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Rally Driving Experience with Langley Park Rally School

Hello all, I expect you all know what rallying is so I won't bore you with a background to the activity but what you might not be aware of is that there are firms in the UK that will take anyone with a UK driving license, put them behind the wheel and give them a taste of what rallying is all about for a small amount of money, (£40).

Langley Park Rally School Overview


Langley Park Rally School, based in Essex, is such a firm who cater to beginners and intermediate rally drivers by offering a range of events to suit each and I attended one of their half day, taster experiences on 9th February this year - and here is a video of my afternoon.



 Video Produced by Langley Park Rally School for Customers

The Rally Experience


The session was arranged into three parts:

1. Three laps in a rear wheel drive car.
2. Three laps in a front wheel drive car.
3. One 'white knuckle' passenger lap with a professional rally instructor.

While waiting for your next activity you can watch proceedings from outside or from the comfort of their lounge or cafe which reside in pre-fabricated, Portacabin type buildings beside the course.

By way of souvenirs and embellishments they give you a video, a certificate and a score card marked by the instructor on your rally driving ability. My scores were just above average: apparently I did slightly better in the front wheel drive which surprised me as I felt I was going a lot faster and had more fun in the rear wheel drive, (though perhaps that's because I've recently taken up drifting which is always done in RWDs).

Itinerary from Langley Park Rally School


From the Langley Park Rally School website, I quote:

"Enjoy approximately 2 1/2 hours at our venue and experience an introduction to the thrills of rallying where you will have the opportunity to drive at high speed on a loose surface in two of our fully prepared rally cars; one front wheel drive and one rear wheel drive. You will share your rally experience with other drivers on the day.

The instructor will introduce you to the key features and controls of the car and will talk you through what skills you will be taught out on the track. The bulk of the tuition is carried out in the car so you can get the most amount of time in the car. An intercom system is built in to the car to enable you to talk to the instructor as you drive.

Then, the moment you've been waiting for, driving the car on the track. The first lap will be used for you to familiarise yourself with the track. You will then have another 2 laps in this car of the 1 1/2 mile stage negotiating your way through cones and tyres at high speed. You will experience power slides and handbrake turns. After you have finished, the instructor will fill out a score sheet, rating your performance in the rally car. You will then have a break before your session of 3 laps in the second car.

Once all the driving sessions are complete, you will be strapped in to the passenger seat while the instructor gets their own back! You will experience a white knuckle ride on a "hot lap" with the instructor driving."

My Verdict


The weather was pretty awful, (as it has been all winter) and perhaps that forced them to cut down on some of the manoeuvres I was hoping to do. But this was a shame because while I had fun, I think it could have been a bit more exciting had the odd handbrake turn or power slide been thrown in, (they weren't). As it stands, it was a pleasant afternoon, sliding around in muddy conditions and I did learn a little bit more about controlling a car in snow or on very slippery roads.

As a production though, I think the hosts went above and beyond the call of duty to make the day a memorable one for their customers and with regards to the overall 'experience', amenities and souvenirs it was a top notch event. The video above was one such souvenir which was available for a nominal sum, (I think it was an extra £20). It was produced entirely by Langley Park Rally School and I think they've really nailed how to produce a high quality rendition of the day that customers will want to keep and share as I'm doing now, (which is great publicity for them too). They've obviously hired someone competent on the production and editing which makes all the difference.

My overall impression was positive: Langley Park Rally School have the whole customer experience down to a tee, they provide great value, good amenities, have friendly staff - and obviously they score top marks for souvenirs. It might be worth going back in a few months when the weather is better.

Friday, 1 March 2013

My Toastmasters Table-Topics Journey Begins

I've written elsewhere on this blog how Table Topics for me are the hardest part of the Toastmasters curriculum.

What are Table Topics?

The Toastmasters website describes Table Topics as fairly benign things - and I quote: "Table Topics are the portion of a club meeting devoted to exercises in impromptu speaking presided over by the Table Topics Master, who calls on each Table Topics Speaker to give a short, impromptu speech. Table Topics provides you with an opportunity to practice careful listening, quickly preparing a relevant response, and expressing fluent, clear, and organised thoughts in a limited time."

How I feel about them!

That's all well and good, however I've found it's one thing to prepare a speech in advance with the opportunity to think about it at length, write and rewrite it, rehearse it any number of times - and quite another to be thrown in at the deep end and be asked to speak extemporaneously, (speaking without preparation) on a subject just given to you just a second ago for 1-2 minutes.

I don't think it would be exaggerating to say that I've always been nervous around this part of the meeting in case I was picked, (you're given no notice) and I know I'm not alone!

Documenting my Table Topics Journey

But I've decided to break the back of these things and I thought one way to do it would be to commit myself publicly to recording each one that I do and its evaluation so that I'm not tempted to shirk away from them in future. So in that spirit of sharing I thought it would be nice to document my Table Topics journey with anyone who's interested and this is the first video in the series which I posted on YouTube today.



 My first Toastmaster Table Topic Speech given on 28th February 2013

The idea hopefully is that I'll improve over time and I hope other people will chime in with ideas and suggestions in the comments below or on the video itself. I'm going to share them all, good bad and indifferent and I hope that they'll at least be entertaining. :-)

As for this one, it's not too difficult to see where I could have made some improvements - my evaluator very generously didn't point them out but I'm sure you will :-) Not to head you off but I do know that I did a lot of 'umming' and some of my thoughts were not expressed as completely as I'd have liked.

Background to Toastmasters and Table Topics Sessions

For those of you familiar with Toastmasters meetings please skip to the evaluation video further down the page. For those not familiar with Toastmasters meetings I should point out a few details that you might be wondering about while you watched the video.

a) At every meeting we have a 'word of the day' and the idea is for speakers to include it logically and coherently into their speeches, prepared or otherwise. Our word for this meeting (which is attached to the lecturn just out of shot) was 'Lamprophony', which means loudness and clarity of voice. I did manage to squeeze it in as you saw :-)

b) There is a Table Topics Master who is in the video with me at the beginning and it is his/her job to choose the Table Topics for the evening and then give them to the members or guests to do at the appropriate part of the meeting.

c) Each Table Topic should last 1-2 minutes, no more, no less. Timing is a big deal in Toastmasters meetings and each meeting has a Time Keeper who can and will disqualify your speech from the best speeches of the evening competition if you go under or over time, (which is a bit inflexible in my opinion but them's the rules)!

d) Table Topics speeches do not have a title but for the sake of casual viewers it made more sense to include one so I added my own in order that people will have an idea of what I'm supposed to be talking about in advance. The title I chose for the one you've just watched is 'Crazy Gun Laws'.

Evaluation of my Table Topic Speech

There is a Table Topics Evaluator who critiques each Table Topic speech - at this meeting it was Angela Lansbury and here is a video of her evaluation of my speech.


Angela Lansbury evaluates my Table Topics Speech

Angela didn't offer any criticism or suggestions, but do you have any?

So that is the end of my first post of the series - I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share it. If you are not already a member of Toastmasters but are interested in joining, you should know that most groups welcome guests who can attend free of charge with or without a host for as many times as they like. And guests can participate in the Table Topics part of meetings if they wish to. My club is HOD Speakers in the Harrow/Stanmore area of Greater London in the UK where we hold meetings once a fortnight and you can click the link for more information. Our next meeting is on 14th March.
 
Venue Address: Manor House Banqueting Hall, Old Church Lane, Stanmore, HA7 2QX
Meeting Start: 7:45pm
Meeting Finish: 10:30pm

What is Toastmasters?

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills.  If you'd like to join a Toastmasters group or are thinking of doing so feel free to write to me at any of my personal links to the right, alternatively you can contact Toastmasters directly and I've also provided their link in this paragraph.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Car Drifting Day with Drift Limits at Bovingdon Airfield

I recently attended a car drifting instruction day with a firm called Drift Limits at Bovingdon Airfield. The term 'drifting' was a new one to me and I thought it may be to others as well, so this post was written as both a basic backgrounder to the activity and a review of my day.

What is Drifting?


Drifting is a funny word as for me it conjurs up a gentle, pleasant, 'drifty' experience. In actuality, anyone who's ever lost control of the rear end of their car in a skid has drifted - and it's not normally a pleasant experience unless you happen to be Stirling Moss.

Drifting is a term that's been coined for the motorsport world where the driver intentionally loses traction of the rear wheels whilst still managing to control the car around bends and so on. These days drifting is a fully fledged sport in about the same way that dressage is to equine sports, in my opinion.

In drifting competitions it's not how fast you go around the track or about finishing first; instead points are awarded for the amount of smoke coming from the wheels, the angle of the front wheels compared to the back wheels during a slide and synchronising drifts with other cars. It's all quite showy, (see third video below) and rightly so as it's much more entertaining to watch a car hurtling around sideways with smoke bellowing from the wheels than in a straight line. It's also quite 'balletic' when you watch some of the synchronisations come together.

Drifting to that standard is pie in the sky for me - for now at least; as it was for most of the punters who were with me and my friend on Sunday. On the menu for us was instruction in performing Handbrake Turns, J-Turns, Donuts, Linking Turns and there were hot-laps around the track afterwards for those that wanted them.

Here are the photos taken by the resident photographer on the day. In the end there were too many photos to load onto Flickr so I decided to make a showreel instead and took the liberty of borrowing some music from the Kings of Leon to make it a bit more interesting. :-)



Drifting Instruction at Bovingdon

I personally feel it would've been better to have had video footage as you don't really get any real feel for the (superb ha-ha) driving from these stills. Apart from the odd puff of smoke from the wheels you wouldn't really know I was drifting. The hosts said they were working on getting the video sorted out.

The Day's Drifting Itinerary

 

First of all there was an introduction and we filled out our disclaimers then we were split into two groups and my group went off to do Handbrake Turns.

Handbrake Turns


Most of us are already familiar with what these look like from movies like the Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood do a neat handbrake turn to park their police car outside their old bandmates restaurant, (brilliant scene!). We did them around a cone. First we drove up to the cone at 25mph in first gear and when we reached it we would simultaneously apply handbrake, drop the cluch and lock the steering wheel at 180 degrees and end up facing the other direction on the other side of the cone. It sounds really easy but it was probably the hardest part of the day for me.

J-Turns


J-Turns are when you start off by reversing quickly and whip the car round 180 degrees and take off on the same trajectory but facing it head on. They were done by building up speed to 6000 revs in reverse (this is bloody quick) and when 6000 revs has been reached, dip the clutch and lock the steering wheel at 180 degrees which makes the car spin around. When you've mastered that you learn to apply the footbrake at the last moment to stop the drift and take off in first gear, all preferably in one smooth movement. These were the best part of the day for me as I got the hang of them straight away and they also look great.

Doughnuts


These were done around a small group of cones and the idea was to drive around them with the car as sideways as possible, (there's a lovely Doughnut in the promo video below). The idea is to put a 'hole' in your Doughnut, i.e. not just keep the front wheels still while the back of the car draws circles, that's easy. Instead you apply just enough throttle to lose traction in the rear wheels, start a slide and correct as you go around - quite tricky.

Linking Turns


This is when you're navigating turns at different angles, sideways - and doing it all as smoothly as possible using just the throttle and oversteer. That's the theory anyway, the reality is there's a lot of steering correction to be done but I managed to get the car satisfyingly sideways. :-)

The cars we were driving were Mazda MX-5s - like all drifting cars they're rear wheel drive and have a nicely balanced weight ratio from the front to the back of the car to make drifting easier.

Drifting Schools


Learning how to control a car in a slide isn't a necessary skill to pass your driving test in the UK but it's par for the course in the more northerly countries where they have to deal with icy road conditions routinely. This probably goes some way to explaining why there are so many of these Nationals acting as instructors at the different drifting firms that've sprung up around the UK. If you're subscribed to Groupon or any of the other voucher sites you've probably seen these firms advertising 'drifting experiences'; which is initially how I came to hear about this firm 'Drift Limits' of http://www.driftlimits.co.uk.

Here is their short promotional video which gives you a much better idea of what drifting really looks like in action.




Drift Limits Promo Video

And this is what a drifting competition looks like, (with some nice footage from inside the car too). I found this video on Vimeo - I would love to be able to drive to this standard.



Drifting Competition Footage

Drift Limits Review


Like the other firms in their niche Drift Limits offer beginners drifting events and appear to be comprised of a group of good natured young lads who're trying to make a living from their hobby.

Bovingdon Airfield is used for a number of ventures these days, (since it ceased operating as a proper airfield): apart from the occasional light aircraft there's a market each Saturday, (a bit naff apparently) and there was an under 16's driving day going on elsewhere on the site while we were there.

The Drift Limits facility is run from a couple of Portakabins which may or may not be used for other things on other days, I don't know. I do know however that there's not a female amongst them as there is no electricity to boil a kettle, "too expensive", the refreshments, (a source of much amusement to my friend Liz) were a packet of Digestive biscuits, a family bag of Hula-Hoops, some Ribena and a big bottle of water. Budgets didn't run to a kettle but with stereo-typical male logic in force, a whole room of one Portakabin was devoted to housing a full sized pool table and nothing else. I say all this in a friendly way however as these little quirks were more charming than anything; I politely suggest they might like to pay a bit more attention to these things as they grow their business - and the loo facilities!

For most of us these experiences are a fun day out with the advantage that we might learn to control a sliding car a bit better in future; for me it's that plus I've decided to pursue it as a bit of hobby, as such I've tested out the drifting facilities at Brands Hatch (currently run by Allstars) and I'm off to Santa Pod in a few weeks to sample theirs. In my opinion Bovingdon scores over Brands driving-wise as there's more space to do more manoeuvres, (the Brands Hatch drifting school operates out of a couple of converted parking lots, albeit large ones).

To sum up my experience with Drift Limits: the instruction was good, the driving time in the cars was good too with not too much waiting around and the staff were friendly. All in all, an amazingly fun day, lovely staff, great value and I'll definitely go again.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

What's the best source for Famous Quotes?

"I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself." Marlene Dietrich

I love quotes and the reason I do is perfectly summed up by Marlene Dietrich above. 

Searching for Quotes


I spend a lot of time hunting around for quotes to help express something I’m trying to write about so I’m relatively familiar with what the web has to offer in this regard and I like to think I know some of the best resources out there; so I thought I'd write this post for anyone else who likes to use quotes for their blogpost or article.

My favourite website for quotations is probably not one you’d immediately think of - and it didn’t occur to me when I first stumbled upon it. You see a year or so ago I joined the Goodreads website (if you decide to join please do hook-up with me), which is best known as a great resource for book reviews and networking with other book readers. What you may not know is Goodreads is one of the best portals on the web for finding quotes by famous people and it’s compiled by the users of the Goodreads site – anyone can add a quote and there are thousands of them.

 

Finding the Perfect Quote


What makes it so easy to use is the way all the quotes are tagged by author and subject matter and accessible via a search engine; it’s a handy tool for anyone who writes content that they share with others: bloggers, journalists and authors who need quick access to a repository of suitable quotes for their work. To show you how easy it is to navigate here are a few images:


The Quotations landing page at Goodreads.

Some of the many tags for quotes

You don’t have to be a member to access any of the content of the website but if you subscribe (which is free) you get access to a bunch of nice features such as their Quote of the Day which gets emailed to your inbox.

 

Some of my Favourite Quotes


I couldn’t write a blog-post about quotations without including some of my own favourite ones now could I?! So here goes:

"Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better." ~ Jim Rohn

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." ~ Oscar Wilde

"I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right." ~ Albert Einstein

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." ~ Margaret Thatcher

"I see men, sixty, seventy years old breaking their balls to stay fit! What for? When I die, I want to be sick, not healthy." ~ Daryl van Horne (Jack Nicholson) in The Witches of Eastwick

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." ~ Albert Einstein

"When you know what you want, and you want it bad enough, you'll find a way to get it." ~ Jim Rohn

"It never hurts for potential opponents to think you’re more than a little stupid and can hardly count all the money in your hip pocket, much less hold on to it." ~ Amarillo Slim

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right." ~ Henry Ford

"Belief is the death of intelligence." ~ Robert Anton Wilson

"Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose." ~ Ayrton Senna

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." ~ Norman Vincent Peale

"I spent all my money on women, drink and fast cars and wasted the rest." ~ George Best

"Not a shred of evidence exists in favour of the idea life is serious." ~ Brendan Gill

"Success without honour is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." ~ Joe Paterno

I hope you liked some of those. What are your favourite quotations? Do you have any favourite websites for finding new quotes? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

My 60 Second Interview

I was recently impressed with a new development on one of my favourite professional networking sites. They'd added a section entitled 60 Second Interview, with set questions which you've to answer as instictively and quickly as possible; (I'm a slow typer so it took me a bit longer than 60 seconds but my answers were the ones that came to mind straight away).

Before I get into why I think this is an interesting thing, here are my answers:

What was your first job? 

I worked as a Sales Assistant in a chemist called Belsize Pharmacy in Belsize Park, North West London, it's gone now and the last time I looked it was a branch of Boots.

Who's influenced your career most (and why)? 

I won't name names but anyone who knows me relatively well won't have a hard time figuring out who the individual is. The answer is one particular CEO who's grown a small firm into a medium sized global business through his single-mindedness, raw energy and focus. He might not be the easiest person to work for at times but he gets great performances out of people purely because he demands them and they in turn rise to the challenge. He's solely responsible for creating a culture of hard-work and uncompromising results which everyone subscribes to in his company.

What's the best piece of advice you could give someone? 

Be accountable. Try and foster the attitude that 'the buck stops here' regardless of whether you like 'the buck' or not. There's no point blaming other people or thinking you can't do something; really embrace that in your life, even when it seems like a tough thing to do and you'll give yourself the best chance at getting what you want out of life.

And surround yourself with positive people, work hard, have fun, finish what you start, take care of your health.

What's the skill you'd most like to have? 

I'd love to be a great, natural orator like Bill Clinton who can ad-lib his way through his speeches with apparent ease!

What's on your desk? 

My laptop, a phone... and I think that's it, not very interesting I'm afraid.

What's your favourite holiday destination? 

I love England for our history, but for beaches and turquoise sea, the Bahamas any day!

What car do you drive? 

Right now I have a Mini Cooper SD, in Alpine White (which is more ivory than white), with black roof, door mirrors and the classic stripes on the bonnet. She's (I call all my cars 'she') got great acceleration and the fuel consumption isn't too bad (but I still pine for a Lotus Esprit Sport 350 in white).

What are you passionate about? 

This could be a long list but it's probably summed up best as: live the best life that you can, make the most of yourself and your opportunities, work hard, have fun, value other people, spend your money, buy nice things, earn more money, be in control of your life.

Who's your business or personal hero/heroine? 

In terms of business, probably Jim Rohn though there are others; I believe Covey had a lot of good things to say, Will Smith for his positive outlook and work ethic.

What would be your perfect day away form work? 

Well I'd have my Lotus Esprit Sport 350 parked outside, it'd be a sunny day, perfect driving weather! Off to the countryside with a close friend, the speed cameras have taken the day off, long walk, pub lunch, scintillating conversation, a few drinks and in the evening a meal in a nice restaurant with friends to round it all off.

What's your greatest business achievement? 

Together with three others I founded a City sales team in one of my old companies where we were entering a difficult market with no track-record, no clients and strong competition. Within a year, through lots of hard work, judicious networking and leveraging everything humanly possible we'd built a £20m business, displaced numerous incumbents and won some of the most prestigious clients in the City.

What's your greatest personal achievement? 

Fun wise I reckon it has to be winning fastest lap time at a track day at Brands Hatch up against an all male contingent, haha :-) A more serious answer would be I think I've done pretty well despite having not had much of an education - but for all that, it's only really about what comes next, I'm more interested in what I'm going to do tomorrow and the day after that.

What's your favourite gadget? 

I'm not a gadget person and have never owned an 'I' anything... I may break this trend with the new IPhone V however. :-)

What's your favourite quote or motto? 

"Don't wish it was easier. Wish you were better." Jim Rohn

What's the best/worst quality in a leader? 

Well for me personally I need to work for someone who's competent, has a work ethic that I admire and good man-managment skills that inspire me to do my best work.

What would you choose as your last meal? 

I know this is a favourite question but food wouldn't really be on my mind at that moment!

What was the worst piece of advice you've been given? 

"Be sensible, you can do that another time."

The circumstances were that it was a risky but potentially very profitable thing I was contemplating doing. I didn't take the advice and it did pay off but even if it hadn't I wouldn't regret the decision I made.

What was your best meeting ever (and why)? 

Prior to an important meeting regarding a key piece of business with a key influencer, I'd predicted that despite my company being able to deliver real business value to the end-client, this person would actively try to make my company lose as relations were strained between our organisations at that time. Plus he had the authority and power to do just that. However my hunch was that he wouldn't want to be seen as overt about this so this meeting was all about neutralising that threat, which my CEO and I did. The 'how' part doesn't matter but a while later, after relations had been restored and the end customer was happy, the person in question volunteered to me that he had considered blocking our bid.

What's your favourite pastime/relaxation activity? 

Being with close friends, the activity is secondary.

What's your favourite music/musician?

Michael Jackson :-)

What's your all time favourite book (and why)? 

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, one of the few books I'm happy to read again and again. It's beautifully written, well drawn characters, evocative images, trials and tribulations, history - it's got it all.

What's the thing you hate the most? 

That's easy; losing.

What did you want to be as a child? 

A make-up artist or a vet!

What can't you live without? 

My lap-top!

Name one person you'd like to have dinner with (and why)? 

Bill Clinton - to see what's behind all that natural charisma and eloquence!

Tell us about a turning point in your career 

I suppose the moment I realised I wanted to be a sales-person for a living; for me that happened when I was young and in my first job - not exactly a turning point in my career as you can hardly call working in a chemist a career, but it was a pivotal moment nonetheless.

What was your worst job? 

I stacked shelves in a supermarket as a part time job when I was at school; and the worst part of that job was putting the milk on the shelves as some of the cartons always leaked a bit. It was always a very smelly, messy job that everyone disliked doing.

What's in your briefcase/handbag? 

I'm a girl and I like to be prepared, so suffice to say that my handbag is a mysterious place that no man and only another female would understand. :-)

What's the best thing about your job? 

Being able to believe in what I sell. I like working for a company that delivers on its' promises and has something a little bit different than everyone else out there. I work in a competitive market, over saturated with not much to tell between all the different firms so it's good to know you can differentiate yourselves from your competitors.

If you weren't in your current role, what would you be doing? 

It wouldn't be much different to what I'm doing; I'm a career B2B sales professional now and that's all I want to do; who I do it for is the only thing that would change.

What was your worst mistake (and what did you learn)? 

Not studying hard enough at school. I have plenty of reasons why I didn't, attending seven secondary schools was one but I would've loved to go to University.

What's the question you'd most like to have been asked (and why)? 

What are you most afraid of? The 'why' part is that I think it's potentially quite revealing and I'd like to know other people's answers.

My answer would be 'fear itself', only because I've learned time and time again that your mind has an unlimited capacity for negative imaginings which when put to the test are seldom borne out in reality.

My Thoughts

That was the interview and it was courtesy of the Profiled.com website which pitches itself as the "portal to bring your entire professional internet presence together in one place" (you can check mine out here). What I think professional networking sites and the like sometimes lack is a personal touch, and this interview invites a response which seeks opinion, fears, potential prejudices, pride - you name it; in short the emotional content, character and personality so often lacking in other professional portals. I think they've done a great job and hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

My Ice-Breaker Speech Video at Toastmasters Stanmore/Harrow

I'm finally getting around to posting the video of my first Toastmasters speech, 'The Ice-Breaker'!

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.The Ice-Breaker speech, as it is called, is the first proper speech that every 'would be' Toastmaster gives at any Toastmasters group in the world. It is known as The Ice-Breaker as its' purpose is to get you started at public speaking by literally 'breaking the ice' by talking about yourself.

What you decide to say about yourself is entirely up to you, you decide on the content and give your speech your own personalised title. For the title of my Ice-Breaker speech, (which you don't hear because it was announced before the video started), I chose "It's not about the Destination, it's about the Journey" because it's basically about how I came to be a salesperson and how I came to have poker as a hobby - and how both of those things started off in interesting and non-related ways! I delivered it at our meeting just before Christmas, 2011.

This was an unplanned video clip which was taken by my friend on her iPhone so I want to apologise for the quality in advance! But despite the quality I thought it would be quite nice to be able to share an audiovisual record of my first 'Ice Breaker' speech with any 'would be' Toastmasters out there and/or those wanting to know what goes on in a Toastmasters Group.

My Toastmasters group is in Stanmore, (near Harrow), West London and we usually hold our meetings once or twice a month at a church hall (which is what you can see in the background of the clip). It's a really friendly and supportive group with plenty of speaking slots so if you're looking for a group in London then please feel free to contact me and I'll put you in touch with the organisers.

NB: For those who might be a bit mystified as to what the word 'Ubquitous' is doing in the frame all the time when you see the video, the reason for that is that for fun, we have a competition at each meeting whereby you get extra points for incorparating that meetings' chosen word into your speech, (a task which I failed at miserably on this occasion)! So here's the video.



The following is an excerpt from the Toastmasters Manual for The Ice-Breaker Speech which is intended to be a guide as to how to prepare:

"Executive Summary: For your first speech project, you will introduce yourself to your fellow club members and give them some information about your background, interests and ambitions.

Practice giving your speech to friends or family members, and strive to make eye contact with some of your audience. You may use notes during your speech if you wish. Read the entire project before preparing your talk.

Objectives:

1. To begin speaking before an audience.
2. To discover speaking skills you already have and skills that need some attention.

Time: Four to six minutes"

In another post in this blog I talk more about the Toastmasters manual and other supporting documentation they give you to assist you get the most out of the 'Toastmasters experience'.

So how did I do? Well I didn't rehearse properly which was a mistake and as a consequence I was worried about going over my alloted time (a big no-no!) so I went a bit too quickly; but the group liked my speech and I came 3rd out of the evening's speeches which isn't too shabby for my first one.

My experience so far with Toastmasters has been a positive one; initially the idea was to get a bit more proficient at public speaking and get rid of the proverbial butterflies but there have been some unexpected bonuses too, most notably the social side of things with my group holding competitions, Summer BBQ's etc.

I'm finding it challenging which is a good thing and there are some areas that I know I really need to improve upon such as the Table Topics which are short unprepared speeches which you have to give literally on the spur of the moment; I've found it's one thing to deliver a prepared speech but quite another to deliver one that you've had no time at all to think about!

It's also quite formal in many ways, for example with the way you're supposed to start and end speeches with "Mr Toastmaster, ladies and gentleman, welcome guests" which culturally feels a bit strange to me but I hope I can adapt and water down the formality without anyone noticing or being offended because that just isn't me!

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you'd like to or if you want to send me a private message you can do so via Facebook.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Fish Rots from the Head Down

This is another excellent post courtesy of S. Anthony Iannarino which you can read on Anthony's blog - which is well worth a visit.

A Fish Rots from the Head Down

I was fortunate enough to attend Harvard Business School for my executive education. The class that I was part of was made up of entrepreneurs from around the world. An Indian gentleman repeatedly made this statement “A fish rots from the head down.” I had never heard the saying, and I honestly had no idea what he meant. He said it so often that I cringed when I heard the words come out of his mouth. It was his answer for literally everything.

Now I know exactly what he meant and why he used the statement as frequently as he did. The statement “a fish rots from the head down” means that leadership is the root cause of an organizations failure and demise. This is true whether that organization is a country, a company, or a sales force. How could it be otherwise?

You Are Responsible for What’s Broken

If the culture is broken, only leadership can fix it. If leadership doesn’t establish and protect a healthy culture, some unhealthy culture will fill that vacuum. If the leadership culture itself is unhealthy, there begins the rot, and soon the fish is lost. If a pocket of negativity and cynicism exists, it’s because leadership hasn’t cut it out of the organization—especially when the pocket of negativity comes from the leadership ranks.

If the strategy or direction is broken, only leadership has the power to decide and to change it. The decision as to who the company is and how it will compete and win belongs to leadership. If the vision is wrong, it is leadership’s vision. Leadership chooses where and how to compete. If that’s wrong, leadership has to do something to change it.

If the organization doesn’t execute, leadership that is responsible for that failure. Only leadership can demand and ensure that the organization does the work, that it keeps its promises. Leadership sets and keeps the standards.

If a company is failing because they have the wrong people in place, it’s leadership that allows the wrong people stay. It’s leadership that can demand that the right people be hired and retained, and that those who damage the company’s results quickly find their way out of the organization.

This list is endless. It is why leadership is critical at all levels of an organization.

To keep the fish from rotting, the head has to be smart enough to look at what is doing—or not doing—and make the necessary changes there first. Regardless of what the changes may be, and regardless of the pain that accompanies those changes. Only leadership has the power to make those changes, even if they need the support of their entire team to execute them.

It’s the only way to keep the fish from rotting.

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I hope you enjoyed this article and I'd be delighted if you'd leave a comment. If you're a business networker and would like to connect on one business networking sites outside of LinkedIn, I'm interested in invitations to connect on About.me.

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