Sunday, 26 October 2014

Learning A New Language: Why Not?

Learning is free and unlimited. Whether it's language or a musical instrument or a new skill such as drawing, there is nothing people can't teach themselves if they take a bit of time or effort.  It opens up many doors and exercises the mind in new and enriching ways.

 Learning a new language is of the most instantly rewarding things a person can do. Speaking to someone in their own language, even if at the most basic, will often elicit a very appreciative response. Take a look at Mark Zuckerberg surprising a Chinese audience.

They are amazed and appreciative that he is making an effort at speaking in their own language. His pronunciation is off and it's not perfect but that point is he is speaking Mandarin. For the people in the audience, it just may be one of the very few times that they've heard a foreigner speaking their language beyond a few basic phrases such as "How are you?".

Why Learn A Language?

The question should rather be "Why not?".   It's as simple as buying a phrasebook with some basic grammar lessons or even looking at videos online.  You can go to YouTube and type in a simple search such as 'Learn German' or 'Learn Mandarin'.

A very useful tool is Google Translate, where you can type in any phrase and then see AND hear how it sounds in another language.  You can see how it works here:


Language is communication and communicating with others is still very important in today's modern age, whether electronically of face-to-face.  Just as courtesy is important in written form such as texting or emailing, it is also very important verbally.

Learning a language is a very high form of courtesy.  It means that you don't expect everyone to simply speak English whether you are travelling somewhere or receiving visitors.

Mark Zuckerberg's audience were well-versed in English and he simply could have spoken in English but he went a very huge step beyond that in speaking Mandarin.

Look at Kobe Bryant.  He's a 5-time NBA champion and one of the best basketball players of all time but he still is game at learning and speaking some Spanish.

In the interview, Kobe mentions that he already speaks Italian and so Spanish is a bit easier to learn because they are very similar.  It still looks very impressive that he can do more than just shoot a basketball!

Of course, you don't have to learn a language 100% fluently.  If you wish, you learn a smattering of a few languages or basic phrases of many languages.  I remember meeting and speaking with a mother and daughter at an event.  The mother herself was speaking a foreign language and the daughter was translating.  I asked the daughter what language her mother was speaking and she said Norwegian.  

I knew a couple of phrases and said, "God dag. Hvorden gar det?".  The reaction was literally priceless.  When I was complimented on my Norwegian and the fact that I could say a greeting, I simply said the other phrase I knew, "Tusen takk" (thank you).  Now I have a place to stay if I should ever visit Olso!

Knowing another language, however little, breaks down so many barriers.  Get learning!

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Monday, 23 June 2014

Public Speaking - A Lot Easier Than You Think!

It's a well-known theory that people consider public speaking to be their number one fear.  Death is often listed as the second-ranked fear, leading to Jerry Seinfeld's observation that people at a funeral home would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy!

That being said, public speaking is really nothing to be feared.  Unless people have paid $100 to hear you speak or if you're making a speech that will seal a $10 million deal or bring peace between nations, you have little reason to fear any public speaking opportunity that you are offered.

Remember, all talking is public!  If you are conversing with your spouse or family, telling a story by the watercooler or talking about your latest trip with friends at a restaurant, you are engaged in public speaking.  They want to hear what you have to say.

I have had a few experiences with public speaking and several occasions might be defined as a bit more intense than normal.

Recently I shared the stage with Mark Saunders, Toronto's Chief of Police at a fundraising event for the Special Olympics.  The event took place at Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto in front of an audience of several hundred people.

It could have been nerve-wracking introducing the head of law-enforcement for a big city in front of a large crowd but I found it best to realize that the focus was on Chief Saunders.  The fact that he's extremely popular and a very nice person made my job much easier.  Always accentuate the positive.

This is a speech I gave at the Chinese Consulate with a few Chinese diplomats in the audience, including the Consul-General.

This is a speech at a Special Olympics Banquet where there were about 300 people in the audience and 10 dignitaries behind me, including local politicians and the Chief of Police!

There have been many books and articles about public speaking, but here are my personal tips and observations based on the previously mentioned speeches along with others..

1) You Won't Be Perfect But Who Cares?

Just about everyone stumbles during a speech or hesitates or temporarily loses a train of thought for a moment.  Unless you're delivering a prepared speech off of a teleprompter that you've already done 100 times, you will  have the occasional hiccup.  Look at President Obama during a press conference as opposed to a prepared speech.  There is a difference in smoothness!

2) You Are Not Singing Or Performing A Piano Recital

You can be off-key when you're singing but not when you're talking.  If you speak in your natural voice, you will be fine.  Nobody will say "Good speech but his voice was off.".   There are those who have extremely rich voices and those who have been coached for many years but they are usually professional speakers.

A piano recital requires that every note be perfect.  A speech can have a few missed notes but they won't be noticed if the message is clear.

3) The Audience Is On YOUR Side

Chances are that you won't be at a comedy club where people are waiting to heckle you.  The audience is there to learn something and perhaps pick up an interesting tidbit or two.  Most everyone has a fear of public speaking so they will wish you the best because they've either given speeches themselves or might do so in the future.

4) Your Speech Will Likely Not Be Remembered

We've all heard hundreds or thousands of speeches and presentations in our life.  How many do you recall that really stood out?  I'm pretty sure that my speech at the Chinese Consulate didn't have a huge impact on our relations with China.

Our nervous energy before a speech is likely the brain making things out to be a lot more earth-shattering than they actually are.  Unless you spontaneously combust on stage or shout "Fire!", people will likely remember the message more than your delivery.

5) People Will Be Looking At You, Not Staring At You

Everyone will be looking at you but better that than looking at the floor or behind them.  Keep in mind that they probably will be daydreaming for a portion of your speech.  Attention spans aren't long and minds will wander.  Don't worry about it.  Unless you're someone like Anthony Robbins, it's a fact of life!

If you are using visual aids such as a Powerpoint presentation, that makes it all the better as the focus will be off of you for a while.

Remember, it's normal to be a bit nervous before a speech.  Use that energy.  Focus on the message and you'll find that the audience will react positively.  This is your moment to shine.  Use it and have fun!

As Dale Carnegie said, "“There is only one excuse for a speaker's asking the attention of his audience: he must have either truth or entertainment for them.” 

Audiences come in all shapes and sizes!

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Monday, 3 February 2014

As Russell Wilson Learned, "Why Not You?"

"Why not you?"

 Russell Wilson, as starting quarterback, led the Seattle Seahawks to a convincing 43-8 over the Denver Broncos. The Broncos were led by Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and leader of the number one offence in the NFL.  At the end of July 2015, he signed a 4-year extension making him the second highest-paid quarterback in the NFL - ahead of stars such as Tom Brady, Tony Romo and other star QB's.

On November 13, he led the Seattle Seahawks to a thrilling victory over the New England Patriots, showing that his team is still a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.

His story is remarkable given that he was not a top pick and he did not have the physical size that people associate with a modern-day top quarterback.  It was simply "Why not me?".

 Wilson had a lot of things going against him. He's only 5'11, which is much shorter than average for a quarterback. He was chosen 75th overall in the draft in a year where the spotlight was on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin the 3rd. He was taken in the 3rd round, meaning that every team (including Seattle) passed him over twice.  He was then chosen by Seattle which is a city not in the media spotlight like New York or Dallas. In the Super Bowl game itself, he went up against Peyton Manning and the question was mostly "How many points will the the Broncos win by?" and "How will a second Championship Ring cement Manning's career?".   Peyton had many years of experience while Wilson was only playing in his second year.

What happened? Wilson took the question "Why not you?", which his father often asked him, to heart and won the game. His team won it in convincing fashion in front of a world-wide television audience where the pressure must have been enormous.  It would have been easy for him to lose and simply say, "It's only my second year.  I have lots of time to win the big game in the future."

 Yet, he won.  He was young and not very experienced and going up against a decorated veteran in Peyton Manning.  Still, he recalled his father's words "Why not you?".

You can ask that same question in the mirror - "Why not you?" Success in life isn't about where you start but rather where you finish.  Russell Wilson had a lot going against him and still he succeeded.

 Many successful people started with only a dream and their own drive to succeed. They asked "Why not me?" and answered the question.

If you have a dream or a goal, then look in the mirror and say "Why not you?". Take the time and read about successful individuals. They likely started out with the same things as you but worked hard to achieve their success. You may never win a Super Bowl title like Russell Wilson but you can certainly reach your own goals, no matter how far off they may seem now.   If they can do it, why not you?

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