Great Teaching Is Not About The Subject.

Last week, one of my most influential teachers died. Mrs Mason was my Year Eight form tutor. I’d been in regular contact with her and her son for many years, calling her Pat far longer than the few years for which she was Mrs Mason. But it was as Mrs Mason she gave me a definitive example of how – and why – to be a real teacher. 

Mrs Mason once told my mother the reason she liked having Year Eight classes was “That’s when they realise life isn’t fair.” Yet, with Mrs Mason as my form tutor, it was. A benign, sensible power greater than myself was on my side in everything I did. I knew it wouldn’t let me get away with laziness or murder, but I also knew I was seen: recognised and supported for who I was. Like everyone who understands the practical applications of kindness, Mrs Mason created though her own behaviour the world she believed should be, making it a reality as far as her power stretched. 

Years later, during my LAMDA Exams teaching diploma, the senior colleague observing my lesson commented I treated pupils “with respect”, recognised their individuality and spoke to that. Mrs Mason is the reason it would never occur to me to do anything else. Respect for my individuality was a given. She recognised how my dyspraxia affected my coordination and socialisation, and how consistency, respect and empathy created a solid ground beneath me, letting me be, and explore, my full self. That is what I try to offer every person I work with now.

The best bit? Mrs Mason taught my worst subject. Maths was never something I was talented or interested enough in to excel, which is why her taking the trouble to consider how I thought and who I was, helping me become myself on my own terms, made her such an important ally and example. I got the C I needed in GCSE Maths, moved on with my own interests, but most of all I learned from Mrs Mason that our greatest and most significant connections won’t just be those with the same experiences, abilities, talents or tastes. If they were, perhaps we wouldn’t need them so much.

Hineini and Hello! Writing and Speaking June 2021

Every part of my job – writing, speaking, acting – is about connecting with an audience. Sometimes that’s through the page, sometimes it’s in one-to-one coaching or group workshops, other times it’s a large room of total strangers. That’s one of the reasons for the word I wear around my neck. 
Hineini literally translates as ‘here I am’, or ‘I am here’, less literally as ‘bring it on’. It turns up when characters are invited out of their comfort zone. For me, it’s a reminder of the key to a successful audience relationship. Focus on your objective of connection and communication, not on your worries about how you’re coming across, and welcome the audience into your space. That’s what being ‘in the moment’ is all about, whether you’re on a stage, podium, or the end of a phone. A good performer or presenter is a ‘present’ one. 
The idea of Hineini featured in my Limmud North America workshop on 13 June – but even more so in my preparation for it! The session was based on my series The E.I. of Sci-fi (Starburst Magazine, Episode 5 dropping 9 July). I was presenting Jewish Ethics in Science Fiction, ideas that conceived the series. But I was still out of my comfort zone. It was my first Limmud session, and I’d watched others I admire do it wonderfully over the decades! It took a lot of reminding myself to move away from comparing myself and share what I prepared, thought and loved. That authenticity was reciprocated: even over Zoom, you see your story resonate in people’s smiles. Several even asked for a reading list at the end – a big compliment to a speaker! But even then, my brain harnessed what ifs: would they be disappointed it was mostly internet links, that there weren’t books out there doing what I was doing? So when I emailed the list I thanked them for making me realise just that – as now I plan to write one!  
Your audience doesn’t want perfect. Your audience wants you. Impostor syndrome is entirely natural – and is a better alternative to overconfidence, which can mean forgetting the audience is the reason you’re up there in the first place.  Hineini is a reminder we can’t control or predict what anyone else might think. What we can do is share our stories authentically. 
This month in Writing
It’s nearly a month since the launch of my debut short story collection Beyond Glass, which includes my prize-winning 2016 story Wolf in the Mirror. You can order from your local bookshop, or directly from the publisher. If you enjoy it, I’d be thrilled if you’d post a review on Amazon! You can also catch me this month in the current issue of The Dark Side magazine, talking about how I upped my game as a writer through engaging with horror, and in Jewish Renaissance talking more about how Jewish stories and ethics influence my writing, coaching and presenting. 

This month in Coaching
1:1 writing/life coaching continues over the summer (although LAMDA Exams and 11+/GCSE English and Drama take a break for school holidays).
On Saturdays from 3 July, I’m running a new memoir and fiction course,  Write From Life. Explore techniques for turning the everyday – and the extraordinary – into strong, unique material. Everyone who writes or wants to write is very welcome. Book here!
Communication and performance are the world’s most transferable skills. There’s no job or conversation where they don’t apply. If you’d like to develop your voice, on the page or out loud, I’d love to hear from you. 

Passive Voices, Thinner Skins: Our Language, Power and Personal Safety

“The ball was kicked by me” takes longer to say (or write, or think) than “I kicked the ball”. In straightforward grammatical terms, that’s why the passive voice gives us such a “bad deal”: it takes up more space, and gives far less pay-off in terms of information, meaning and mood. 

But here’s the other reason to watch out for the passive voice: it makes a subject into an object. Not much harm done when I’m kicking a ball but a whole other level of problematic when we’re talking about “violence against women”. Philippa Perry’s recent tweet drew my attention to Dr Jackson Katz’s TED Talk:

‘We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women… Even the term violence against women is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There’s no active agent in the sentence… It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but nobody is doing it to them. It just happens.’

Changing your use of language from passive to active won’t bring back Sarah Everard, or alter the reality for those of us who survived our assaults and even secured convictions (#metoo, along with pretty much every other woman you’ve interacted with today) that we calculate even the shortest journey weighing safely – our lives – against the expense of cabs, but it will matter. It will be an active step towards a society that doesn’t blame the “bad decisions” of the victim but the bad decisions of the perpetrator. 

Societal changes are thoughts and feelings before they are choices and policies. We need to imagine, and model, the behaviour we want to see. I was reminded of this by Andria Vidler’s wonderful talk for Olympic Studios this morning, that success in any industry is not about getting a “thicker skin” in terms of accepting you will be bullied, but in focusing on the objective, not the objectification: the changes you want to make. Here’s a recent tweet from financial journalist Nina Flitman after the news of Sarah Everard’s death hit the news:

‘About six months ago, I noted to a friend that I was sad that I couldn’t run after work anymore because the clocks changing meant it would be dark. He asked: “why can’t you run in the dark? Are you scared of the boogeyman.” No. I am scared of this.”

So please, please, litter-pick your prose. Whether telling me you kicked that ball or you walked that friend to her door, remember that language shapes thoughts, and thoughts shape choices. Each of us has agency. We are the subject, not the object. We are not all part of the problem but we can all be part of the solution. Use your active voice:

  1. Please read the article below.
  2. Please accept we are living on the same planet but in different worlds.
  3. Please ask for, accept and offer help and support.

#notallmenbutallwomen #saraheverard #allwomen #bethechange #languageispower #activevoice #communication #performance #communicationcoach #writingcoach #publicspeaking #publicspeakingcoach #eloquence

Playing and Learning: An Adult’s Guide!

Last Saturday felt suspiciously like spring. I didn’t know whether it would stay that season or revert to winter; I did know I’d just handed in my first full collection of short stories to my publisher and this felt like a wonderful time for the universe to reward me with the weather – and for me to reward myself with the time – for a really good walk. You probably know that delicious feeling, being without immediate goals or deadlines having just met them, pretty much the emotional equivalent of a spring day. Then, on the way home, we passed the local tennis club. As often as I’ve walked that road without observing the sign, this was the first time I was really hit by its slogan: 

Play. Learn. Compete.

That little catchphrase followed me home, and has continued to follow me all the rest of this week. In many ways, I couldn’t agree more: certainly with the solid educational reasons why play comes first, no matter what we’re learning. Playing ­– or in other words, getting to know what you enjoy and exploring at your own, enjoyable pace – means the more formalised practise that follows will be based on authentic interest and engagement. Solid ground for exploration of your ability, pushing your boundaries healthily, as you continue to grow and progress.

I’m not a tennis player. I’m a writer, presenter and communication and performance coach. But my job is the same whether my clients are creative or corporate industry professionals improving their writing and speaking, or children and teenagers taking Eleven Plus or GCSE/A Level English, Drama or LAMDA Exams: in writing and speaking, from exam room to boardroom, onstage or offstage, it’s a big win for your audience when play comes first. That’s because your goal is authenticity. Your language, gestures and action needs to be as specific as possible to your meaning, to your personality, and to those of the audience you want to reach. That’s why my job is always the same: improving productivity through authenticity. Instilling the confidence, skills and technique for an authentic performance at the podium, on the stage or on the page. 

In your first draft, or first rehearsal, never ever be afraid to play. Be free to make mistakes, to rub things out, to improve them. You’ll get to know what you’re trying to say much better that way than if you hold back. Playing your character well and fully, whether it’s a fictional character in a story or the best, fully present version of yourself in a presentation, is always based on who you truly are. It may not be “warts and all” but it’s truly you. Not putting on a mask to fit in or pass the exam, but an authentic freeing of your powers. Not disguise, but revelation.

Competition is not the adult form of play, or play the child version of competition, even in tennis. The three are stages of a continuous process, not stages of evolution. The only person you’re really in competition with is yourself, and there’s no feeling as great as that spring day when you’ve achieved something that you’ve worked for and that is right for you – be it your choice of school or job, or the affect on the audience of your speech or performance.

Speaking of play, it’s never been more important for #mentalhealth than in Lockdown. When our creative circuitry is so busy with anxiety and “what if” and focusing on the things we can’t control. That’s why I’m offering free weekly “coffee and creativity” sessions for anyone who fancies a chat, a write/draw/paint, then another chat. You can join us any of our #WriteThroughLockdown events at the homepage of I have every reason to hope the community it’s created will be just as strong way #beyondlockdown – and new faces are always welcome. It’s a safe space and time to enjoy your process and build healthy, authentic goals to keep moving forward.

#writethroughlockdown #coffeeandcreativity #virtualcafe #virtualpub #writingcommunity #artistcommunity #creativecommunity #creativeandconnected #onlyconnect #writersandartists #writer #presenter #coach #communication #performance

The E.I. of Sci-Fi: Episode 2

Film and literature are granted ultimate freedom of exploration in science fiction, provided as they are with the available backdrop of all of time and space. But for its most discerning fans, physical exploration was always just the beginning of the journey. Be it ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ or ‘ET phone home’, humanity’s potential is only ever as strong as the personal exploration that takes place along the way.

My new series celebrating the lessons in Emotional Intelligence we didn’t notice ourselves learning, and links the stories (science, science-fiction and religious/mythological alike) that had the same philosophical and ethical ends in mind.

The E.I. of Sci-fi: Episode 1 (Starburst Magazine)

Brought up as I was on Judaism and Star Trek, I’m delighted to be exploring The Emotional Intelligence of Science Fiction for Starburst Magazine. This first episode begins with Tikun Olam: our duty of care to, and appreciation of, the world we have.