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UPDATE – take note!

I’m currently shifting around my website hosting and registration – I will be remaining at upfrontco.com, but the site may be unavailable for a couple of days while the transfer happens.


Talk on!



Valuable lesson: How to make stress your friend

In my talks on communication and public speaking, I commonly address the flight-or-fight response that difficult speaking situations trigger. While I do train people on how to physically manage their distress symptoms (such as shallow breathing, elevated blood pressure, and the like), the way you perceive the stress response matters hugely. As McGonigal points out, if you view your body’s stress response as one of positive, preparatory excitement instead of negative, performance-shattering fear, you can learn how to use stress to your advantage. You achieve this view through practice, observation, and mindfulness. So watch the video, learn, and apply!

Wisdom from Stella Adler

Wisdom from Stella Adler

Stella Adler was speaking about actors. Her words apply to you, too. Actor, speaker, dancer, activist, employee, manager, whatever you are – this is the key to stepping up and letting your voice ring out with power and sincerity.

Argument, flawlessly presented

There are few feats of intelligence as beautiful as a well-composed bit of rhetoric.  Today’s bit of Friday silliness gives such a demonstration, definitively settling an age-old debate.  Enjoy!

Do you have Smartphone tunnel vision?

Oh, smartphones. I have a very, very conflicted relationship with the damn things. On one hand, I recognize their usefulness for the busy professional. If your office is effectively your vehicle – and I know many people for who this holds true – then they can be a godsend. On the other hand, they do nothing to improve productivity for the majority of people, are generally used as convenient devices for obsessive checking of email/social networks/online game apps, and they’ve made people twitchy and compulsively responsive to their every chirp, buzz, or ring. I’m sure many of you have been to meetings where high-level executives spent more time checking their smartphone than actually attending to the agenda or discussion at hand.

For your end-of-the-week-ha-ha, I present to you an old Rick Mercer Report video (I’ve been referring to him a lot lately, no?) highlighting the dangers of our smartphone obsession. It is still freakishly relevant!

Dance on!

Everyone who wants to speak in front of a group should learn how to dance.

You don’t have to learn how to dance well, but you should give it a try. Dancing teaches you how to take an aural expression of emotion (music and sometimes lyrics) and interpret it as a purely physical expression of emotion. You may have heard about Albert Mehrabian’s studies regarding the importance of non-verbal communication in message delivery.* Your physical expression can have a huge impact on the message you are getting across, and learning to dance teaches you how to maximize the power of physical expressiveness.

Dance lessons and exploration can be even more important for people who are shy or naturally guarded with their expressions. When you tend to restrict your movement or control your face when speaking with someone, being required to use only your body to emote can be enormously freeing. Communication breakthroughs happen when you discover how you can demonstrate incredibly specific and powerful thoughts in, for example, the way you raise your arm or move your hand and fingers. It also teaches us to be comfortable with our bodies, aware of how they move and how much control we can exert over them. For someone who is uncomfortable in their own skin, overly concerned about where they put their hands when speaking to an audience, or mistrustful of the signals their expression might send, dance lessons can give permission to explore their expressive bodies in a safe environment.

There is also a marvellous language boost to be had. We’ve all been in situations where you have something you desperately want to communicate, but can’t say out loud. Dance can teach you how to deliver unvoiced messages with a tilt of a head, a shoulder shrug, a glance, or even a subtle change in your posture. Are you in a meeting where you want the committee chair to be aware that you are not in agreement with a point of discussion, but due to office politics or hierarchy you can’t come out and say it directly? Imagine being able to get that point across by slightly shifting your position in your chair and changing the angle at which you hold your head and neck. The effect can be incredible! What’s more, you learn how to be in control of this sort of communication. This means you also learn to control your body enough to prevent you from physically betraying thoughts you would prefer to keep hidden.

I’ve taken classes in several dance forms – ballet, jazz, ballroom, hip-hop – but the one that I’ve stuck with and that has had the greatest impact on me has been belly dance, particularly raqs sharki (classical Egyptian style). I started belly dancing over six years ago as a way to get back into shape, and since then I’ve participated in festivals, been a member of a performing troupe, and have done solo performances at local Greek and Lebanese restaurants. When I started dancing I was hardly thinking of it as a method of improving my communication. Later, when I started coaching interpersonal communications, I was floored at the impact it had on my methods and techniques. When performing belly dance, I was stripped of my verbal skills and had to communicate the message of the music – often sung in languages neither I nor my audience understood (if I did, it was because I found a translation of the lyrics) – through gesture and expression. A hip drop, an arm raise, an arabesque, a longing glance became key communication tools.

It hardly matters what style of dance you try, they’ll all require you to listen to some music and then respond to or interpret it with your body. They’ll all involve emotion and expression. I’ve learned loads from every style I’ve tried out, and I do believe there’s a style out there for everyone. You just need to be willing to explore.

Just like with exercises, you might have already thought up of a hundred excuses why you can’t try dance. Let me address a few of them up front:

I’m not in good enough shape/too old/too uncoordinated/too overweight/don’t have enough rhythm/etc to dance!

  • Dancing will help get you in to shape. It will teach you coordination and improve your rhythm; I say this a a person who broke her arm falling off a couch. Pop into an adult dance class; they don’t require you to be willowy and flexible. People who teach adult dance are incredibly accommodating, and will accept all body types. I dance with people who are rail thin, rubenesque, old, young, beginners, experts, fully physically abled, and with limited mobility. It isn’t important that you are as good as or better than anyone there, it matters that you try it.

I’m too self conscious to dance!

  • Dance will help you get over that, and as a result you’ll be more liberated in front of your speaking audience.

I don’t have time to dance!

  • Believe me, I understand hectic schedules. But taking a few dance lessons doesn’t mean that you need to commit to spending several hours a week practicing at a dance studio. It can be a quick one hour group class taken a few times a month. It can be a dance fitness class during your work lunch hour. Heck, you can even take out some basic dance lesson videos from your local library and give it a try at home.

I can’t afford lessons!

  • There are dance classes out there at just about any price point imaginable. There may even be groups in your community that offer classes for free. There also, as I mentioned above, the library. Most libraries have piles of DVDs of lessons in various dance styles that you can borrow and try at home. I still make use of my library’s dance DVD collection when I want to get in a bit more guided practice at home or try something new. And if all else fails, check out some dance clips on YouTube, put on some music, and give it a go on your own. If you need to lock the door and draw the curtains to get your groove on, go right ahead!

I hate dancing!

  • This is like saying “I hate fruit.” It usually means that you either haven’t given it a chance or haven’t explored different styles to find the one that gets you grooving. If one style doesn’t suit you, try a different one. If you don’t like oranges, try cherries. If you liked a style but not an instructor, try that style at a different studio or club. This isn’t exactly a high-risk activity, and there’s no shame in not sticking with a type of dance that doesn’t speak to you. Just try something else. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore.

Be willing to dance!

If you want some inspiration, I strongly recommend checking out the following TED presentation by the LXD (The League of Extraordinary Dancers). The descriptions of the dance artists is positively moving.

*It is worth noting that Mehrabian’s work is frequently misinterpreted; excessive emphasis is places purely on the physical message rather than on the value of the actual words. Words and body are both extremely important, and the degree to which one plays a greater influence depends on the speaker and the message.

When something ain’t right

You know the person who has all the right moves but for some reason gives you the heebie-jeebies? I can guarentee that they’re doing something that you may not be able to specifically peg but that your subconscious really, really dislikes.  The person who is rubbing you the wrong way may be saying all the right things, but something about the way they are behaving just doesn’t add up.

I will admit that I get great enjoyment out of spotting discordant messages coming from people whose words and body language are out of synch.  This is even more fun when they are trying to further protect themselves by delivering veiled messages at the same time.

Want to give it a try?  Here’s a beautiful – if somewhat glaring example.  This is an episode of the CBC show Marketplace:


Pay attention to the final segment of the show, where the reporter is grilling a hospital big-wig in charge of monitoring cleanliness in hospitals in the Niagara, Ontario region.  All the fun occurs between 18:20 and 21:20.

Oooh, it’s delightful! I’d love to know your thoughts on the big-wig’s performance.

Welcome to Up Front Communication

What you have to say is important, and the way you say it matters.  Communication skill can make or break businesses and careers.  In an environment where many of our daily interactions are little more than brief notes sent over the latest social network or cell phone, the ability to speak clearly, persuasively, and elegantly has become more desirable than ever.

Up Front Communication is dedicated to helping businesses and individuals find their voice.  Many people believe that being a persuasive speaker or charismatic presenter is an innate ability – you are either a born speaker or not.  This cannot be farther from the truth!  Speaking, presenting, and interpersonal communication are skills involving techniques that can be taught and honed through training, practice, and feedback.

Whether you are a beginner or experienced speaker, Up Front Communication can help you improve your skills and become a better communicator.  Whether you work with large audiences, small groups, or in one-on-one scenarios, your needs will be met with sensitivity to your particular industry or circumstances.  Let Up Front Communication help you and your employees find your voice and use it with pride and enthusiasm!

Up Front Communication

Up Front Communication delivers high-impact training in key communication skills such as public speaking, persuasion, and presentation delivery. Let experienced speaker and trainer Lauren Sergy help you and your employees better your communication skills through challenging and entertaining one-one-one coaching and group workshops.

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