Categories
Family Storytelling

Countdown to Christmas

What a week to be a working parent.  The children are hanging on by their fingertips to get to Friday when 1.30pm brings the end of school and the official start of Christmas.

They are puffy-eyed, over tired and bordering on hysteria in that unique ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ way. At school, the curriculum has gone out of the window to be replaced with DVD-watching, clearing out cupboards and a nativity that for all its beauty (and the best camel outfits ever to grace a church) will have sounded like a doctor’s waiting room thanks to the level of coughing.  Book bags spill over with Christmas cards and sweet wrappers as the healthy eating policy gets crushed under a sea of Quality Street.

Patiently waiting port

And while the kids are at school I’m working to pre-Christmas deadlines whilst accepting deliveries, sending cards and adding ever more to the festive food list. The closer we get to the ‘Big Day’ the bigger our appetites get. We are wolves, salivating at the thought of turkey and gradually upping our cheese intake to make sure our systems are ready for the dairy-binge that accompanies the port that’s patiently waiting in the cupboard.

Wearing ‘Sunday Best’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I am trying so hard to be focused but there is part of me wishing these next couple of days away.  I’m eager to join the children in their revelry, up for letting my hair down and dreaming of those few days when I point blank refuse to do any washing.  Let the jeans and t-shirts fester in the basket, we shall wear our Sunday Best to breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I can’t wait until nothing matters but the next game of UNO and finding tree chocolates. Or to savour that moment of giggling and shushing on Christmas Eve when we sneak the presents under the tree. A tree which now lives on the landing beyond the stair gate thanks to our puppy who thinks that baubles are dog biscuits. 

Knackered

And it’s not just the children who are tired – we parents are absolutely knackered. Just as puffy-eyed and bordering on hysteria as our kids, we too are hanging on by our fingertips before we can take time off.

After school and down the pub, we empathise and encourage each other to give it one last push before we can run out whooping and yelling into the December air – we can taste time off and it Tastes. Like. Christmas.  

So if you’re feeling the strain this week, just know you’re not alone. Take a pause and take a deep breath – together we’ll get through this – let the countdown begin!


Like my writing? Check out my books

Want to hear me perform for real? Book me by emailing toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Dogs Honesty Storytelling

How to work from home when you’ve got a new puppy and a dog

What do you do when your dog gets a little bit easier to manage? You get a puppy – that’s what you do! And so it was that our family recently welcomed young Luna to join our 2 1/2 year-old Vinnie – completing our family (hopefully) for once and for all.

Having written previously about what having a dog does to your life, I thought now was a good time to update you if you’re wondering whether to add a puppy to your brood.

1. Wake up. A lot.

You know ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ – where Bill Hayley sings “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock”. Having a new puppy is a bit like that, except those are the times you’ll be waking up as your puppy decides:

  • One o’clock: She doesn’t want to be in a crate
  • Two o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Three o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Four o’clock: She wants a cuddle

And let’s not forget the times in between when your dog gets annoyed with the puppy cuddling up next to him. Or hears a noise. Or thinks that there may be a cat within 15 miles of your home.

2. Feed the dogs

While you have trained your dog to sit patiently and wait for his food, your puppy still needs to learn. Until she does, she will shriek like a banshee and pogo like a punk. You will regret the open-plan extension you built and wish for the cosy sound-absorbing kitchen you used to have.

3. Go for a walk

Now with one dog that is fully mature (although robbed of his knackers – poor boy!), and one puppy that cannot go on long walks, you have the following dilemma. Do you…..?

A. Walk the dog, crate the puppy, then walk the puppy later.

B. Walk the dog and the puppy together, but put the puppy in a rucksack on your front once she’s had her requisite mini-walk.

I went for Option B, because I thought it would be fun. And she would look cute. It was, and she did, but my puppy weighed close to 7 kilos. That’s is a lot of kgs to carry on your front. Especially when your dog likes a good three-mile stroll to start his day.

4. Hop on a conference call

All I can say is thank christ I am freelance. And that working from home is the norm for most of my clients. And that most of them have dogs. One call involved four attendees with five dogs between them. The person who didn’t have a dog was under pressure from his wife to get one. I’m unsure whether the assorted yipping, whining and barking from everyone’s hounds convinced him.

WHAT I WILL SAY IS……despite all the distraction – including my colleague’s dog barking because she heard me say “postman” (!) – we managed to hold it together enough to conduct a detailed discussion on virtual desktops. Perhaps having that level of distraction sharpens your game. More likely we’re all so bloody desperate for non-canine contact that the call was like a lifeline to the outside world and we devoured those technology words like a meal at Le Manoir.

5. Try to write something

A call is one thing, getting into “flow” is quite another. If you don’t have a puppy, you can have an immersive, ‘virtual puppy’ experience by doing this:

  1. Stab yourself in the hand, ankle or thigh every five seconds with a fork to emulate a puppy’s teeny tiny teeth.
  2. Go and stand in your garden every ten minutes to experience the joy of ‘encouraging’ your puppy to have a wee or poo. This can be made even more realistic by squealing, “Wee-wee – good girl!”
  3. To mimic a dog clambering onto your laptop while you’re trying to work, press the palm of your hand firmly onto your keyboard. Then swipe your hand across like Little Richard giving it the full Tutti Frutti. For an enhanced effect, lick your thumb and wipe it across the screen.
  4. Make a cup of coffee. Slosh it liberally across the table.
  5. Depending on the breed of virtual puppy you have in mind, trim an appropriate amount of hair from your head and sprinkle it on your clothes / in your keyboard.
  6. Steam clean your floor.
  7. And again – your virtual puppy has just wee’d in the hallway.
  8. Give up on the idea of writing then notice your puppy is sleeping. Write like a demon.

6. And finally…

Book a meeting for the following day. Announce to your partner the moment they get through the door that tomorrow it’s their turn 🙂


Want more puppy dog tales? Try these:

What to expect when your dog has been neutered

Doggy style

Or you can buy the books.


Want to hear some of my material? Book me for stand up or come along to one of my performances.

Categories
Giving back poetry Stand up Storytelling

Comedy and Palliative Care

“What we’re going to do”, said Bel, “is put the FUN in fundraising!” Corny, yet memorable words from a friend who coupled living with an incurable form of cancer with raising money for the charities that were caring for her. It is something I have never forgotten and her legacy lives on not just in the smile of her son and her husband’s stories, but also in the way her attitude to life impacted everyone who met her.

She prompted people not to shy away from what is most painful and to face difficult circumstances head on. She encouraged me to make the leap from corporate life (and to sing a Rod Stewart number in public, but that’s another story). She also made me think differently about fundraising; as I have no business going near a mountain or a triathlon, I instead put on comedy & curry nights and an indie disco which led to fantastic results without the need for Lycra or medical attention.

And so, it is in that spirit that I am going to perform a stand-up & poetry set for staff and patients at the Sue Ryder Day Hospice in Newbury’s Rosemary Unit on October 15th. Part of the Duchess of Kent Hospice family, it offers people living with cancer the opportunity to remain in their home for longer by providing specialist services on an outpatient basis. This extends to a wide variety of complementary therapies, as well as emotional and practical support. If you live in or around the #Newbury, #Reading or #Wokingham area, chances are someone you know has benefitted from the services of the Sue Ryder team.

But where’s the fundraising in all this? Well, that’s where you can help. Typically, the cost of a ticket to a comedy show is in the region of £15 (I’m talking Jongleurs here, not Jimmy Carr 😉) so if you support the idea of taking a comedy performance to a place of palliative care, why not make a donation of around that size to the fantastic Sue Ryder team. Like Bel said, let’s put a little ‘fun’ into fundraising – simply head to https://www.sueryder.org/donate, decide how much you want to donate and select ‘Duchess of Kent Hospice’.

Donation page for Duchess of Kent
Categories
Honesty Performing Storytelling

A one minute story

What story would you tell if you only had one minute? This was the challenge last week when I participated in the regional heats for BBC Radio’s New Voices. The temptation was to go for something funny but this time I went with my heart, telling the story of my beautiful friend and a memorable walk to school.

A one minute story about a walk to school

If you’d like to hear the longer version – here’s the original:

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the judging panel said ‘yes’! Round two beckons but so far, no-one knows what it will entail….

Categories
exercise Storytelling

The Case for Exercising Outside

On moving to the Newbury countryside fourteen years ago, and being a staunch advocate of punishing classes at large gyms, I wondered how I was going to stay fit now that I lived miles from a David Lloyd facility.

For the first six months, I thought the smart thing to do would be to leave the house at 6am to get to a 7am class.  This meant missing breakfast with my husband (and the opportunity to use a decent hairdryer) in favour of an instructor shouting at me to, “Hit the boxing pads harder, you wuss!”.

Eventually I came to realise that this was quite frankly a mad way to keep fit.  The tipping point was when I managed to forget my work clothes and had to drive into Reading to buy replacements – by 8.45am I was pressed up against the doors of M&S like a shopper waiting for the Harrods sale.  Despite smiling nicely at the shop assistant as I tried to explain what had happened, she became very pre-occupied with getting as far away from me as possible.  Understandable given the circumstances.

After the expense of that workout, I cancelled the membership and looked for an alternative way to keep fit.  My husband and I often rode our bikes along the Ridgeway at weekends and it struck me that, with a bit of diary reorganisation, I could swap the gym for the countryside. Since then, I’ve found outdoor exercise comes with some unexpected benefits: 

  • There is never anyone else’s sweat on your seat.
  • You might smell manure but you won’t smell someone else’s B.O.
  • People say, “Hello”, not, “How much longer are you going to be on that bike?”
  • You never have to exercise in front of a screen showing music videos of rappers in gigantic t-shirts surrounded by greased up women in bikinis shaking their ‘jelly’.
  • You don’t have to listen to people roaring / huffing / dropping their guts through the effort of lifting weights the size of a family car.
  • Your kids can get involved (even if they don’t want to 😉 ).
  • It’s free and always open.

Exercising outdoors has become part of my life. Something I can simply step out the door and do. Thanks to the addition of a dog, it’s also something I can’t get out of… Alongside improving my physical health, my mental health gets a huge boost from watching the seasons change and connecting with nature (and when the nettles are high, we really do connect – ouch!).

There is the challenge of being out in all weathers but I have found that even if I come back boiling hot, soaking wet or stinging with cold, there has always been something to lift my spirits. There is definitely a case to be made for exercising outside.


I was inspired to re-visit this post (you can find the original here) by Sport in Mind, an organisation that uses sport and exercise to help aid the recovery of people experiencing mental health problems. To find out what sessions are available near you, check out their activity map.

Categories
Performing Storytelling

Ten Tips for Writing a Speech Without Slides

If you’re writing a speech to be delivered ‘sans slides’ (as I’m currently doing for a client – thanks TED Talks for striking fear into everyone who’s not a professional speaker) I find the following works:

1. Create some stepping stones (it could be a classic ‘start middle, end’ of a story or a five point process).

2. Find a visual for each one and put it in a PowerPoint (even if you’re not allowed to use one, it works as a visual aid when writing).

3. Write the whole lot out verbatim.

4. Read it aloud all the way through and time how long it takes.

5. Compare how long it’s taken with the time you have allotted. Try not to panic 😀

6. Step back and view your stepping stones objectively – could they work in a better order? Is there another theme that’s coming through that’s stronger than your initial idea?

7. Repeat steps 3 & 4

8. And again. And again for good measure.

9. Start chopping out the bits that you don’t need written down – part of the rehearsal process is establishing the points you know off-pat so any speaker notes you need will be prompts – not a script.

10. Keep the rehearsal process going – use time in the car / when the house is quiet. And finally….try to relax!


Want a hand writing a speech? I’ve written them for fathers of the bride, sales directors, marketing VPs and even a best man! As a writer I’ll help you capture and project your voice in a way that makes you look great and feel comfortable – whether you’re delivering a TED Talk-style speech, a corporate presentation or something for friends and family.

And if you want to check out my delivery style, hop over to my YouTube channel. *Warning – the language in some of my pieces is a little bit fruity!*

Categories
Compering Stand up Storytelling

A Question of Courage

“Love the ultra-local stand up – that takes a double serving of courage!”

That quote was my coach’s response after hearing that I’d performed stand up at a beer festival in a local village. And that the material featured said village (as well as my own – I like to be even handed with these things). It was a risk, but one I was willing to take because, well, sometimes we need to take a look at our reflection and have some fun with it.

I also covered cervical screening, grief, childbirth, intimate waxing, drugs, social mobility and the sense that ‘making it’ can leave you feeling like you don’t belong. Sometimes the weightiest topics benefit from the lightest of touch. And sometimes what is terrifying to one person will leave another feeling like they’ve had the chance to truly be themselves.

Performing stand up offers the opportunity to tell my story, connect with others and represent what many people are afraid to share or reveal. We build lives and personas, (rightly) modify our behaviour as we raise our children and for some of us (certainly me) we can find ourselves wondering where that part of us that leapt around in a moshpit went to. We become afraid to say what we think in the workplace, at home, in front of new friends. It helps when a comedian tells it like it really is.

Courage? Yes, I think so. But on the part of the venue – they knew what I was going to talk about – I’d like to thank them for having the courage to book me 🙂

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As a writer, I bring humour and humility to what business leaders want to say.

As a compere and stand up, I tell it like it really is.

Want to know more about what I do? Have a look at my LinkedIn profile.

Categories
Compering Honesty Storytelling Technology Work

The Value of Vulnerability

Vulnerability in the tech industry is dirty word. Firewalls must be robust, infrastructure must be secure, and if you’ve not got a handle on your data, you might as well write your own headline for The Register. In the past eight years I have written enough whitepapers and thought leadership pieces for vendors, developers and solution providers to paper a datacentre, so the spectre of what happens in a cyber attack is never far from my mind.

But there is a place in tech where vulnerability is valuable – in leadership. At the same time as putting the fear of God into enterprises, I have worked closely with founders, CMOs and CTOs to help them bring to the fore what they’re all about. And it isn’t about being a bullet-proof, bombastic uber-director who can crush a competitor with their bare hands. It’s about putting themselves in a position of vulnerability.

A distinctly non-corporate approach

So what does vulnerability look like? For the people I work with, it’s about taking a distinctly non-corporate approach – but one that recognises and respects the business. This means:

  • Sharing a little about themselves
  • Acknowledging fears and going for it anyway
  • Challenging misconceptions
  • Having fun

Hello all you risk-takers

A common trait that I have found amongst the people I work with is that they are used to taking risks in their professional and personal lives but they haven’t found a way to comfortably combine the two. They worry about getting it wrong, making themselves look stupid or undermining the credibility that they’ve already built. In an era when we are told to ‘bring your whole self to work’ it is very hard to strike that balance when you are carrying the number or responsible for a team of seasoned solution architects.

Creating a connection

The place in which demonstrating vulunerability is particularly effective is at company events where, let’s be honest, even the most dedicated of us will flag at the twenty-fifth mention of the conference tag-line or call to action. They provide a rare opportunity for employees to connect with their leadership in person – and a perfect setting to deliver something memorable. I mean, you’ve got great lighting, proper AV, an autocue and a captive (and possibly hung-over) audience – don’t waste that on another set of BORING SLIDES!

Here’s an idea

If you’re starting from a blank page, it’s hard to know what will work. And if you’re only working with people within your organisation, it can feel difficult to come up with a truly fresh idea. So here’s an example of something really works well.

Using poetry and rap

I’ve written raps about annual reports and poems on the focus for the next fiscal. And, because it’s always using words related to that business (and often name-checking people on the team), it brings the right balance of corporate and comedic. It also provides a chance for a leader to express vulnerability without feeling like they have to share something overly personal. Most people recoil in horror at the thought of having to recite a poem or rap on stage but most leaders are already comfortable speaking in front of a large audience. Using poetry or rap provides a great stretch for the presenter and something memorable for the audience.

That was so brave

The feedback from the audiences who have witnessed their leaders truly embrace this has been phenomenal. “I could never do that”, “That was so brave”, “It was amazing!”. In one particular instance, I worked with the incredible Leanne Brown to create a piece that she completely and utterly owned – going so far as to create a video with a soundtrack. As a marketing leader she was epitomising creativity and effective messaging. She also created an asset that could be re-used (another marketing gold star). To find out more about what Leanne did, and why it was important to her, check out her post.

Make it easy on yourself

What Leanne did so brilliantly was find a way to make the rap we worked on together work for her. Learning lyrics off-pat is fine if you’re Stormzy but then I wonder how he is with running a partner summit…..

With another client we changed the words to a massive hip-hop track. This meant that the audience were already with her as the opening bars rang out and when it got to the chorus they were joining in. Putting a spin on something that was familiar got people to up their energy levels and engage. There was even a mini-stage invasion.

Finally, for one VP of Sales, we decided on a poem but he didn’t want to deliver it from a lectern. Instead, we put his poem in a book and set it up like a cosy fireside chat – giving him the opportunity to draw the audience in so they would listen closely before surprising them with his lyrical dexterity.

In each of these instances, the leaders involved showed their willingness to be vulnerable by opening themselves up to a new challenge. The conference attendees got to see people who are at the top of their game professionally doing something a little bit risky. It demonstrated that the organisations they work for are open to doing things differently – and that they see value in vulnerability.

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As I writer I help tech leaders express themselves honestly and bring a human touch to corporate communications.

As a speaker and stand-up, I tell it like it is.

Categories
Compering Events Stand up Storytelling

Yes, Yes, Oh Yes!

There are times when you’re offered a gig and you don’t have to think twice about it. The same goes for a piece of work or a project – something in your gut that tells you it’s the right thing to do.

This time, the call came from the incredible Aduke Onafowokan. Aduke is a woman who uses her skills and talent not just to further her own career, but also to inspire other women to “build bridges” so that we might all help one another along the path to success. What I love about this attitude is it demonstrates that growth is not all about climbing upwards, sometimes we just need to help people make it across.

The Perfect Brief

Aduke’s question to me was whether I’d be willing to perform at Arise 2020. It’s a summit that’s designed to help women and men step into leadership by providing inspirational, high impact content from respected, relatable speakers. The brief is to deliver stand-up content that reflects on the female experience to a crowd that is there to learn while having a good time. As briefs go, it was a perfect one for me.

A Values-Based Judgement

What made it so easy to say yes? First of all it was truly a values-based judgement. Aduke and I have a shared passion for social mobility and shared experiences of what that really entails. We both care about encouraging women to explore their talents fully and we both believe in networks and helping other people. It’s what sold me on performing at Arise 2019, where I was bowled over by the power of the truth in the room. It’s something you can read about in this blog post.

The second part is it plays to what I love to do and what I’m good at. It’s the right audience, the right theme and the right kind of forum in which to showcase my skills. Do I want to perform in a pub full of well-oiled punters who are desperate to ‘join-in’? In short – no. Those kind of gigs can be fun, and they’re great for honing my audience participation skills, but they don’t give me the same buzz that I got from Arise 2019. It was a great gig – the audience response was awesome and I learned loads too. I came away with a far better understanding of where my style and material works best.

Ready to Arise?

Arise 2020 promises to help people answer the following questions:

  • What does it really take to lead?
  • What can we still learn about our individual power and abilities?
  • How can we bridge the gap between where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow?
  • How can we pay it forward and unlock opportunities for others?

If this speaks to you, you can find more details and buy tickets here.


I perform stand-up and compering services that go down brilliantly at women’s networks and events focusing on leadership, diversity and technology. Want to book me for yours? Drop me a line at toni@tonikent.co.uk.

Categories
Honesty Storytelling Work

Why it’s Time to Celebrate the Real Influencers

In visiting a client’s LinkedIn profile today as a means to help accurately capture her voice, I’m told that she hasn’t yet written any articles. But it’s ok because LinkedIn has suggested that in the absence of her writing, I might like to read what some ‘Influencers’ have to say.

I wonder which influencers I might be offered and, naturally, I get the ‘most followed’ on LinkedIn. Tony Robbins – eeew -, James Caan – meh – and don’t even get me started on Richard Bloody Branson. The list continues with more of the same old same old. The same old men with the same old yachts and the same old dentist.

It prompted me to think about the people who are true influencers for me and how they differ from LinkedIn’s list.

  1. They have directly inspired me to take action
  2. They do things that make a positive difference to other people’s lives
  3. I can go to them for advice without fear of judgement
  4. We have shared experience and/or shared values
  5. There’s no BS

It can be easy to think that only those people with the greatest number of followers have something worthwhile to say, but I’ve found my influence and inspiration a little closer to home.

So, in the spirit of celebrating the real influencers, I’d like to say thanks to #smartworksreading #sistersisternetwork #athenanetwork, and all of the smart, funny, inspiring people that I work with and know. They influence and inspire me way more than LinkedIn will ever know.

Who influences you?

NB: This post was originally written by me on LinkedIn. Want to connect? Head on over to my profile.

Want to find out more about my work as a speaker, compere, writer or stand up? Hit the links 🙂