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.

What your recycling bin is actually called

One of the things I get great pleasure out of when performing is to ask the audience how their recycling gets done. You may not be surprised to know that in Henley, the recycling bins have lids so that you can discretely hide your alcohol intake or cover up the fact that you have not washed your coleslaw packets. Some areas let you chuck it all in one big wheelie, others make you meticulously sort things into a whole variety of boxes and bags.

The West Berkshire Way

In West Berkshire (where I live) there is the following system:

  • A plastic box for glass
  • A plastic box for paper / cardboard
  • A bag to put your plastic and cans in (but only certain plastic, and if it’s not the right plastic, someone may post on the village Facebook page that they “couldn’t help but notice…..” which could be viewed as petty but makes a change from the usual tirades about dog poo)
  • A green bin with the sole purpose of making people apoplectic with rage that they have to pay to put their garden waste in it.

A Judging Opportunity

Collection dates and time vary too – with some areas enjoying a weekly pick up of their waste and others having to wait for a fortnight. In my village, the collection is fortnightly and crucially it takes place after the school run. Which provides an excellent opportunity for the nosey among us to have a good old look. I’d love to pretend I’ve never done this, but that would be a lie. And it is reciprocated too – one friend asked me if I’d started drinking wine ‘from a box’ because she didn’t see enough empties in my bin.

At Christmas, it almost becomes a competition. People seek out additional receptacles to showcase their wild abandon and some even go in for a “Look what I got from Santa” – placing enormous boxes next to the bins telling everyone that they got a 55inch TV, a bread maker or an abdominal cruncher – and signalling to burglars that their house is ripe for the picking.

What to do…

Some people don’t like the whole ‘putting your empties on display’ culture of roadside recycling and prefer to take their empties to a bottle bank. Some people drink their Fosters in the morning and deposit the cans in an alleyway next to the local shop. Some people put bottles on the bottom and jars on the top. Me? Well I put a picture on LinkedIn of mine for all the world to see – and I wrote a poem about it too. You can read it below and watch me perform it for the wonderful ladies of Charlton WI in Wantage.

Comedy in the Care Home

I’ve done some difficult gigs in my time – one in a pub with three punters, one in a boiling hot hall with terrible acoustics and one where choosing to take the stage from a place in the audience set completely the wrong tone. (Top Tip: stride from anywhere except the middle of the audience to the stage like you belong there, not like you’re just ‘having a go’).

Having a difficult gig is a great test to find out whether you want to continue doing stand up and a great example of why comedians put themselves through the wringer time and again. We just can’t help it. Our desire to perform, to be liked, to raise a laugh goes way beyond most people’s comfort zones.

So when Sam Michael asked if I would join him in performing a set at Gracewell of Newbury care home, I absolutely jumped at the chance! With MC Alex Farrow hot off a great run at the Edinburgh Fringe and accompanied by fellow comedians Ed Pownall, Ian Macdonald and Conor McReynolds it was a chance to perform for an entirely new audience in a fairly unusual setting.

Alex Farrow MCing the Gracewell care home gig
Always a winner when your MC wears a sparkly jacket

Preparation panic

Q: How do you prepare for a care home crowd?

A: With the same level of difficulty for any crowd but with perhaps a little more consideration and thought. Whether you can be heard or not is important regardless of audience, as is whether your material will be understood – Alex did a maths joke about Tan lines that completely went over my head.

I decided to go with what I know and deliver a typical set that covers marriage and kids. However, because there was the possibility that some audience members would have dementia, my plan B was to use a song. It’s one I’ve written about dog ownership and is sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it”. My thinking being that if all else failed we could have a singalong.

Belly laughs, a heckle and a stage invasion

I can’t speak for the other acts but my view was that the performance overall was a success. One of the gentlemen had a filthy laugh, one produced a fantastic heckle and during my set there was a ‘stage invasion’ as one lady asked to be led out. We also had audience participation in the form of Audrey in the front row who took part in a magic trick and (by my reckoning at least) had managed to gain access to the bar before it officially opened as she seemed to have half a pint of lager on the go. And yes, I did use the song.

Performing at Gracewell care home was a real learning experience on a number of levels – from seeing the other acts to flexing my performing style on the fly. Best of all was the fact that everyone involved was completely up for taking their set to an audience that might not strike you as classic Comedy Club but are no less entitled to have access to comedy. They were a tough crowd but they were a great crowd too.


To find out more about my work – check out my stand up page and YouTube channel.

To see where I’m performing next – click here.


1st September – Update! You can now read what Ian made of the gig here and the official carehome.co.uk review, including feedback from the audience, here.

Showing the Love for Local Radio

Thanks to BBC Radio Berkshire I had the very exciting experience that was performing on stage at the After Dark Club in Reading (previously graced by the likes of Supergrass and Manic Street Preachers and leapt off by me in a bout of drunken excitement decades before). The event was the War of the Words competition – part of the Reading Fringe Festival and open to poets, rappers, spoken word artists and comedians.

The brief? Three minutes to impress the assembled crowd and judges on the topic of ‘My Environment’.

The prize? A GOLDEN MICROPHONE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED!

The judges. Smiley, not scary!

Three minute life stories

I used my three minutes to take the audience on a whistle-stop tour of my life from sitting at the breakfast table with a copy of The Sun open at Page 3, to the death of my father which prompted some pretty off-the-rails behaviour and the eventual settling into what is essentially a rural bubble. This I topped off with a shortened performance of Middle Class Gangsta. If you want to watch the full performance, it’s below!

Others used their three minutes to talk of life in a hostel, the threat to our environment, marginalised communities and how Wokingham really isn’t “going to the dogs” when compared with life in Syria.

TK and Bill Buckley

My destiny wasn’t to win (that was for the excellent Sarah Smith) but what I have received the benefit of is a concerted effort by BBC Radio Berks to support local performers. Some of us have been invited to perform by phone-in and in the studio which gave me the pleasure of reciting some poems for Bill Buckley’s listeners. Serendipitously the studio is less than a mile from the Microsoft building where I used to work – it was good to return to Thames Valley Park for creative rather than commercial reasons.

Bank Holiday Special

But that’s not all – oh no! There’s been plenty of support on social media and today I learned that on Bank Holiday Monday, BBC Radio Berks will be broadcasting a special on the event including extracts from all of the performances – something that will be a real boost for everyone who participated. One of the big challenges that performers face is capturing their work – having BBC-quality audio and production is a big deal when what you’re used to is mobile phone captures.

Turn on, tune in

So thank you to the entire BBC Radio Berkshire team – and everyone at the Reading Fringe Festival who made the event happen – I love what they’re doing for local performers. If you want to listen in to the special, it will be broadcast on Monday 25th August at 9am and available here shortly afterwards: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07jz9l4

Want to find out more about my upcoming performances? Click here.

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!*

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.

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.

The Power of Looking Up

“When you go to the House of Commons”, said my friend Lins, “make sure you look up. It’s definitely a place for looking up.”

And how right she was. Having been invited to attend Smart Works Reading’s 4th birthday celebrations in the Churchill Room (don’t you know), I walked into Westminster Hall and was immediately wowed. Beautiful ceilings, priceless artworks and lots of statues of dead white dudes who carved out the beginnings of our democracy. It was an incredible opportunity to walk into a place where politics really happens. And to be frisked by a member of the security staff after going through the airport-style scanner.

I saw stained glass windows, yet more statues and a bronze of Winston Churchill’s head. But what was more impressive than that was the people gathered in the room:

  • The women who form the Smart Works Reading board and contribute their time and expertise on top of their full-time jobs.
  • Sarah Burns, Chair of the charity and now an MBE thanks to her incredible efforts to build something that is having a large and lasting impact in the Thames Valley.
  • Clare who overcame some serious nerves to speak with grace and humour about how Asperger’s impacts her life and how the Smart Works volunteers have helped her.
  • Aman who described how Smart Works gave her clothes, “that suited me, not just fitted me”, before going on to say how the company she now works for has chosen Smart Works Reading as its charity of the year.

There was also the marketing director who challenges the views of other families in her village: “What do you mean you earn more than your husband?”, the magazine founder who’s planning a series of talks that promise some very exciting conversations and the lawyer who I fully intend to help set up an anarchic internet radio station.

There were more, for sure, and everyone in the room gave everyone else something to think about, to move them and to inspire them. We all had someone to look up to.


I’m a proud supporter of Smart Works Reading, and provide compering and stand-up for their events (not this one though – far too risky for me to be ‘Lording it up’ in the Commons :D). To find out how you can support them, visit https://smartworks.org.uk/reading-smart-works/

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.

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 🙂