Archive | Tips List

Tips for Adulthood: How to Prepare a Talk in 5 Minutes

public speaking

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting, minding your own business, when your boss suddenly turns to you and says: “I’d like you say something about XXX in 5 mins.” You smile politely and nod. “Sure,” you respond. “No problem.”

Inside, however you’re panicking. You’re always super prepared when you give a talk. You like to have all your ducks in a row. But 5 minutes? What if you say the wrong thing? Or forget to make your key point? Or – worst of all – ramble incoherently?

Worry not. Even with only five minutes to prepare, here are five steps you can take to nail your presentation:

a. Have a plan. Even a skeleton plan is better than none at all. So if someone asks you to speak off the cuff, grab a napkin or a piece of paper and scribble some ideas down. Remember the Boy Scout motto: be prepared.

b. Keep your plan simple. The key is to have a structure. Chronology can work well – i.e., past, present future. Or you can use a mnemonic like TAP, which stands for Thank you (for being here), Appreciate (what you did on project X; fundraiser Y) and Please (stay in touch). You can also tell a story, so long as there is a clear narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end. Whatever you do, observe the Rule of Three. Remember, you won’t remember more than three points and nor will they!

c. Be brief. If I asked you to stand up and give a talk on brain surgery, you’d probably say: 1. It’s difficult. 2. It’s dangerous and 3. I hope I never have to do it. But when you know a subject inside out, you’ll be tempted to tell the audience everything you know. Don’t. Remember: less is more.

d. Practice. Yes, I know. You only have five minutes. So once you’ve sketched out a plan, try to leave yourself at least one minute to run through it. If you’re in a face-to-face meeting, excuse yourself and go into the hallway. If you’re in a conference call, put yourself on mute and shut off your video. If all else fails, run through your structure silently in your head.

e. Have fun. Try to enjoy the talk, even if you’re nervous. Right before you begin, tell yourself a joke or remember a vignette that always makes you laugh. There are lots of reasons to smile when delivering a presentation. Above all, it you will put you – and your audience – at ease.

Note: A shorter version of this post originally appeared on the Clearwater Advisers website.

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Enjoy Lockdown Christmas

jigsaw puzzle
Image: Ross Sneddon via Unsplash

Over on her wonderful blog, Gretchen Rubin is exhorting us all to make this Christmas memorable and special, even if it’s different. She’ll be celebrating by listening to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, buying a white narcissus, and making a graham cracker house.

Here in London, we are just entering “Tier 3” lockdown restrictions as I write this, which means – among other things – no going to restaurants or pubs except for takeout. But even if we were still in Tier 2, my family wasn’t going to be doing much anyway this year. Nor is anyone else.

Taking a page from Gretchen, I thought I’d share five ways I plan to make this holiday season special. These aren’t terribly original, but I hope they serve as inspiration for your own holiday cheer:

1. Read David Sedaris. I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that if my family of four needs to spend a lot of time indoors over the coming weeks, we’d all better do a lot of reading . My husband and I got our kids several books for Hanukkah this year, including (without consulting one another!) David Sedaris’s new collection of essays, The Best of Me – one for each child! I suspect all four of us will devour that particular book, if for no other reason that no one can send up family life quite like Sedaris. And, let’s face it, we all need a good laugh right now.

2. Watch Love, Actually. On her list, Gretchen recommends watching some holiday films like Miracle on 34th Street or Elf. Personally? I incline more towards Love, Actually, another staple of the Christmas season. I watch it every year, largely because it unites the downright funny – Hugh Grant’s famous dancing scene in #10 Downing Street – along with the deeply touching – the Emma Thompson character weeping as she listens to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. If you don’t know this film, do have a go, as we say ’round here. Delightful.

3. Do a jigsaw puzzle. When I was young, friends’ parents would phone up my mother and ask what I’d like for my birthday. She always told them to get me “a puzzle or a game.” I resented her for this, because I didn’t *want* a puzzle or a game. Fast forward 50 years and – in yet another sign that I’m turning into my mother – that’s exactly what I want. Jigsaw puzzles – especially large, 500- or 1,000- piece ones – are something everyone can participate in, but on their own time. You don’t have to be together to enjoy it, but, equally, you get to share in that collective sense of accomplishment as the pieces gradually come together.

4.Play a board game. When you’re ready to step away from your book or television set, I also highly recommend playing a board game. Board games are a great way to have “family time” that also entails focus. If you’re into strategy, I’m a big fan of Settlers of Catan – which can last for hours. This year, I got my daughter a new game called Dialect where you build a language. As my family spends half its time together arguing over who’s using which word correctly – (or not) – I felt this might be a good way to while away the days.

5. Drink your favorite tipple. “Tipple” means alcoholic drink and it’s another great British-ism. In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) I’ve not been drinking too much this autumn as I’ve been busy with work. So I’ve amassed quite a collection in my “liquor cabinet” (which is really just a dimly lit cupboard in my laundry room.) On the principle that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, bottoms up!

Tell us some of your special plans for this unusual holiday season in the comments section…

Tips for Adulthood: Five Great BBC Radio 4 Shows

BBC Broadcasting House

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As someone who’s lived abroad for 14 years, I’ve often wondered what I’d put on my “Top Ten Things I’d Miss” list were I ever to leave the UK. I know what would go on the “Won’t Miss List”: how it gets dark at 4 pm in the winter…the endless chatter about the weather…and the Brits’ peculiar aversion to napkins.

But as we are in the season of giving thanks, it occured to me the other day how enormously grateful I am for the BBC, and in particular, BBC Radio 4. For those not in the know, Radio 4 is *not* the BBC World Service you hear piped into your local National Public Radio station in the US at odd hours during the day. Radio 4 is one of several channels that produces programming for the British domestic audience, and has its own, separate content.

I’ve written before about why everyone should listen to the BBC. This week, I talk about the particular shows I myself have grown to love…and you should too:

1.The Today Programme. The Today Programme is the BBC’s flagship news programme. It runs every morning, from 6-9 am, six days a week. When I first moved here, an American journalist told me “the entire country is riveted to this show from 7-9 am.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but there’s no doubt that this programme anchors much of the national public conversation. The BBC is frequently accused of being too left wing, but on this show, anyway, the presenters are just as rough on the Labour party as they are on the Conservatives. Have a listen to them grill just about anyone and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anything like it on Morning Edition, where they presenters go out of their way to appear fair and balanced. (And yes, I use that term advisedly.) It’s really refreshing to hear journalists who aren’t afraid to take the gloves off, without devolving into shrill partisanship.

2. Profile. Profile is a 15 minute deep-dive into “the character of an influential figure making news headlines.” Although I don’t listen to this show nearly as religiously as the other four on this list, I’m never disappointed when I tune in. What I appreciate most about this programme – as with so many on the BBC – is its sheer breadth. They cover everyone from Professor Sarah Gilbert – the epidemiologist leading the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – to actor John Boyega – to Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. I never cease to be fascinated by what I learn in 15 short minutes.

3. Saturday Live. If the tone of Profile is serious and respectful, at the other end of the spectrum we have Saturday Live, a Saturday morning chat show that is irreverant and at times, downright silly. At the beginning of each episode, the hosts pose a random question to their assembled guests, as well as to the listeners. It’s usually something along the lines of “Tell us about an unusual ritual you have” or “Describe a bad experience in a restaurant.” Throughout the next 90 minutes, as they proceed to do in-depth interviews with each of their guests about their careers, they intersperse answers to that question from listeners, along with their own. One of my favorite bits is the “Thank You” segment, where an audience member is taped thanking a stranger for an act of kindness, like coming to their rescuse on a remote motorway or returning a beloved item of lost clothing. Unlike some of the others shows listed here, this one rarely gets A-list guests. But it doesn’t matter. The kookiness of the tone – coupled with the genuine curiosity that the hosts bring to the interviews – makes it a deeply human show that’s often laugh-out-loud funny.

4. Desert Island Disks. This is a super-popular, long-running radio show that’s an unofficial “must do” if you’re anybody who’s anybody. The premise behind Desert Island Disks is quite simple: a guest is invited by the host choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. It’s effectively a vehicle for getting famous people – whether Bill Gates or Bernardine Evaristo or Lin Manuel Miranda – to narrate their lives through music. Most guests select songs that speak to different parts of their lives: a piece that conjures up their childhood or family…something to capture the time they met their spouse…a tune that speaks to the most creative point in their career or the death of a beloved relative. In one of my occurring fantasies, I am a guest being interviewed on this program. (Hey, we all gotta dream…) Click here for my DID song list.

5. Broadcasting House. If there’s a theme in this list, it’s that – other than the Today Programme – my Radio 4 tastes clearly skew towards its weekend programming. Broadcasting House (BH) is a Sunday morning magazine programme where a panel of diverse guests – not all of whom are politicians – chew over the week’s news. I can’t exactly pinpoint why I love this show so much. A lot of it has to do with the host, Paddy O’Connell. Like most presenters on Radio 4, he combines erudition with a bit of cheek. My favorite bit is where he invites each of the guests is invited to choose a news story they found particularly noteworthy from the past week. They almost never pick the obvious ones, so you end up learning something you didn’t know about what’s going on in the country. Never miss it.

Do you have a favorite radio programme, BBC or other? Tell us why you like it in the comments section.

Tips for Adulthood: Five Innovative Trends in Aging


Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of attending The Longevity Forum’s annual conference in November. The event brings together leading figures from the academic, investment and non-profit sectors to think about how enable people to live longer, healthier and more fulfilled lives. This year, the conference was held virtually and spanned an entire “longevity week.” Here are five things I learned about innovative trends in aging:

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Keep Walking

walking autumn
Image: Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As we in the UK enter our second lockdown, I am revisiting some of the coping strategies I developed during the first lockdown. In addition to cooking more and doing micro workouts, I’ve returned to my daily walks with a vengeance.

Even if you’re not currently in lockdown, here are 5 reasons to keep walking as you age:

1.Walking spurs creativity. Research suggests a link between walking and creativity (There’s even a brainstorming technique called brainwalking. Can’t wait to try it!) But walking also teaches you how to be an observant student of other people. Writer and long-time public radio host Garrison Keillor once wrote that “A long walk also brings you into contact with the world…It isn’t about you and your feelings, so much as about what people wear and how they talk. The superficial is never to be overlooked.” Simply put, when you go outside you notice things. And, as the late, great Nora Ephron put it, “Everything is copy.”

2. Walking keeps your brain sharp. Walking also increases concentration and energy levels. One study suggested that walking three times a week over six months led to improved reaction times for those suffering from vascular dementia. Walking is also thought to have a positive effect on memory and problem-solving skills for children under 18.

3.Walking is good for your mental health. New research in the journal Emotion suggests that taking “awe walks” – i.e. walks that involve both physical vastness and novelty – can significantly boost positive emotions, especially among older adults. Participants in this study reported feeling more socially connected, more grateful, more compassionate, and more joyful. And this boost in “pro-social emotions” carried through into everyday life.

4. Walking lets you discover your neighborhood. My New Year’s Resolution to “walk without purpose” has borne fruit. During the first lockdown, I took long walks around parts of my neighborhood I’d never visited before. I discovered streets with names like “Malcolm X Way” and “Pablo Neruda Close.” I saw hand-made tributes to the British National Health Service (NHS) in people’s windows. I even found a new coffee joint and developed an adult crush on the 27 year old Russian-Canadian barista.

5. Walking gives you time for podcasts. As someone who came to podcasts belatedly, walking has been my friend. Because I don’t own a car – and because I’m not currently commuting – I now have more time than ever before to sample a range of podcasts. This is great for my newsletter – (I recommend one podcast a month) – and it’s great for me. I can stay across everything from US politics to new forms of storytelling to helpful writing tips. It’s been a huge boon to my life.

How about you? Do you walk more now? What does walking do for you?

How To Work With The British

british weather
Image: British Weather by Hakan Dahlstrom via Flickr

I’ve lived in the UK for 14 years and now hold dual American and British citizenship. While I’ve not yet braved the wilds of the famously challenging UK driving test, I’ve gotten to the point where England’s 4 pm winter nightfall no longer fazes me.

But while it’s one thing to adjust to life in the UK, it’s another thing altogether to adjust to the work environment here. If you’re a newly minted American working over here, here are five things you need to know about working with the British:

Read the rest of this post over on the Clearwater Advisers website

Tips for Adulthood: Create an Image File

leather jacket

Photo by Yehor Milohrodskyi on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m a great fan of decluttering. On a therapeutic level – and especially if you’re in the midst of a life transition – it feels cleansing to shed something. On a practical level, when you declutter, you also discover things wonderful things you’d forgotten about entirely.

When I was clearing out my own stuff recently I happened upon a folder that I didn’t recognize at first. It was entitled “Image Folder,” and it took me a minute or two to clock what it was.

Back when I took some time off to re-think my life a few years back (Chapter 326c), I assiduously tackled Julia Cameron’s The Artists’s Way as a tool for getting in touch with my creative self. Among the many techniques Cameron advocates for igniting your creativity, one that I’d completely forgotten about was her suggestion to create an image file:

“Start an Image File: If I had either faith or money I would try…List five desires. When you spot them, clip them, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow. With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you. Add to it continually for the duration of the course.”

Here are five dreams that jumped out of my own image file:

a. Write and perform. Not surprisingly, my file contained several images of pens and microphones. This was clearly a nod to my desire to write and perform more. But there’s also a photo in there of someone jumping really high on a trampoline. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what that symbolized. And then I realized that it was an exhortation to have fun and take more risks. Or at least that’s how I interpret it now. That’s exactly what I’ve started doing with my new memoir writing project, which is all about family.

b. Travel and explore. Also unsurprisingly, the file contained several photos of assorted travel destinations. Some were of your proverbial sandy beach, but others showed a dense wood and an English stately home. When we first moved to England 14 years ago, I dragged my young kids to countless stately homes (think Downton Abbey) for tours of the houses and grounds. I believe that this image, in particular, was a reminder to “Be British” – a New Year’s resolution I set years ago to get to know my second home country better.

c. Be more fashionable. Don’t get me wrong. Most days I still amble about looking like a graduate student who is 5 minutes shy of eating her next Stouffer’s frozen pizza. Interestingly, however, my image file also contained a surprisingly high number of photos of lithe women wearing long, flowing blouses and – in one instance – a super-cool black leather jacket. Interestingly, there was also a picture of jewelry in there that looked exactly like the necklaces I’ve subsequently inherited from my mother.

d. Invest more time in cooking. One of the more surprising photos in the file – for anyone who knows me well – was picture of a bunch of spices. During that sabbatical year I took off to kick-start my career, I started investing more time in cooking. Among other things, cooking sated my inner project manager. Because I wasn’t working, I needed an outlet for that side of my personality. Once I settled into my new career as a communications consultant, however, the cooking goal fell somewhat to the wayside. But I’ve returned to it during lockdown. The new rule is that I make only three meals a week, and the other three members of my family each have to contribute one of their own. (The seventh night we do takeout, per the Lord’s Commandment that you have one day of rest.) We mainly draw on the New York Times Five Weeknight Dishes for inspiration. Not surprisingly, we are eating a lot better now.

e. Drink better beer. I was far from shocked to discover a photograph of a large glass of beer. In the immortal words of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, “I like beer.” In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) That may sound wimpy, but I live within spitting (stumbling?) distance of a veritable beer emporium which houses some 400 plus types of beer. (I choose my neighborhoods well.) And in recent years, there’s been an explosion of high-end, low-alcohol beers from which to choose.

What made me so happy about discovering this file was that I feel that in the three years since I made it, I’ve moved forward on all five of the dreams captured in those images. It’s still a work in progress, but I see all of this as part and parcel of moving towards my future self.

So this week’s challenge is to go out and collect images that inspire you to be your future self. Tell me what you find in the comments section…

Five Reasons Overseas Ballots Matter


Lisa Gilardi Help Tip the Vote

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

2020 is an election year like no other. A global pandemic, domestic unrest and an economic downturn have motivated many voters — and not just those in swing states — to go to the polls.

Experts are predicting record turnout. But what about those Americans living abroad? If you’re an American living overseas, here are five reasons your vote matters:

Read the rest of this post over on the Vote from Abroad blog

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Coping with Sadness

loss and grief

loss and griefOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

In the wake of my mother’s death, I’ve been feeling sad lately. For many years of my life, I pushed sad feelings away whenever they arose. I felt that if I just kept moving fast enough, I could out-run them. Often times, I did.

But one of the things that happens as you age is that you begin to confront your fears. And, hopefully, you develop new coping strategies to deal with your demons.

So this week, here are some strategies for how to deal with sadness when it comes:

a.  Meditation. I’ve written before about the power of mindfulness. One of the things mindfulness encourages you to do is to treat your thoughts and emotions as fleeting. The idea is that just as the breath comes and goes, so, too, do thoughts and emotions. So when anger, or sadness, or regret pop up, you don’t push them away. You see them, acknowledge them, and move on. “Oh, that’s anger,” you say to yourself. Or: “Oh, I’m feeling sad now.” Over time,  instead of  saying, “I’m an angry person,” or “I’m depressed,” you begin to say: “I’m sad right now.” But tomorrow my happiness will return. Because it’s in there too. (NB: Highly recommend Headspace’s grief meditation.)

b.  Reframing. Over on Maria Popova’s brilliant website, Brain Pickings, she writes about the famous Austrian poet and novelist, Maria Rainer Rilke, and how he conceptualised sadness. While we may feel paralyzed by it in the moment, the ability to sit silently with one’s sadness is also central to personal growth. As he so eloquently puts it, “…this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside.” Sadness is painful; yes. But it is also transformative. And it reminds us that we are alive.

c.  Poetry. I don’t read a lot of poetry. But when I’m sad, I find that poetry is the very best way to commune with my sadness and embrace it, as Rilke advocates. Lately, I’ve been reading the Irish poet, James Claren Mangen, because, let’s face it, no one quite does sadness like the Irish. I’m quite taken with his poem, The Nameless One.

d.  Music.  As with poetry, I don’t actually listen to music all that much. My love for show tunes notwithstanding, I don’t tend to have a CD playing or Spotify playing in the background as I go about my life. When I’m sad, however, my go-to music is the music of my young adulthood, when I lived in Central America for a year. During that year, I spent an enormous amount of time listening to the likes of Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, two giants of the Nueva Trova movement. So lately, instead of podcasts, I’ve been listening to that music as I walk around my neighbourhood or do the laundry. Much like watching a sad film, or reading a sad novel, this music speaks on some deeper level to my feelings right now. If you speak Spanish – and even if you don’t – go have a listen to Mi Unicornio Azúl.

e.  Writing.  And, of course, I write. For me, nothing helps quite so much in confronting sadness as putting thoughts like these down on paper.

How do you cope when you feel sad?

Image: Loss and Grief by Patrick Emersen via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Listen to Billy Joel

Billy Joel

Billy JoelI’ve been listening to Billy Joel again. Yes, I say that loudly, proudly and unabashedly. If you grew up in the 1970s, it’s pretty impossible *not* to be in love with Billy Joel. When “The Stranger” was released in 1977, it was all anyone listened to for several years.

My husband gets this. He’s the one who got me started on my new Billy Joel kick. He recently came across a series of videos of Billy performing his songs before a live audience. As Billy performs each song, he explains its origin and meaning. (Side note to Billy Joel fans – in case anyone who is *not* a Billy Joel fan has gotten this far into this blog post – he doesn’t like Piano Man all that much. Sniff.)

Particularly as I get older, I find that Billy Joel’s music speaks to me even more than it did back in junior high. To wit, five Billy Joel songs with particular resonance for middle age:

1. James – This song comes from one of Billy’s earlier albums, Turnstiles. It’s mostly a song about those early, intense friendships we have in childhood and adolescence that often dissipate as we grow up and choose different paths in life: “I went on the road. And you pursued an education…” I always feel incredibly sad when I hear the lyrics to this song, because it reminds me of the bittersweet, awkward feelings such relationships inspire, especially if you ever find yourself reunited with said friend and realize that you have very little in common anymore. But it’s also a song about regret, which is, for me anyway, one of the central emotions that we navigate in midlife. As Billy asks his erstwhile friend: “Do you like your life? Can you find release? Did you ever write your masterpiece?” Ouch. Most of us didn’t end up writing our masterpieces. But the song ends with some sage adulthood advice, encouraging James – and all of us – to follow our own dreams, not those set by others: “Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody.”

2. New York State of Mind – Closely linked to regret is nostalgia, another inescapable feature of adulthood. I grew up in the tri-state New York area and while I’ve subsequently lived in many cities across many continents, there are a handful of Billy Joel songs that bring me right back to the place which, for me, will always be home: “I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside…” For me, this song readily calls up a sea of memories:  the summer in college I spent living on Riverside Drive in an impossibly posh apartment I got through a family friend and trying out every bar in town…the numerous times my mother hauled me and my siblings into the city to see previews of the original cast performances of shows like Evita, Annie and Sweeney Todd…the smell of pretzels mixed in with the city’s gritty streets. (Note to the Super Fans: if you want to see a truly miraculous Billy Joel moment, watch this video where he allows a very talented piano player from Vanderbilt University to spontaneously accompany him while he sings New York State of Mind.)

3. ViennaSlow Down, you crazy child…you’re so ambitious for a juvenile...” Dear Lord, do I feel that this song was written for me. As someone who has lived much of her life at a gallop, I’ve had a very hard time learning that life is not a crew race, it’s more of a marathon. As Billy enjoins us: “Take the phone off the hook, and disappear for a while.” When I hear Billy sing this song, it feels like a sort of musical version of mindfulness.

4. I’ve Loved These Days Another gem. This is ostensibly a song about people who’ve been overdoing it – living it to the hilt with drugs, sex and God knows what else. They know that very soon, they’re going to need to put an end to their outrageous lifestyles and get real. But for me, it’s always been a song about break ups. About those terribly clear moments when you suddenly know that a relationship is over, but you still want to squeeze whatever joy that you can out of the final hours/days/weeks together: “So, before we end, and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been. A few more hours to be complete, a few more nights on satin sheets…” It’s a song about the inevitability of loss and recognizing that all good things must come to an end – another bittersweet reality of growing up. (n.b.: This was my high school’s senior prom theme. Ahem.)

5. Allentown – An ode to all those middle-aged folks who once had a job and a company and a place in society where it all made sense. Now, their entire lives have been upended (by globalization/modernity/the internet/time/fill in the blank…). They don’t know how to be anymore: “Well we’re waiting here in Allentown for the Pennsylvania we never found. For the promise our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved…” This song could be ripped straight outta 2020.

How about you? Do you dare to own your secret passion for Billy Joel? If so, which are your favourite tunes?

Two bonus gems for the Super Fans:

  1. Billy’s hour-long interview with Alec Baldwin on the podcast Here’s the Thing
  2. Billy’s *own* five favourite Billy Joel songs, with Stephen Colbert

Image: Billy Joel by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons