Meet my greatest public speaking coach

Ingrid and Tetukas

My love for my father is deeper than the ocean.  I remember when he decided to retire as a VP of an international insurance company where he was responsible for handling the major claims which ended up in lavishly expensive court trials. He had made insurance law his specialty.

He called me from Philadelphia to say they’d asked him to give some talks to attorneys in major cities around the country before he retired.  He was coming to San Francisco and wanted to have dinner with me.

I was delighted and asked if I could come to his talk.  He told me I wouldn’t find it interesting, but I was very welcome.  I asked where it was and he casually said the Mark Hopkins Hotel and I said, “Dad! The Mark is a super fancy luxury hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco!”

That’s the first glimpse I had that his talk was important. The second was when I arrived and the hotel receptionist directed me to the ballroom.

He had already started when I walked in. I don’t know how many hundreds of attorneys were in the audience, but they filled the immense room.  It was a way larger crowd than I was expecting.

I took a seat in the back with no idea what was in store.

I was floored listening to him. At home he had never really talked much about his work. He had come here as an immigrant escaping the suppressive Soviet occupation of Lithuania and, although he spoke three languages, English wasn’t one of them. He taught himself English and created a successful career. We could see this somewhat at home, but he never really talked about it.

Watching him, I was staggered by his ability to communicate, his ability to captivate an impressive group of attorneys. He was effortlessly charismatic. Eloquence seemed to just flow from him. He wasn’t dramatic, but he had a powerful presence and dignity that filled the room.  His words, his ideas, were clear, compelling.  His pace, his pauses, his timing, his delivery were impeccable.  He was in complete control.  He infused the room with a quiet but rich enjoyment.

Even in that large ballroom, listening to the melody of his voice, you felt he was talking directly and intimately to you, as if you were in the comfort of his living room, sitting by a fire, slowly sipping a snifter of brandy (something I had the good fortune to experience many times).

The audience was utterly enthralled and so was I.  We all hated when it was over. The Q and A went on forever.  I didn’t think they would ever let him go.

The moment he was done, he was mobbed as a very long line formed to talk to him. He saw me standing off to the side and told everyone in line, “I’m so sorry! I wish I could talk to you but I want to see my daughter.” He took my arm and we left.

I had no idea my father had this amazing ability for public speaking. Without any bias, to this day he is one of the top three best speakers I have ever heard in my life.

We had a wonderful dinner and I asked him if he would coach me on my public speaking. I already had a career giving presentations, and even teaching presentation skills workshops, but it was evident he was much better than I was and could teach me a lot.

He said, “Oh, Ingrid! That would ruin our relationship!” I laughed and told him I really wanted his honest feedback and coaching.

I videoed a couple of my talks and when I went home to visit, we watched them together. He didn’t need to see much, I immediately could tell from his face he didn’t like them.  He was very reluctant to tell me what he thought, but I persuaded him.

He looked at me sadly and made a simple statement:  “Too much effort.”

I asked him what he meant and he said, “You’re using too much effort. You’re trying too hard.”

That was it.  He was done. That was all the coaching he was going to give me.

I realized he was right. I was trying too hard to be compelling.

I worked on that for months, created a new video and brought it home. He looked at it and said, “Better.  Still too much effort.”

This went on several more times.

It took me about a year to get all the effort out until I was communicating effectively, yet effortlessly.  By then I had learned about intention and I experienced an energy and a flow, a power – one I had never felt before.  I had a dignity I never thought was possible.

I took my latest video home, he looked at it and said, “Yes.”

Since then I’ve had many people say to me, “You’re a natural.”  I answer them by saying, “Not at all.  I made myself a natural.”

I’ve had many coaches throughout my career, many very good ones, but this was the most valuable coaching I ever received.

Simple.  Direct.  Focused.  Accurate.

The difference it made in my presentations was profound. He nailed the one thing that, once resolved, changed a million other, lesser important things and brought out my full talent.

In his late 60’s my father went on to become a trial attorney and successfully argued cases in court until he was 80, including winning a case judged by the resplendent Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  When he was 77 I asked him what had been the high point of his career and, after giving it some careful thought, he answered, “I actually think it’s ahead of me.”

There’s no way I can capture all the richness my father gave me in one blog.  Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.

I just know he was the greatest presentation skills coach I ever had and I have dedicated my life to being that for others. To finding what it is that unlocks and releases their special powers to the world, just like my father did for me.  And to be able to do that in 2 days so it doesn’t take a year.

We spoke Lithuanian at home and I called him, “Tetukas”, the Lithuanian word for father.

As we head into Father’s Day, whether you have a father or you are a father, or both, or perhaps you are in my shoes and you had a father you will never forget who lives in your heart, I wish you a very loving and special celebration of this very extraordinary day.

Love,

Ingrid

 

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It’s not hoarding if it’s books

It's not hoarding if it's books

My response to that sidewalk sign is, “Amen!”

I live in more of a cottage than a house.  I’ve always been more of a “cottage person” than a “house person.”

Ironically, I’ve also been someone who would love one of those spectacular libraries like they have in Downton Abbey.  Only spectacular mansions have them.

You know the kind I mean, you see them in movies.  They have 100-foot ceilings, books lining the walls floor to ceiling, wooden ladders to reach the really-high-up books, plush chairs you can disappear into and read for hours while the sun streams in through leaded-glass windows. Mansion library 1

I’ve always wanted one of those.

I adore books.  Opening a book, I step into and inhabit another world.  So many worlds to explore!

I have books in every room of my house and, at any given time, I have three or four of them going.

I also love to listen to books on CD while driving and I always have one of these going too.

I often fall in love with the author.

I find bookstores and libraries magnetic.

Bookstores

My village (yes, I live in a village) has the cutest storybook library and I’m in there every weekend.  I love the librarians.  They are pleasant, kind, helpful, always happy to see you.

Montclair Library

I especially love the small independent bookstores, the owner behind the cash register, ready for an enthusiastic discussion of any volume or author in the store.

This is Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books.  Go in there even once and she’ll know your name and remember what you most like to read.  Everyone in the village adores her.

A Great Good Place for Books bookstore in Montclair

I love good stories, novels, imaginings, essays, biographies, letters, wanderings, poetry.   Also great detectives (like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache).

I started reading at a ridiculously precocious age. By the time I was 10, I had read all of my 18-year-old sister’s books (she’s also a prodigious reader), often to my father’s great consternation because, for example I had read the biography of Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet who led a debauched life and drank himself to death.   I understood his immortal lines:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I understood his fury with mortality.   I liked that he would not go quietly.

My father, however, tried to have little talks with me about “suitable” reading material, but there was no controlling my sister’s growing library and if there was a book in the house, I read it.

In the summers when I was in school, I easily read a book a day and still got out to swim and play with friends in the lake where I grew up.

At some point I decided fiction and movies must have a happy ending for me to read or watch them.  I don’t like anything depressing or violent.  I want to be inspired, to laugh, to learn something amazing, to enter a beautiful new world or the realm of an extraordinary mind.

Here are some books I’ve loved in case you’re out there looking for something new to read for yourself.

For inspiration: Following Atticus. I listened to this on CD read by the author and hated having it end. He followed it up with another incredible book called Will’s Red Coat, through which I wept profusely.  Absolutely love these books.  Have been giving them to friends who love them too.

For lovable characters and can’t-put-down quirky fun, yet with a profound message, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is one of my absolute favorites that I’ve read several times.  Also incredibly good to listen to on CD while driving.

I love old books and many written before this century.  For example, one of my favorites is Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), a marvelously entertaining and humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome of a two-week boating holiday in England, which was published in 1889.  I love both reading and listening to it on CD, especially because it’s read by the brilliant Hugh Laurie who has a fabulous British accent, really gets the humor and delivers it well.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

A surprisingly fascinating book on the history of how color has been used throughout the ages:  Color:  A Natural History of the Palette.

For incredibly good writing, characters you’ll never forget and really good storytelling, John Steinbeck‘s Cannery Row and Travels with Charley.  Cannery Row opens with what I consider to be the best first sentence and paragraph of any book:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.  Cannery Row is the gathered and the scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants, and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.  Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

For poetry, Louis Swartz’s Constructed of Magic (which we are) and Magic Realized (which we’re capable of).  I keep these always by my bedside and read a little before going to sleep. Sometimes also when I wake up in the mornings.  Unbelievably uplifting, they fill me with inexpressible optimism and joy.

Wishing you wonderful worlds and books to journey to!  Remember, it’s not hoarding if it’s books!

Love,

Ingrid

Ancient Words

Philology Ancient Words

I just discovered I am a philologist!!!

At least, that’s what Daniel Webster would’ve called me back in 1828 when he wrote the American Dictionary of the English Language and defined a philologist as:

A person with a love of words and a desire to know their origin.

That describes me perfectly!  I have a vigorous love for words and am especially enamored with where they came from.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve written about what time and world travelers words are.  Most of our words are very, very old and have traveled far.  Many go back thousands of years having trekked to America from the other side of the world.

The study of word origins or derivations is called etymology.

The word etymology comes from the Greek word etymon meaning “true source of a word”, and that grew out of the even older word eteos meaning true.

So, etymology is the study of the birth and first meanings of a word, chronologically following its trail as it spread from one language to another, gradually changing in form and meaning.

I have found that reading its history or derivation (which every good dictionary gives) enables me to discover the truth of a word.  A truth I often find charming.

For example, I find it fascinating that the words friend and free both come from the same Indo-European root word which meant to love.   It turned into the Old English word freod which meant affection, friendship, peace.

Love, freedom and friendship.  Such a beautiful combination.  So deeply ingrained in humanity’s genetic code.

It makes sense to me.  A friend helps free you from pain, sorrow, worry, loss.  A friend helps you be truly free in the fullest sense of the word.

Free to be yourself, free to laugh, free to say anything, free to tell everything, free to believe, free to grow, to try, to go for it.

A friend helps set you free.

Another is the word journey from the Old French journée which meant a day’s travel.  That was considered quite a journey back then.  It’s the same root as the word journal, which is where you wrote about your day’s travel.

A fun example is the word Sophomore, which currently means a 2nd year student in either high school or college.  It comes from the Greek sophos “wise” + mōros “foolish”.  Anyone can see these students are described well, as they are both wise and foolish at the same time.

Back in Socrates time they eagerly studied word origins.  They believed the original meaning was put there by ancient name givers.  Etymology was the way to find the message in a bottle the name givers had placed inside.

Whatever way you look at it, the derivation of a word takes you straight to its DNA.

If you’re interested, here are some blogs I’ve written on the history of several words I’m particularly fond of:

Inspire:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/04/17/inspire/

Kindness:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/03/25/the-history-of-kindness/

Gratitude:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/11/22/gratitude-is-older-than-sanskrit/

Philology came from ancient Greek where it meant love of the word.

And, you are not going to believe this!  Today, May 25th,is Philologist Day!!!!  A whole day dedicated to Philologists!!!!

Of course, it’s only celebrated in Russia, but nothing’s going to stop me here in California!  I join them in spirit!

Wishing you not only a beautiful holiday Memorial Day weekend, but also a very Happy Philologist Day!!!

Love,

Ingrid

Mano Mamyte (My Mother)

Mamyte Knife Dance

You’re not going to believe this, but this is a picture of my mother, well before I came along.

She made this costume for a dance she created.  I have no idea when or where the performance was, only that she was very proud of it.

She was born in a small village in Lithuania.  Her parents named her Kunigunda, after an Austrian Duchess of Bavaria from the 1400s.

She was 43 when I was born. The doctors told her it was very dangerous to have a baby at her age, but by the time she had survived the bombings of World War II, she had decided she could survive anything.  Besides, she knew exactly what to do about it.

Lithuanians from small villages have many superstitions.  One of them is that if you keeping looking at beautiful things around you, you’ll have a beautiful baby.  My mother spent a lot of time at the Philadelphia Art Museum looking at beautiful paintings, believing this guaranteed I would be a beautiful baby. This was her antidote to doctors.  Quite worked.  I emerged healthy and sound.

We always spoke Lithuanian and I called her Mamyte, but she was never motherly in a traditional sense.  She treated me like a little adult from the time I was born.  She challenged me.

I learned many things from her.  My work ethic, perfectionism, to judge people based on character, to never whine, to treat guests like royalty, to never let anything stop me, to be the best I could be, to create my life.  She specialized in life lessons.

But I think the most important thing I learned from her was to never be ordinary.

She’s been gone physically for a while now, but never spiritually, emotionally or intellectually.

With deep gratitude I honor her this Mother’s Day.  In Lithuanian we would say, Laiminga Motinos Diena, Mamyte! Aš tave labai myliu! (Happy Mother’s Day, Mamyte!  I love you very much!)

May you enjoy a very rich day with your own mother!

Love,

Ingrid

Now

Jazz hunting in the moment

I’m watching my cat, Jazz, hunt mice.

See if you can see him hiding in the ivy, the face of a beautiful orange Tabby.

So far we’ve spent 45 minutes with nothing happening.

He is very still, only moving his head, interested in everything.  Fully alert.

I am in awe of how he maintains such a high level of powerful interest simply in the present for so long.  He is noticing everything.  Absorbed fully.  Completely in the moment.

No past, no future, just a fascinating now.

It’s beautiful to watch him.

I find myself fully in the moment too, fascinated by everything around us, the ivy, the breeze in the leaves, the squirrel, the butterfly and bees, his beautifully alert eyes.

A glorious, incredible 45 minutes.  Feel completely refreshed.

Wishing you a beautiful experience of now.

Love,

Ingrid

Sacred

Inspire beautiful path

Sacred is one of my most favorite words.  It means set apart from ordinary, something so pure, it must never be violated.  It originally meant to make holy.   

When something is sacred, you respect it, it’s special, you dedicate yourself to making sure it stays pure.

Many things are sacred to me.

A walk in the forest is sacred, the smell of the trees, whether pine, oak, eucalyptus or redwood, the light filtering through, the silence.  Redwoods are the most sacred to me.  They form a cathedral.

The symphony of birdsong that starts between dawn and sunrise.

Listening is sacred.

That realm of communication that supersedes logic and achieves communion.

Greetings.  My cats taught me a lot about this.  Greetings are sacred to cats, which is why many of them can seem aloof if they’re not greeted properly.  I just returned from a trip to Denver and the greeting with my three cats when I returned took a long time and was profoundly fulfilling.  The same is true for me with people, that moment where we say, “Hello,” even in a moment, is sacred.

Friendship is sacred.  A sanctum is a holy place, a private retreat.  Good friendship creates a sanctum, and my best friends are the ones who enter my inner sanctum.

Friday nights.  I work hard all week, Friday nights are sacred.  Saturday mornings.  Sunday dinner, the last beautiful moments of the weekend.

Doing nothing is sacred.  Spending hours just being.  Enjoying where I am.

Others.  I see in others a sacred quality.  I see who they really are and their goodness.  I see so many people transform in my work, that I’m no longer fooled by superficial reactions that make them appear arrogant or stupid or nasty.  I know there is an incredible being in each one of us.

All the beautiful churches, temples, mosques I have been in around the world, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Russian Orthodox.  Unforgettable Native American sweat lodges under dark starry skies on the shores of a remote island in the Canadian wilderness.

Mankind’s sacred attempt to reach the holy. The sight of others praying, their earnestness in reaching out, their faith.

The sound of the ocean crashing on the shore.

Rain on the roof.

A good laugh.

My inner voice.  Your inner voice.

An incredible conversation that nourishes our life force.  Especially if there is a walk, sunset or cup of tea involved.

Sharing secrets.

Other people’s beliefs, other people’s right to decide what is right for them.

Helping.

Thomas Jefferson‘s writings, George Washington’s letters, especially the one to his wife.

Much literature, including Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, published in 1889, that I listen to on CD driving when I want to laugh until my stomach hurts.

Louis Alan Swartz’s poetry, especially the poems on immortality and love.

Art, especially Diane Woods’s creations.

Virtually all of Shakespeare.

Music.

Sunrise.  Sunset.  The colors in the sky right before and after.

The butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, deer, and raccoon who visit my garden.

Life.  Being alive.  Each moment of my life.

The deeply personal journey each one of us is on, discovering our spirituality.

Love.  In ALL its miraculous forms. Possibly the most sacred thing for me is love.

May you have much of it!

And – please feel free to share what is sacred to you!  I am sure you have much that is.

Love,

Ingrid

Words over time

Inspire Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary

Humankind has been communicating since our beginning.  And we invented and used words long before we ever wrote them down.

As human beings began to evolve a vocabulary to express their thoughts, they also began to travel, and many traveled far.  As they went into new territories, with them they brought new words and, once there, they also discovered and started using countless new ones.  So, words made many journeys as well.

And as they traveled, words changed their meanings.  And as thousands of years moved forward and new generations used them, words changed their meanings yet more times.

It can be very surprising to open a dictionary and discover a word has many definitions.  And even more surprising to discover all the definitions it has had in the past.

To study a word is to study humankind.  It’s to glimpse generations of humanity explore, share, borrow and endlessly communicate rich concepts across wide spans of time and geography.

Hefty dictionaries lend themselves to this deep exploration.  They do justice to the robust, complex concepts words embody.

Recently I was doing a deep dive into words and fell in love with one I’ve known a long time, but never fully appreciated.  Surprisingly, this word is aggressive.

In Latin it meant simply to take a step toward something, to approach it.  That is all it meant back then.  Simply, to approach, to come nearer.

Aggressive experienced a metamorphosis as this word crossed oceans and centuries.

We find it in the 1961 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (estimated weight 15 pounds) as bold determination, enterprising.

Enterprising is a word I’ve heard often, but I never use it and so decided to explore its essence.

I fell head over heels in love with the meaning:  characterized by a bold daring energetic spirit or by independence or originality of thought.

All that in one word!  I love the person who deserves this word!!!!!

Enterprising is still considered goodHowever, some of these bold and daring aggressive folks plainly used too much force and upset others, because aggressive has come to mean hostile and offensive, which is what it often means today.  Clearly not desirable qualities or actions.

Although not often used this way, aggressive can also simply mean courageous, unrestrained energy, determination and initiative to boldly and causatively step forth and make something happenBeautiful.

I love reading the old dictionaries for I find a sense of romance and adventure that is lost in modern ones.

Wishing you beautiful enterprising moments of bold daring in your own life, moments you feel fully alive!

Love,

Ingrid