How to Plan for Public Speaking

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

One of the things we all worry about when getting up to speak is that we will forget everything we ever knew, including our own names!

With careful preparation, however, you will not only remember everything you want to say, but also present to your audience all the relevant information in a logical, easily understood and entertaining way.

There's really nothing to fear!

There’s really nothing to fear!

These are the questions you should ask before you agree to speak to anyone anywhere:

  • Why? You will usually be asked to speak either because you are a good raconteur or because you are expert in a certain field.
  • What? You need to know what they want you to talk about and you are the right person to give the presentation. If the occasion is social, the subject might be left up to you. If the talk is work-related, the organiser will probably decide the subject, especially if it is given as part of a bigger event, such as a conference. If this is the case, you need to know what part it will have in the whole event and whether there will be other speakers.
  • Who? You need to know whom you are talking to. Every speech, talk or presentation should be written with the audience in mind. What do your listeners want to know or need to hear? What do they know already?
  • How many? What size is the audience and what age are they? What are their job categories or positions? Is it a mixed audience in terms of gender and culture, and if so, in what proportions.
  • Where? The venue is important. Where is it and how long will it take to get there? How big is the room? If it is a large room with no microphone, is there a need for a sound system, and who will arrange this? If you are taking a laptop, is there a projector? Is there a flip chart or a lectern?
  • How long? Do not be cajoled into speaking for any longer than your subject requires. It is always better to speak for a shorter time than to overrun.


A microphone and lectern need not faze you

A microphone and lectern need not faze you

Give yourself plenty of time. Preparing any sort of presentation takes hours, not minutes. You do not want to be one of those of whom it is said:

‘Before they get up they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking they do not know what they are saying; and when they sit down they do not know what they have said!’


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Spa Day Etiquette

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

With Mothering Sunday this weekend a Spa Day can make a wonderful gift and, if you are a daughter, you can even join her for some quality down time together.

However, knowing what is expected of you along with being prepared beforehand can make the difference between a relaxing day and one that may be somewhat more stressful than what you were anticipating.

Firstly, ensure you allow plenty of time before your first treatment. I would suggest waiting at least an hour after your planned arrival time to allow you to change, get to know the Spa layout and to generally start relaxing into the serenity. It can take a while to starting unwinding, especially after travelling, and you don’t want to spend the first fifteen minutes of your treatment waiting for your heart rate to settle down.

Make sure you arrive at the treatment room/waiting area in plenty of time, as often you will need to complete a questionnaire beforehand. If you are late for your appointment then you should fully expect your treatment time to be reduced.

mother and daughter at a spa

Mother & Daughter enjoying a Spa Day

It is polite to your therapist to make sure your personal hygiene is intact before your treatment; shower and ensure any excessive hairiness has already have been taken care of (unless this is a waxing appointment of course).

With regards to chitchat, therapists are trained to take the lead from you. Small talk is definitely superfluous but don’t be afraid to say what you want. If the pressure isn’t hard enough or the whale music is annoying you, then say so.

If you are body-shy then try to remember that therapists have seen all shapes and sizes and will be trained in the art of draping, meaning only the part of the body that is being treated will be exposed. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for a Brazilian Wax, where you will be expected to remove all your underwear and contort your lower body into all different manner of positions. Not for the faint hearted.

Once your treatment has finished you will be instructed by your therapist to ‘take your time’. What this really means is rise from the bed slowly, not take a half hour snooze.

Lady enjoying a Massage

Lady enjoying a Massage

Before you use the sauna/steam rooms check what the dress code is. Most UK Spas will state that swimwear must be worn and a towel should be placed underneath you before sitting. However, if your Spa has separate areas for men and women then they could well permit nudity. In some countries this is actually mandatory even in mixed areas i.e. Austria, so do check beforehand.

It should go without saying that mobile phones are a complete no-no, although I have unfortunately experienced inconsiderate spa goers waking me from my post treatment snooze, so it has to be mentioned.

If you are visiting a Spa with someone else then be considerate of the level of your chat. It’s fine to catch up on the latest gossip whilst enjoying the Jacuzzi, but in the relaxation areas do consider others who may be enjoying a catnap.

Finally, I recommend taking two swimwear outfits. You may wish to return to the pool area a second time and putting on wet swimwear is not a pleasant experience.

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What to Wear to the Cheltenham Festival

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Next week is the Cheltenham Festival set in the heart of the beautiful Cotswolds.

The Gold Cup forms part of the National Hunt Racing Calendar with prize money second only to the Grand National, making it one of the most high profile race meets of the year.

National Hunt differs somewhat from Summer Racing. The main difference being that the former takes place during the winter months and is steeplechase (i.e. fences and ditches) and the latter takes place during the summer season and is flat racing.

There are also differences in the acceptable Dress Codes for each of these events. The Cheltenham Festival traditionally takes place over St. Patrick’s Day in March and has a reputation for often being one of the harshest weeks of winter weather, which I can vouch for having experienced snow and hailstorms on occasion.

What is shocking though is how many young ladies dress as if attending Royal Ascot with summer dresses, strapy sandals and fascinators…..brrrr.

What Ladies should not wear to Cheltenham Festival.

What ladies should not wear to the Cheltenham Festival.


So what should you wear?

The Cheltenham Festival has no Dress Code and yes, fancy dress is permitted; but you wouldn’t be considering that option now would you??

Generally people tend to make a bit of an effort if they have tickets for the Tattersalls or Club enclosures and this is the perfect time for both men and women to bring out their tweeds. Not only is tweed now back in Vogue but it is also a warm material making it perfect for those March winds that can blow across the Cotswold Hills.

Tweed can, however, have a tendency to look a little fuddy-duddy so it should be worn carefully to ensure a chic, not geek look. Tailoring is one of the most important aspects and a good tweed should be cut in a fashionable shape and fitted well to the body.

There are also many colours to choose from at the moment incorporating light blues and pastel pinks, which certainly give them a more contemporary feel. Try House of Bruar for both men and ladies collections and also Joules for ladies tweed jackets.

If you feel top to toe tweed is a little overboard then you can certainly look at wearing separates. Men’s tweed jackets teemed with corduroys, a shirt and a tie look stylish and ladies can choose between a tweed skirt and a jacket.

Footwear should be comfortable so smart brogue boots for men are ideal and simple flat leather or suede boots for ladies. High heels are no-no.

And of course to finish the outfit off and really look the part you can add a Tweed Flat Cap or Felt Trilby Hat.


Gentlemen can look very dapper in the right tweed.

Gentlemen can look very dapper in the right tweed.

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The History & Customs of Afternoon Tea

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Thanks to Mary Berry, among others, afternoon tea is very much back in vogue. Social media is awash with snaps of people holding their teacups (pinkies extended, absurdly) and gorging on a 4-star hotel’s dry scone.

Tea appeals to all social classes, from the manual worker who prefers it as something to moisten his sugar, to the dowager Countess for whom it is an elaborate ceremony involving warming pots, strainers, and rules about adding milk.  Whoever is drinking it, the occasion we know as ‘afternoon tea’ remains one of the most civilised and pleasurable ways to entertain friends and family.

One of the principal advantages of hosting such an occasion is that it only need last a few hours or less; your guests are usually gone by 6pm, and you have the evening to yourself.  But do not be fooled into thinking that this form of entertaining needs any less effort and attention than a dinner party.  Finger sandwiches can be fiddly and are labour-intensive, and getting your scones and lemon sponge to rise can be a challenge for novice bakers.

First and foremost, you should be clear about the following: afternoon tea is not the same as high tea.  Many, wrongly, call sandwiches and scones ‘high tea’ as they think this sounds grander than just ‘tea’.  This is very wrong.  Those in the know will not say anything, of course, but eyebrows will be raised.  High tea was what the servants of a large house ate at around 6pm, after the upstairs had been given their (afternoon) tea.  It wasn’t cucumber sandwiches.  It was things like large joints of meat (often a roasted ham), slices of thick bread, potted shrimps, a big cake to share, and ale.  It was eaten at a proper table, rather than a lower, coffee table, and so it became known in the servants’ hall as ‘high tea’.  Later, for people staying in post-war, pre- package-holiday British hotels and boarding houses, it usually comprised sausage, egg and chips (distinguished from breakfast by the absence of fried bread).  There are no signs that this particular menu is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Those who call the more refined pastime high tea are perhaps best left off future guest lists due to their delusions of grandeur.

It is generally believed that a woman of privilege called Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is the person to thank for introducing the tradition of afternoon tea.  Back in the early nineteenth century meals were much further apart than they are now.  The upper classes would eat dinner around 8.30pm, and maybe slightly later.  Understandably, the Duchess frequently became a little peckish in the middle of the afternoon and so ordered her staff to bring her some bread, jam and tea.  As she sat alone, consuming this in her husband’s ancestral seat of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, she decided she’d much prefer to share the moment with her friends.  So carriages from neighbouring estates rolled up, ladies gracefully alighted, and the idea caught on.

What then happened was that the newly created middle classes adopted the practice as well.  But because they didn’t have sprawling houses with sitting rooms or conservatories to entertain guests for tea, they went to tea shops instead, which served as the first fast-food outlets of the day. These were popularised in large part by the Aerated Bread Company, which in 1864 opened the first of a number of tearooms in London, known as ABC teashops.  Then the Lyons teashop chain was established in 1884 and dominated the market for many years, opening its first famous ‘Corner House’ in 1909.  These were huge establishments arranged over many floors, with hairdressers, chocolate shops, theatre ticket booking agencies, themed restaurants, and of course the tearooms themselves.

If you find yourself in a discussion about teahouses, you can comment knowledgably that the original ABC teashop in London’s Fenchurch Street station is now a Tesco Express.  And although both ABCs and the Corner Houses have long since disappeared into the mists of time, the tradition of going out for afternoon tea is flourishing in Britain’s smarter hotels and specialist tea shops.

Sandwiches are the staple dish of afternoon tea and they too are thought to have an interesting history.  The story goes that the sandwich was invented by one John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich and the man who went on to become First Lord of the Admiralty in 1748.  Montagu was an inveterate gambler who was so glued to the card table that he opted to miss meals.  Instead he ordered his servants to bring him some salt beef between two slices of bread – the bread was there to keep his hands clean so he could handle the cards without them sticking to his fingers.

Ever since, the sandwich has been a finger food – whether served as part of tea or eaten at lunchtime.  The exception would be ‘open’ sandwiches, which are eaten with cutlery but not served as part of afternoon tea.  Everyone should (but often doesn’t) know that tea sandwiches must have their crusts cut off, and presented either in the shape of triangles, rectangles or – as the royal household prefers – in small squares.  Don’t ever serve them in large diagonal crosscuts, because they’ll look like something you bought in a garage forecourt.

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Christmas Card Etiquette

Monday, December 15th, 2014

One hardly knows whether to thank or blame John Calcott Horsley for inventing the Christmas card in 1843. From an original run of just 1000 cards, the Christmas card and its countless seasonal greeting variations (the Scots, for example, prefer to send New Year’s (Hogmanay) cards) have grown to 1.3 billion cards being sent in the UK alone in 2013.

Notwithstanding the proliferation of emails, texts, tweets and instagrams, there is a still a place for the traditional Christmas card. But there are social situations today that our great-grandparents never had to deal with, so let’s look at some new issues that challenge many and review old standards:

Writing the cards:

There is little more disappointing than to open a beautiful Christmas card to find only a signature appended to the printed greeting. If your family is of such stature that you send out more than 500 cards, these will no doubt have been specially printed for you (perhaps with a photograph of an important family event) and inside, the signatures printed as well as the greeting. In this case, your PA has probably collated the cards and stuffed and addressed the envelopes. But for the rest of us who send an average of 19 cards, taking the time to pen a few words of greeting or important news will be greatly appreciated. At the top of the greetings page (technically, page 3 of the card), write the names of the recipients, “Dear Mary and Robert” if addressing it to a couple (wife’s name first); “Dear Robert, Mary, Melissa and Grant” if addressing to the whole family (husband’s name first). Don’t use “and family” which is the equivalent of saying “etc.” Signatures should not confuse or offend. You expect your close friends to recognize your Christian names or signature but, if there is doubt, use your surname as well (perhaps in brackets to make it less formal and obviously just for clarity).

A word of caution on enclosures: use sparingly. A photograph of the children will be treasured by close friends or family members who have shown a life-long interest in your children, but such personal photographs are not appropriate for general distribution to everyone on your list. Comprehensive letters recounting your annual travels and the children’s school grades are never appropriate. The purpose of the Christmas card is to send greetings and best wishes for the season to your friends. Focus on the recipients. Christmas cards are an excellent opportunity, however, to send out change of address notices if you have moved.

Addressing the cards:

Don’t even think of printing off a set of mailing labels. Envelopes are addressed by hand, in ink.

Traditionally, envelopes of cards to married couples are addressed to the husband and wife as: Mr and Mrs Robert Brown (or other proper social title according to the peerage in the UK). Note that in North America, it is standard to use full stops (periods) after the abbreviations Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.

But many women no longer take their husband’s names at marriage and many couples do not declare their marital status, or lack thereof, and give no clues when each introduces the other as their “partner.” When the names of couples don’t match, you can safely address the envelope to both names, on one line, joined by “and”. For example: Mr John Smith and Ms Mary Brown. This guideline applies equally to same-sex couples, addressing the envelope to: Mr John Smith and Mr Robert Brown (or, Ms Sandra Smith and Dr Melissa Brown). Often, there is a dilemma about whose name comes first for same-sex couples. Those with surnames closer to the beginning of the alphabet will argue for alphabetical order. Couples often have an established order based on what simply sounds better, and this order could be used. There is no rule here.

There was a time when professional titles were never used in social correspondence, but nowadays social and business lives are so intertwined, most distinctions have been lost.

Persons who live together but are not a couple (e.g., house-mates, siblings, friends) are each addressed on separate lines on the envelope and their names are not joined by “and”.

Putting the card in the envelope:

First consideration is that the face of the card (page 1) faces the back of the envelope, then, where possible, the folded edge goes in first, towards the lower edge of the envelope. This is possible more often than not but occasionally, because of size and shape, the card simply doesn’t fit folded edge first, so just ensure that the front of the card is facing the back of the envelope.

Return address on the envelope?

In the UK, traditionalists do not put a return address on social correspondence. They trust Royal Mail to deliver the envelope as addressed and consider it a breach of confidentiality for anyone other than the intended recipient to know who the sender is. North Americans have no such blind faith in their postal services nor such finely tuned sense of decorum, and always put a return address either in the upper left corner of the front of the envelope or on the flap.  For Christmas cards, it makes it easier for the recipient to immediately send you a card in return when the address is readily available.

Stamp or frank?

Christmas cards are like small gifts. After taking all this trouble, take the final step of affixing a special Christmas issue stamp to the envelope, rather than the standard issue used all year. It may be necessary to get to the post office early in November to make sure you get them; they have been known to run out. In no circumstances be tempted to run your cards through the postage meter at the office (franking). A stamp, carefully affixed to the upper right corner of the envelope, will complete the presentation.

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