Productive Distractions

Distractions have a bad name in the world of business, communications and writing. 

Don't get distracted, you're told from schooldays onwards. Focus on your work. 

Fair enough, and true enough, most of the time, anyway. 

But here's a word in praise of distractions, because they can really help your productivity.

I was doing some communications work this week with a senior bod, and we decided to do it at her house. 

Because you know what it's like if you try to get some peace in the office - continual knocks at the door,... Read more

Glamour and Grit

I consider myself fortunate in life, a view that many others seem to share, and are often keen to say so - 

You're lucky they tell me. Giving that talk, or travelling there, to do that writing event, or news story, or meeting all those interesting people, with that teaching

I would never disagree. But it's not quite as simple as being lucky

There's plenty of grit that goes with the glamour. 

This week, I was privileged to be invited to the Judge Business School in Cambridge, as part of a large audience who would assess the merits of the... Read more

The Pink Floyd Test

I'm giving away my age and influences here, but I've found there's a critical moment in presentations and teaching that I call the Pink Floyd test. 

It goes back to their song, Another Brick in the Wall, which laments the dark sarcasm and dull slogs of days at school. 

To grab and hold an audience, one of the first things you've got to do as a presenter is convince them your session isn't going to be like those teeth-grinding memories of schooldays. 

I gave a workshop on Mastering the Media in Cambridge this week (thanks to all who came along... Read more

Peak Performance

I had an important event last week, and I have to confess I was nervous about it. 

The assignment was teaching media skills to business leaders in Guernsey.

That was the view from my hotel; what a stunning place Guernsey is. If you get a chance, do go visit, it's lovely.

Anyway, back to the job, which ran for three days working with some very influential people.

I was nervous because it was the first time I had taught such an in depth, extensive session, and it was one which needed to be... Read more

True Communication

In my BBC days, I often used to get asked - what's the secret of your success?

The questioners meant in breaking big news stories, getting access to remarkable events, and securing interviews with people who didn't usually talk to the media.

That made me think, and I came up with an answer which was so simple I couldn't help doubting it.

But, after looking at my colleagues' ways of working, and talking to the people who were kind enough to help me with stories, I realised it was right.

I've been in Cambridge for a year now, and the... Read more

Haircuts, Floral Displays and Business Karma

You've got to reap (reap, reap) what you sow, sang Lou Reed on the beautiful Perfect Day. 

It's a pretty thought, but does the concept of karma translate to the hard nosed world of business?

A big yes, I'd say. 

I was thinking about this because earlier in the week I saw a bike in Cambridge. 

Now that's no surprise - it's about as rare as rain in an English summer - but this was no ordinary bike. 

Isn't that wonderful? It takes the idea of a floral basket to a whole new... Read more

Meeting Ducks and Making Deals

The lessons of writing are so often applicable to real life. 

As I will try to demonstrate here, with the help of my new assistant and friend, a Warwickshire duck. 

I met her (she didn't get a name, we weren't together long enough - all offers welcome) this weekend, teaching at the splendid National Association of Writers' Groups annual festival at the University of Warwick. 

I ran courses in the importance of a strong start to a novel, how to tell a story, characterisation, and journalism. 

Each was about elements of the art... Read more

An Essential but Underrated Art

Here's a puzzle. 

I'm often asked to do one to one coaching with writers to hone their novels into shape for publication. 

And this doesn't happen often, thankfully, but it does sometimes occur. 

I do my bit, carefully reading through their opening chapter and thinking about what might be needed to improve it.

Then sit down with the writer in question, take them through my ideas...

And they look at me, and tell me I've got it completely wrong, and I don't know what I'm talking about. 

Now, it's perfectly true I may indeed have got it wrong, and even... Read more

A Magnificent Moment

There is a moment that anyone who teaches any subject will probably prize above just about any other.

It's not a student passing an exam, or getting a good mark for an essay, or anything like that. 

Yes, they're important. But this is much more so. 

It's fundamental and profound. Transformational, in fact. The very essence of what the art of teaching is about. 

It's the moment of understanding. 

I had the privilege of teaching all week at the wonderful Swanwick Writers' Summer School - this is the first letter in my... Read more

The Lopsided Writer

Something small, but potentially catastrophic (if you're of a certain melodramatic mindset) happened this week. 

The arm of my glasses broke. 

Is that it? I can hear you asking. What's the fool talking about now? But bear with me -

We've been together since the mid 1990s, as you can probably tell from the style (or lack thereof).

I don't wear them anywhere now, apart from at home, writing - understandably - but they are special to me. 

They're the glasses that helped to write my first book, create my first talk about... Read more