Presentation Zen in practice


In mid June, my husband received a phone call from the 6th grade teacher at our daughter’s school. “Shinkai san, do you think your wife would be able to make a presentation about england to the 5th and 6th graders on the day before the summer holidays? With the Rio Olympics coming up, the last Olympics being held in London, the next Olympics being in Tokyo, we thought it might be interesting for them to hear from her…”

As a cross-cultural communication and diversity and inclusion consultant, I’m always happy to have an opportunity to raise awareness of other perspectives. I ignored the fact that the request went to my husband and not to me directly (language worries? indirect approach to prevent losing face? sexism? – a post for another time!), and said “Yes”.

Having recently read Presentation Zen, I decided to put some of Garr Reynolds’ ideas into practice. Here’s how applying his concepts influenced the presentation preparation, design and delivery.

Start with the end in mind

Reynolds asks you to focus on message. What is the goal of your presentation? What is the big idea you are selling?

The killer question you need to answer is:

If your audience could remember only three things about your presentation what would you want it to be?

In this case, I wanted them to remember:

  1. To be open minded – there is not one way of doing things in the world.
  2. Igirisu (イギリス)is not just England.
  3. To cheer on team GB.

Know your audience as much as possible

Reynolds ask you to focus on basic “W questions”  when preparing for a presentation

Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the event?

Why were you asked to speak? Where is it? When is it?

Most of these kids have never travelled overseas, some have never spoken to a non-Japanese person apart from an English language teacher. It was important that I was approachable, friendly and interesting.

With the presentation being held on the day before the summer holidays, this audience was probably a little distracted about the prospect of six weeks of freedom! How would I keep the engaged.

Using this audience knowledge, I used the following approach

  • Made all the content about school life, it was easy for them to grasp the concepts.
  • Included the experience of their schoolmate, my daughter, in the presentation to make it feel more tangible.
  • Brought real money for them to hold and made them move about in the quiz. Active experience and brought the kinesthetic learners into the mix too.

Planning in analogue

This was a real game changer for me. I was able to cut out a lot of fluff. Working with post it notes really helped me to distill the content to the most useful parts.

Reynolds points out that when we work in a presentation software we make our story fit the template and it limits our thinking and creativity. Being forced to follow a cookie cutter approach makes us deliver cookie cutter presentations.

Limit bullet points and text

I’ve been subjected to some terrible, text-heavy slide decks recently so I took Reynolds advice on board happily.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.05.26 PM
Applying Presentation Zen design concepts to the slide deck

Almost no text at all, just full-bleed, high-resolution images. This really helped when it came to delivery. We had no projector for the first 15 minutes!

At all times: courteous, gracious, & professional

When your icebreaker requires pencil crayons and paper and you realise that the students are empty handed…it’s time for a visualisation exercise.

When no one knows how to connect the projector for the first ten minutes…it’s time for an engaging run around the audience with your laptop in your hands.

When you realise that there is too much furniture for your interactive quiz to work…keep the quiz but change your approach

As Reynolds says, “The true professional can always remain cool and in control.”

The results: 

I received individual handwritten thank you letters from the students.  From the feedback I can see how well the Presentation Zen approach worked in practice.

Comments about their jealousy of no school on Saturday, surprise over the way that lunch is served and that there are no walking groups showed that the audience realised there were different ways of doing things around the world.

Students repeated the facts we discussed and said  “I did not know anything about the UK before your presentation. Now I know more, I would really like to go there”.

And as for team GB…they just got 60 new supporters! My favourite comment was “I will cheer on team GB in the Olympics. But if Japan and Team GB are competing with each other, sorry, I’m going to have to cheer on Japan”. Love the honesty!

If you haven’t read Presentation Zen yet, head over to Amazon asap

What other resources do you recommend for presentation skills?

Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

Metamorphosis – How and Why We Change – Book Review

St. Hugh’s College Howard Piper Library Image by Louise Cowan

“Each day we wake slightly altered and the person we were yesterday is dead”

– John Updike, On Being a Self Forever

In coaching, I work with clients on transformational change. On ridding yourself of self-beliefs that are no longer serving you and of changing the narrative of your life. But how does change actually happen?

In Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change, Polly Morland uses nineteen stories of personal change to discuss how the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly happens.

Read it if: you want to be inspired about your own metamorphosis, you like storytelling mixed with reference to scientific studies and philosophical tracts.

Don’t read it if: you are looking for a step by step guide to change, checklists and pragmatism.

Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change

Below are a couple of my key takeaways.

Part I Why Do We Want to Change?

Moreland discusses the need for a compelling positive vision of change, coming from within the individual as a key trigger for  “human agency”, a force of action she discusses frequently in the book.

According to one interviewee, resistance to change is really about loss aversion. In organisations we often think that people are resistant to change. Actually they are thinking “Is this change good for me?”. Once people can see it will have a positive impact on them, they will embrace the change. As a witness to many botched roll outs, this highlights for me the need for a crystal clear communication plan, as well as a focus on WIIFM from the employee perspective.

Part II How Much Can We Change?

Morland raises the idea of neuroplasticity, the changes that happen in our brains as our lives change in small or large ways. She contends that this plasticity stays with us all our lives and you can, in fact, teach a new dog old tricks. Which is why a married woman in her fifties can fall in love with another woman or a 33-stone man can lose half his body-weight.

Most interesting about the weight loss story is the impact that the external change had on the man’s inner life:

“Mike made an extraordinary outward change and only then could the door be opened to an inner transformation that is still clearly under way”

Part III How Do We Change?

Morland raises the theory of Post-Traumatic Growth. Sometimes it can only be after huge tragedy that change can occur.

The interviewee H’Sein Hayward, who suffered the death of her brother aged nine and became a paraplegic aged sixteen “…I have this fundamental belief in the power of change in the darkest of circumstances. I think for all people at all times there is hope, which is not to minimise anybody’s personal suffering. I just think that there is always the ability to change your state.

Whilst few of us will go through such dramatic change in our life, the idea of embracing the situation and moving forwards with our new reality is an empowering one. In my coaching, I focus on the power of choice and control: the need to respond mindfully, rather than react.

Part IV Changed?

“Change is only meaningful in terms of identity because in part we also stay the same. The caterpillar and the butterfly are the same single creature.

This idea of continuity in change can be seen in the Ship of Thesus or John Locke’s Socks. Violet K says of her drug addiction and recovery that is still part of her, despite being clean for several years “How is it separate from your life? Because it is not external. Your recovery is in you. The change is inside and goes on.

Raymond Tallis says, “You are never one role. There’s never that luxury. You have a multiplicity of roles, a family of selves. So yes, there is an awful lot of change but also an awful lot of continuity.”

It is challenging to juggle all these different parts of ourselves and to understand what to give priority to. The Wheel of Life can be a useful exercise in coaching to discover balance.

We are all in constant flow like the river of Heraclitus. Sometimes, we may not be happy with the way the river is flowing. Neuroplasticity and agency give us the power to change the direction.  We can never dam the river. It will always find a way to flow!

Morland closes with the importance of metamorphosis as a metaphor of change and the power of imagination in bringing about change.

“It is less taxing on the mind to visit the past that to imagine the future. However, if we want to change or need to change, imagine the future we must.”

Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change available on Amazon JP

Meat Day?

A few weeks ago I had an “only in Japan” moment. I met with my tax accountant (Mori san  – she’s great!) to discuss the best timing to submit the documents for my business entity.

Me: I’d like to submit the paperwork on a taian…

Accountant: Of course! And are there any memorable dates coming up?

(We both leaf through the diary)

Accountant: It’d be smooth to start on the first but there aren’t any taians coming up.

Me: (laughing) How about the 29th? Ni-ku no hi?

Accountant: It’s certainly memorable! You can have a steak! …and when we do the 2 month back-dating. It’s Showa no hi.

Me: Perfect!


Now that is a high-context conversation! Let’s look at what is going on here:


Japan follows a cycle of rokuyo (六曜))- 6 days of varying luck. When it comes to business, you need to care about two days in particular

Taian 大安- lucky all day. Perfect for launching your new business

Butsumetsu 仏滅- the day Buddha died and considered unlucky all day – not a great day to launch a business or have negotiations.

You can have a steak!

Ni-ku no hi – Japanese numbers offers a lot of great puns and marketers use them to increase awareness and sales. In the case of the 29th, the 2 becomes “ni”and the “9” becomes “ku”, Niku (肉) – Japanese for meat!

Showa no hi

reflecting on a time of turbulence? rather apt for a coach who is supporting people through times of change and upheaval.

So that is how I came to register my business on June 29th!

How do “lucky days” impact your global business? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

What does money buy?

I have to start with a disclaimer…my youth was all about instant gratification. My mum said my breach birth set my approach to life – jump in feet first. I’m still for the most part a fan of trial and error with the belief that most mistakes can be rectified.

In my first part-time job at the age of 14, I would gleefully rip open the pay packets each Saturday and plan my Monday after school trips to Muse and Vibes to buy whatever NME was recommending that week. I didn’t really do “saving” or believe that a rainy day would ever come…

So when I was asked to speak at the Accenture x AIESEC  Japan Women’s Initiative – Global Leadership Lab for 2nd and 3rd year university students on the topic of “money and your career”, you can well imagine that my imposter syndrome radar was on overdrive!

I didn’t speak about the practicalities of investments or how to make your money work for you. My focus was on the need for a mindset about what money can buy.

Money buys freedom.

Money buys choices.

Money buys control.

A few months ago I read an article about the (pardon my language here) Fuck Off Fund. It clarified a lot of what I had been thinking about money and what it means to me.

I know women who stay in abusive relationships putting their physical safety at risk. They have no control over money, no savings and no choice. I don’t want anyone I know to feel so helpless. To feel that they have to put up with such emotional and physical hardship. To feel like they have no choices, no options.

I believe we need to feel that we made a conscious choice to be where we are today. Money helps us to be in control of those choices. Money gives us the freedom to choose a different path.

This guy? He doesn’t exist!


It’s time to stop believing that a knight in white shining armour will “save” us. In Japan, marriage rates are falling, divorce rates are rising and jobs for life are gone. Putting all your eggs in one basket, a basket managed by someone else, just seems like a really risky move.

When I left corporate life and set up my business, countless people said to me, “Oh your husband can support you. you can relax and spend time with your children.”

Well, pardon my language again but, fuck that. I’m not doing this for pocket money. I’m doing this to provide for my family and share the financial burden with my partner.

For some of the young ladies in the room it was a new way to look at their future and what being independent means to them.

What choices have you been able to make because you had financial freedom?





Are you ready for coaching?

Grab a paper and pen and answer these five questions honestly.

  1. I am ready to fully commit to changing my life – Answer Yes or No
  2. I am open to suggestions from my coach – Answer Yes or No
  3. I am ready to take the action necessary to get what I want – Answer Yes or No
  4. I have three goals in mind for which I am ready, willing and able to work on – Answer Yes or No and write down your three goals
  5. I am willing to invest in my future with time and money  – Answer Yes or No


How was your score?

5 out of 5? Then contact me about starting your coaching journey today.

If you scored less than 5 out of 5, you may not be ready for coaching yet.


Bonus questions to begin the self awareness required to support change

  1. List 3 roadblocks that might stop you from being fully open to coaching.
  2. How have you sabotaged yourself from succeeding in something in the past?
  3. What would the payoff be in not getting what you say you want in your life?

Bring these answers along to our first session and let’s get started!

These questions were discussed in an ICA Coach Training Class in June 2016.


What it feels like to return to work after maternity leave – a message for managers

To all the managers in Japan who have parents returning to work this week… Hang on! Let’s be realistic and start again.

To all the managers in Japan who have mothers returning to work this week after maternity leave,

Below is a post I shared on a Facebook group last week after I dropped my daughter off for her first day at 学童(after-school care). After I blinked back a few tears, I had a flashback to when I dropped her off for the first time at 保育園 (daycare). I wrote this post to motivate those taking the first steps back into the workforce.

This is what your working parents are dealing with this week and for the coming months. Be kind, be patient and ask them how things are going.


It will be tough to adapt.

Baby will cry and cling to you. Some days it will break your heart.

Baby will not cry and will run to the teacher. Some days it will break your heart.

Some days you will miss your baby so much and wonder why you went back to work. If you are still nursing, thinking about your baby will make your breasts leak and you will feel even more alone. It will break your heart.

Some days you will run to the office glad of the “break” and wonder how SAHM’s keep their sanity. Then you will feel guilty for not being more grateful for what you have. Again, it will break your heart.

Basically, get ready for a lot of heart breaking …

People in the office will remember you as you were before your maternity leave … talented, skilled, a force to be reckoned with, a change maker.

But some days you won’t recognise that version of you anymore. Instead you will see the new skills that motherhood has given you: infinite patience, ability to read body language and emotions without words, a sense of both perspective and humour.

Some days you will feel like a hamster on a wheel. You are working two shifts –paid and unpaid. Your hands-on partner with his fulltime job feels this too, but he isn’t “allowed” to talk about it. Give each other a break and a hug, hold hands and kiss in the kitchen whilst the kids eat breakfast.

Use your professional skills in your home. Delegate, outsource and prioritise. What needs to be perfect and what can be good enough?

Find a way to get paid domestic help in some shape or form. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week, but try to carve out time with your family when you are not doing unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, and folding washing.

Most importantly be passionate about your work! If you are not, all the sacrifices are for nothing. Do a bit of navel gazing and realise that if your priorities have changed, that is fine.

Learn how to trail-blaze and ask for the things you need to succeed. Your boss probably has no idea of how to handle you. Your boss’s assumption about how you live your life may be quite different from the reality.

Help open people’s eyes to the fact that there are many types of working parents. Cookie-cutter approaches might be fair, but fail to take individual needs into account.

It will be tough to adapt, but you should trust yourself and your family enough to achieve it.

Good luck!

If you are a non-Japanese working mum in Tokyo, please contact me to join a monthly Lean In Circle for peer support from like-minded women.

Contact me for maternity coaching