Blarney, not Baloney: Communication Lessons from Kissing the Blarney Stone

Yesterday, my husband and our six-year-old daughter, Lulu visited Blarney Castle – just a few minutes’ drive from our newly adopted home of Cork, Ireland.

We "Heart" Blarney Castle!
We "Heart" Blarney Castle!

In case you have been living under a rock and don’t already know, the 600-year-old fortress is famous for a particular piece of carboniferous limestone with the legendary power to instill the communicative gift of Blarney upon anyone who kisses it.  Blarney, as defined in humorous postings in and around the castle, is very distinct from Baloney.

To reach the stone in question, you must first climb 110 narrow, slippery-from-Ireland’s-perpetual-autumn-mist stone stairs to the top of the castle tower.

Yes, you have to climb to the  tippy top!
Yes, you have to climb to the tippity top!

Baloney is “praise so thick, it cannot be true.”

While Blarney is said to be  “flattery so thin, we love it.”

Once you reach the top, you then must turn and face away from the parapet and kneel backwards looking out high above the green rolling hills of the valley.  Next, begin to stretch your body – almost back-bend-style - against the castle wall.

Baloney, they say, is telling a 50-year-old woman she looks 18.

But Blarney is asking an older woman how old she may be, because, as you tell her, you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.

A friendly Irishman (yes, that’s redundant) named Dennis helped us put one hand on each of the two metal support rails to steady ourselves as we  stretched our heads downward to the extremely difficult to reach gift-giving stone  - and smooched away.

PicMonkey Collage
Various Blarney Stone kissing contortionists

Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses, he never misses to grow eloquent; ‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber or become a member of Parliament, a noble spouter he’ll sure turn out. " - Francis Sylvester Mahony

Perhaps our new words will be a bit smooth, but they will also be words that are kind and caring designed to bring a smile to our listeners’ faces and leave them feeling more valuable and valued than when we first began.  Nothing wrong with that.  It reminds me of another lovely sentiment I have also heard from my new Irish friends:

It costs nothing to be kind.

Whew.  So, the perilous gymnastics required to kiss the Blarney stone were well-worth it.

Except for our six-year-old.  Lulu said she already knows how to talk a lot and will kiss it another time. Truer words may never have been spoken. And that’s no blarney.

Here's looking at you from Blarney Castle!

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

Storytelling. It's not just for bedtime!


Lulu, our six-year-old daughter, loves bedtime. Unusual for a kid? Not at all. Because, for Lulu, bedtime is also story-time. Lulu loves stories.

Right now, we are reading Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. He and his baby foxes are tunneling toward Farmer Boggis’ Chicken House Number One. When she was a toddler, she adored Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are Friends. The classics endure!

As a business professional, classic storytelling should become your love too.

Whether you think of them as illustrations, anecdotes or analogies, they are all variations of story-telling which you should use to bring any presentation's theme or point to life. Stories are memorable. They trigger your audience's brain to remember the points connected to it.

Here are some of my story-telling tips!

1. Have a solid beginning, middle and end. Sounds obvious, but be clear. These are mini presentations inside your larger presentation.

2, Be descriptive. Colorfully and powerfully describe the scene. Was it raining? What were the emotion happening? Use action-packed words. For example, why "run" when you can "charge" or "scurry" or "lope"?

3. Include conflict and resolution. What was the problem or the challenge? What happened?

4. What's the lesson for your audience? You likely learned something from your story, but make sure and connect the lesson out to your audience too. Never forget what's in it for them!

Magic illusionist designer Jim Steinmeyer, in his essay Conjuring Takes a Bow,implores performers to always:

Start with a plot…it may seem daunting to you.. so 'Theater 101’ but there’s nothing pretentious about it. Jokes have plots. Songs have plots. Listen to the lyrics of a good song, and you’ll find that it has a premise, development and a resolution.”

So, too, should your story. Remember, every good presentation is a performance. Any point or fact you make can be illustrated, strengthened and reinforced by a personal story.

Make it captivating, colorful and compelling and your audience will love you for it.

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

Ebola – How well are we communicating about this?!

media treatment

This Sunday, I arrived home after spending three weeks leading communications training seminars in Nigeria.

Yes, that means I was in West Africa – where the media continues to headline as the epicenter of the “Deadly Ebola Outbreak.”

And yesterday, I received an email from a parent of one of my daughter’s school friends who happens to be a doctor here in Ireland.

I would suggest you call your General Practitioner and inform him you have been in Nigeria. Ask him if they have any procedure in place to deal with you in the case you have any symptoms during the next 3 weeks.

Should I?

I was in hotel conference rooms and professional office buildings conducting training sessions with business executives and other leaders.  I didn’t step near a hospital nor attend any funerals. Certainly I witnessed no one exhibiting any of Ebola’s well-publicized feverish symptoms or violent vomiting or bleeding.

But I did fly on commercial airlines.    Before my flight, airport staff stopped every passenger and took their temperature with a small plastic laser gun.  I was 36.6 Centigrade.  I was let through.   On the British Airways plane to London from Lagos, the flight attendants announced prior to takeoff they would go through the cabin and “spray something for disease.”   Their aerosol cans spritzed out some sweet-slightly-chemically-smelling stuff.  What was it exactly?   The attendants didn’t say and they most definitely did not mention Ebola by name.

When we landed in London, the customs officer didn’t ask me anything about my visit in Nigeria.  Perhaps because he knew that  last week the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention echoed what Nigerian officials were saying the entire three weeks I was in-country: that the disease is contained and there are no new cases.  (World Health Organization numbers say Nigeria had only 20 cases and 8 deaths, dramatically fewer than what is still going on in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.)

But then today’s New York Times today describes Thomas E. Duncan, the Liberian who flew to Dallas last month and who  notoriously has become the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US, as flying “while he was contagious.” 

Did someone fly near me who was contagious? I swear I didn’t knowingly get anyone’s drool or whatever-other-kind-of-fluids you can imagine on me during my flight or my visit.

As a former CNN journalist who now teaches about the power of words, why did the NYT say Duncan was contagious on the flight?

Especially when, just a few paragraphs later in the same article, it goes on to say he developed symptoms five days after his flight and then quotes officials as emphasizing

 there is no risk of transmission from people who have been exposed to the virus but are not yet showing symptoms.

So which is it? Was he contagious on the flight when he apparently had the virus in his body, but wasn’t showing symptoms? Or did he become contagious only after the disease progressed enough that his body began to manifest the tell-tale symptoms of fever, diarrhea and vomiting?

I don’t ask this to be glib.  The media has a responsibility to report this as accurately as possible.  To help spread the correct information.  So others don’t unknowingly spread something far worse.

Like me, I guess.  That nice lady and her son sitting next to me on my flight – who were headed to Texas (yes, Texas) - seemed healthy enough. But were they possibly contagious?

I don’t know.   I really don’t know.

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.