Connecting the dots between customers, colleagues and community
Mari Pat's Communication Missive Vol. 8
January 2011
MP new head shotHappy New Year Clients, Colleagues and Community,

The start of any New Year creates an opportunity to renew, refresh and revise.  My missive this month is in the spirit of providing ideas to help fulfill some of those objectives.  Perhaps it may take the form of a new perspective or strategy or simply affording you a new tool to fortify your communication tool kit.  As 2011 gets underway, I wish all of you the very best for a prosperous, productive and pleasurable New Year.  I look forward to opportunities to partner with you this year!

                             Mari Pat Varga
Your Emerging Future
Share your organization's direction in a way that captivates.

When working with organizations who are shifting direction or establishing a new course I know one of the primary goals is to engage customers and employees in that journey - creating buy-in and collaboration.

One of the best way to ensure that happens is by providing leaders with a visual that assists them in telling the story in a complete and compelling way.

In essence the story covers the following ground:
  1. Context - Who you are, How you got here and why it matters.
  2. Vision - Your intention
  3. Mission - Your strategy
  4. Values - Your behaviors
  5. Communication - Your voice
  6. Shared Goals - Your commitments
Develop these messages and provide to your leaders to produce a consistent message to all stakeholders.  Ideally telling the story should take only a few minutes. Your story will reveal your emerging future.
Hoop Dreams
Revisiting the essence of teamwork, one basket at a time.
Hoop Dreams


Loretta and I had not spoken in what felt like ten years. I hadn't played basketball with her...well let's just say, in a very, very long time.  So, when she called out of the blue and asked me to join a new women's basketball league at a local park district in Chicago, I responded with a stammering "ok" that likely communicated equal amounts of excitement and terror.

On that first Wednesday night, my future teammates filed in, and we gently probed to find out if the other was playing for the local sports bar, Gio's, who was sponsoring our team.  Our team is called Gio's Gals.  We are women who range in age from our 20's to our 50's.  We are a diverse group of professionals pursuing careers that range from forensics, restaurant management, executive consulting, sales to nursing.  Some of us are moms and some of us are not.  All of us have played the game at some time or another (mostly over 20 years ago!) and thought it would be fun to jump back in, get some exercise, meet new people and feel the competitive juices flowing again in our veins.

We are rusty, but committed.  We are older, but wiser.  We are learning, growing and getting better with each game we play.  For all of us, this has been an opportunity to get back in touch with the athlete in us, challenge ourselves physically and be reminded of the lessons that accompany any well functioning team.

Everyone has their strengths, everyone has a role 

Learn to appreciate the talents each person contributes to the overall well-being and effectiveness of the team

Nothing trumps how great it feels to be cheered on by your teammates

A high five from a teammate after a good pass or shot or simply words of encouragement after effort made is incredibly motivating and energizing.


Challenging and learning from each other is key to growth 

When you create a safe supportive team environment there is ease around direct feedback and suggestions as we all have the same goal.

Learning to accept defeat and still come back fighting

 The final score is direct and unflinching.  You either won or lost.  Discovering how to graciously acknowledge a win is one thing...managing the "agony of defeat" is another.  The ability to do that well comes from the collective will of the group to leapfrog over the defeat and immediately start focusing on how to improve for the next game.  Teammate Katie reflected, "I like to win but what matters to me more today is the overall improvement of the team, rather than the individual win."

Pass and Shoot - finding the balance 

Discovering the balance between taking the lead and supporting is essential for any team.  Recognizing the balance between strategic and generous passing and having the confidence and will to take the shot when you are open is crucial to success.  As Misti shared, "with age comes the wisdom to play seeing the big picture offensively and knowing what matters is to get the ball in the hands of the most well positioned player."

Play Hard, Have Fun...remember it's a game

 There is nothing so gratifying as giving the game all you've got and having fun doing it.  We've found we need to remind each other when we are frustrated and down to find the joy even in that valley.  After a recent loss, two of my teammates approached members of the opposing team who had been particularly aggressive on the court.  Within minutes they were laughing together and had swapped stories.  The tension lifted and new possibilities were presented.  They found similarities rather than differences.

These lessons hold themes that apply not only to sports but to work and family as well.  I am grateful to have the chance to revisit these lessons so vividly on the court with Gio's Gals. 

Making a Dance, Creating a Speech
How do they intersect?

Doris Humphrey, a dancer and choreographer, is often considered to be one of the pioneers of Modern Dance in America.  She died in 1958 but left a rich legacy of work that lives on today.

Just yesterday I found myself in a dance studio where a poster pinned to the bulletin board was titled, "Reminders for Choreographers" by Doris Humphrey.  It was taken from her book, "The Art of Making Dances."  As I reviewed the list, it struck me that so many of her points could be easily applied to the art of speech making - both from a content perspective as well as the delivery.  Following are some of her principles and I will leave it to the reader to find the relevance:
  1. Symmetry is lifeless.
  2. The eye moves faster than the ear.
  3. Movement looks slower and weaker on stage.
  4. All dances are too long.
  5. A good ending is 40% of the dance
  6. Monotony is fatal; look for contrasts.
  7. Don't intellectualize; motivate movement.
  8. Don't leave the ending to the end.
  9. Don't fall in love with your own dance.

Honing your Presentation Skills
Practice makes Presence

Whenever I conduct presentation or messaging training my clients always want to know how to "keep up the good work."

The challenge for most business professionals is that you don't always get a lot of opportunities to practice to keep your new skills fresh.  Having said that, there are many ways to keep the learning alive.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Turn your living room into a rehearsal studio.  Carve out 10 minutes a day to practice a presentation in the privacy of your living room.  If possible, video-tape your talk.  Play back and self-critique.
  • Volunteer to speak.  Grab any appropriate opportunity, whether in the workplace or within your community, to speak publicly.  Practice does make presence.  The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become.
  • Ask for feedback.  Most of us don't get  consistent or meaningful feedback on the presentations we give.  Take control and make a point to ask for it.  If you know a colleague will be in the room, let them know what you are working on and ask that they take notes and provide you with a critique.
  • Stretch yourself.  Look for alternative ways to improve your skills.  Many gain better stage presence by taking acting lessons or improve their ability to think on their feet through learning improvisation or strengthen their voice by taking a few singing lesson.
  • Listen and Learn.  Seek out opportunities to hear other speakers and learn from them - the good and the bad.  Take notes about what you'd like to incorporate into your own presentations.
  • Every communication counts.  Remember that many of the tools and techniques that help you make a great public presentation are equally as valuable in everyday communications.  Utilize each opportunity to practice.  Consider incorporating good message organization when leaving a voicemail, practice vocal variety when reading to your children or pay attention to effective eye contact at your next staff meeting.

New Year Invitation
Mp listens smallI invite you to begin the New Year by creating an opportunity to collaborate with Varga & Associates to assist you or your organization reach your goals.  We provide Messaging Training, Speech Coaching, Leadership Development, Team Building and Culture Building through Communication Best Practices.

If you book an engagement or retainer relationship with us before February 16, 2011, you will receive a 10% discount off your investment.

Thank you!
Thank you for your time and interest.  I look forward to our continued communication and I wish you the very best in 2011!


Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.