Changing The Game Of Influence [w Kevin Ryan]

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In a world bursting with technology, data and devices, our ability to connect with another human has never been more important.

Whether it’s a stage or a boardroom, 1-on-1 or group, public or private, how can we master the delivery of messages that matter?

This event was a wide ranging discussion with Kevin Ryan who has been a secret weapon for me in sport and business for 20 years as a speaking, sales and negotiation coach.

About Kevin Ryan:

  • Inducted into the Australian Speaker’s Hall of Fame (2011).
  • Certified Speaking Professional – the highest internationally recognised accreditation for a professional speaker.
  • Past National President of Professional Speakers Australia.
  • 30+ years as a workshop leader, coach and MC who has specialised in presentation skills, sales and negotiation.
  • Clients include Microsoft, Cisco, Hilton, Crown Law, Lend Lease, Carlton & United, Singapore Tourism, Malaysian Ministry of Trade, Roche and Allianz.
  • Has written ten books and is a regular article contributor to major newspapers.

You might also be interested in my interview with Jonah Oliver and Chris Gaviglio on The Art & Science of Recovery.

Event Notes

Tools, Links & Resources

Conversation Notes (with video time stamps)

  • 00:00 Intro
    • 00:50 – Kevin’s bio
    • 2:20 – One of my worst speaking moments
    • 6:30 – The importance of video review
    • 7:00 – Brutal audience feedback from one of Kevin’s first speaking engagements
    • 8:30 – How presentations go wrong, even after 30 years of being a pro.
    • 10:45 – Know your audience and know the needs of the client.
    • 11:20 – How Kevin stumbled into speaking – through a business product launch and how influence skills are the key to break through career plateaus
    • 12:30 – Toastmasters as a path to learn – great learning environment
  • 14:05 – How to accelerate the skills of influence
    • Using imagery for influence – “rather than asking for help, I’ll ask if they can give me a hand. Rather than seeing a problem or challenge, I point out the hurdle we have to get over.”
    • The role of the limbic brain only processes images and emotions – “logic makes you think, emotion makes you act.”
  • 15:30 – Business presentations
    • In person or video – tend to be focussed on information transfer – speaking is a crappy way of transferring information, but an incredible way to get people to change their minds.
    • Incorporate emotional content and images so that your audience feels right about a decision.
    • People don’t value new information.
  • 18:40 – Sales
    • “Sales is decision facilitation – it’s getting other people to make the decision that I want them to.”
    • To have and build ongoing relationship requires the purest of intent.
    • Influence – By Robert Caldini; 50 influencing strategies
  • 20:10 – Changes in the study of sales and negotiation
    • From behavioural to electrodes
  • 21:50 – The role of a speaking coach
    • Taking ore and finding gold
  • 23:10 – Kevin’s own story of adoption
    • 30 years to discover that the story was useful in a business context
    • 20 years of crafting and still going – the work is never done
    • The effect of framing and storytelling
  • 27:00 – Getting to the core of your own story
    • Johari Window model – the focus on the 4th quadrant that others can see more clearly about myself than I can.
    • “Your best story is always your own story, but you’re often the worst person to tell it.”
    • Why you need an outsider/coach to tell you which bits are great and which bits are to be saved for another time. This is why Kevin always runs new material past other speakers.
  • 29:45 – The role of props in story telling
    • It takes you back to re-living the story rather than re-telling the story.
  • 31:30 – Going off track in a presentation
    • Why Kevin stopped worrying about it 10 years ago.
    • His key question to the audience for coming back on track: “Now, before I started talking about that, where was I?”
  • 32:50 – 3 things that audiences want:
    • Vulnerability, authenticity and spontaneity
  • 34:00 – Examples of speaking props
    • Rose, handful of rice into a metal bowl, 3D, functional part of the story telling
    • Sand in a beaker for a land reclamation company
    • 40% are visual, 40% audio, 20% kinaesthetic learners and you need to cater for all of them
  • 39:20 – Building a presentation
    • Every presentation is a sales presentation
    • CEO is selling change
    • Our greatest challenge as speakers is that we’re going to put ourselves through all of the worry and anxiety and work and the second people walk out of the room they’ve forgotten you.
    • If they remember one thing I’ve said, that’s going to make me better than the average of most speakers they’ve heard.
    • Influence is incredibly powerful but can only be used with the correct intent.
    • Documentary – Hitler: The Seducer – a deconstruction of Hitler’s speeches and influencing tools.
  • 42:45 – Manipulation
    • The right intent is crucial
    • The principle of labelling to impact influence eg “you seem like a really smart group…”
    • I don’t want to out negotiate you – because I want that negotiation to be equally successful for both of us. Anything else builds toxic relationship and resentment.
  • 46:00 – Negotiation as a process
    • Clear boundaries up frontBuilding in renegotiation triggers to contracts
    • Two parties never want to renegotiate at the same time.
    • 4Ds of planning for the partnership: Death, Disability, Departure, Disagreement
    • Build a fence in the good times – not when you need it.
  • 48:50 – Crafting a presentation
    • First thing to determine: What is the one thing they’ll remember when they leave the room?
    • Audience analysis: motivations, common concerns, attitudes
    • How does this all fit to my core message?
    • Start working on the conclusion – then you know where you’re headed (because you will definitely lose your way).
    • What is your call to action? What are you going to ask this audience to do?
  • 56:20 – Writing out a presentation vs bullet points
    • Some need to write it out, some don’t.Totally new topic – write it out in full to get the thoughts out
    • The script doesn’t work in a presentation
    • Graham Freudenberg – greatest Australian speech writer. [Documentary: The Scribe]
    • Using Google Voice typing to capture your own tone of voice
  • 59:15 – Fear
    • Allan Pease international speaker – said that imposter syndrome never goes away.
    • Sleepless nights – get up and do more work to refine it.
    • Action overcomes anxiety – it’s never as bad as you imagine it to be.
  • 1:03:20 – 5:30 mins principle of preparation before a presentation
    • 5 mins before your presentation + the first 30 seconds of your speech
    • How to manage video attendees who have come prepared, formed incorrect opinions.
    • Hans Rosling – professor of demographics from karolinska Institutet: “The problem is not ignorance, it is incorrect assumptions.”
    • Address incorrect assumptions
  • 1:05:50 – First 30 seconds of the presentation
    • No surprises.
    • Know who you’ll make eye contact with
    • Smile at the room
    • Who was self selected, who was sent?
    • Complete control
    • Slower walk to speaking position
    • How do you stand at the beginning of your presentation?
  • 1:08:00 – Speaker neutral stance and movement
    (Unfortunately someone stood up in front of the camera for this, but we’ve still managed to capture the audio instructions)
    • feet shoulder distance apart, toes pointing slightly out, weight evenly balanced on both feet, standing as tall as we possibly can, hands at your sides
    • Focus on lower part of the body – carries credibility
    • Upper body creates engagement
    • Stand still to make a key point
    • Movement – laterally, forward and back,
    • Audiences love pauses. Pauses are when they think, when they internalise.
    • Write your pauses – don’t let them happen by accident.
  • 1:12:00 – Repetition of key message
    • Minimum 3 times per presentation
    • Kevin once repeated a key message 17 times in 7 minutes
  • 1:14:10 – 5 minutes before the presentation
    • Feet solidly on the floor even if you’re sitting down
    • Amy Cuddy – research into positive body language.
    • Her blockbuster TED talk (53M+ views) Your body language may shape who you are
    • Kevin’s routine:
      • Slow deep breathing – slow body down to slow opening down
      • Thinking about the preparation you’ve done
  • 1:18:00 – 2 minute mindfulness exercise
  • 1:20:00 – Tailoring to the audience
    • Opening changes often
    • What is the one thing I want them to remember?
    • How do I want them to feel at the end?
    • Content sharing journey + an emotional journey
  • 1:25:30 – Showing data
    • Data visualisations and content
    • 24 different types
  • 1:26:55 – Q&A
  • What could politicians learn about being better communicators?
    • Belief versus truth
    • Mindless voice
    • Unfair questions and preparation
  • 1:32:00 – Almost no-one likes having self-assessment on their presentation. How have you been able to help people through that process?
    • Group scenario: allow people to self assess first, then ask for feedback from group.
    • Record on own device – allows them control and then they can choose
    • Having others analyse you is the most intimidating factor
    • ONLY points that are good can be given by the group or audience, ONLY the trainer can give points for improvement.
    • Maximum 2 or 3 points to improve
    • As a coach or trainer, an experience can be either confidence building or confidence diminishing.
    • “Alright?” “Ok?” much worse than um or ah – they are approval seeks.
    • Chunking the practice and feedback loop process to reduce the overhead of having to listen and improve the whole thing.
    • Recording yourself on a phone and listening back is really powerful and fast way to improve.
    • Practice the pieces of your presentation and then the transitions ie: intro, conclusion, story by story, specific parts.
  • 1:40:10 – When in a board room situation and you’ve prepared your speech, how do you maintain control of that conversation when people can easily disrupt and take over?
    • Find out if there’s a Q&A session
    • “Great point – I’ll be coming to that in 5 minutes time, is that ok?”
    • Spend half the time prepping for questions you might be asked
    • What questions are likely to occur?
    • Practice those answers
    • Responses to the questions have about 3-5 times the credibility than the prepared stuff.
    • Structure your presentation so the audience asks the questions you want them to ask.
  • 1:44:20 – Is there a technique to acknowledge questions?
    • Thank you for the question
    • Use it as an opportunity for a compliment eg “That’s a very astute insight, thanks for your question.”
    • Shutting down is always done in the context of the audience, not myself. Eg “I want to make sure other audience members have a chance to ask questions, so let’s talk privately afterwards.”
  • 1:46:30 – Where you have the mix of in person and video, do you have any techniques for keeping the connection with the people on the video?
    • Similar to a radio interview
    • Ask specific people if they have questions
    • “For those outside the room, was that clear?”
    • Body language needs to be designed for the people on the camera
    • Text questions in while you’re going
    • Almost the standard modality
  • Are there any other techniques to analyse your audience? And how can you feedback the audience into a presentation immediately?
    • Survey beforehand – 3 multi choice questions + 1 or 2 open questions
    • What is the main thing you want from this presentation?
    • Run ideas and questions past an audience member before the presentation
    • Is this joke ok? They’ll laugh louder and sooner than everyone else and others will follow them.
    • Try to test run
    • Rearrange the room – try and talk to informal leaders in the group. I want people to be able to see the influencers in the room.
    • Make the environment work for you.
  • One piece of advice from Kevin
  • Find Kevin

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Values Based Decision Making

“Out of Vision (or Purpose), Core Values and Big Hairy Audacious Goals, the most important to great, enduring organizations are its ​Core Values…​ Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing, and redrafting vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose, statements, aspiration statements, and so on. ​ They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align organizations with the values and visions already in place.”

Jim Collins (bestselling author of Good to Great)

Jim Collins is right.

Despite the fact that organisational values are virtually ubiquitous, we don’t see a corollary explosion in great businesses. From public values failures (like the banking sector here in Australia) to private conversations, implementation of values desperately needs a new approach.

The Current Gap:

With that as context and assuming an organisation has defined its own values, the opportunity sits with understanding how an individual’s values specifically overlap with the organisation values.

How do we build a shared mental model of values that can drive decision making and actions of a whole team of individuals with their own value sets?

And how can we do that if individuals don’t even know their own values?

Values Based Decision Making needs to be an approach that can be both top-down (awareness and development of organisational values) and bottom-up (awareness and development of individuals’ values).

Why now?

  • According to World Health Organisation, we spend 1/3 of our waking lives working.
  • According to Gallup, 87% of employees are not engaged in their work. And engagement is crucial to high performing teams. (from the outcomes above)
  • In a world where speed, interdependence and uncertainty are the norm, values need to be considered in every decision and reinforced with action. And they need to be able to match the speed of change.
  • There is no shortage of values failures. We all have values already. Some people are aware of them, others aren’t and most don’t know how to put them into practice. (Think back – Enron had values too.) It is not enough just to have values, they must be put into action.
  • The Paradox of Choice means there have never been so many choices available and adding values to filter decision making helps to distinguish signal from noise.
  • The adoption of Agile across all types of teams and organisations requires distributed and devolved decision making. Values need to contribute a framework to the quality and consistency of those decisions.
  • Data has transformed the way we make decisions. Values bring a human and ethical layer to ensure the data isn’t followed blindly. (A really interesting take on this in the tech sphere: Working Ethically At Speed.)
  • The pursuit of goals on their own without appreciation and connection is a recipe for suffering.
  • With so many external comparison points, we need an internal anchor or definition of success. Values help us create an internal locus of control.

A quick recap: What are Values?

Values are not just words, values are a way of being. They are the person, team or organisation we are when we are being our best.

For instance, as individuals there is a huge difference between:

  • getting married vs being loving every day.
  • running a marathon vs living a healthy life.
  • graduating with a PHD or an MBA vs a lifelong pursuit of learning.

The fun part is when you combine both – you get married and you’re in a loving relationship, it’s running a marathon and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s graduating with a PHD because you love learning.

What is Values Based Decision Making?

We are wired NOT to like doing hard things. Our brains don’t like adversity, challenge, conflict. We don’t like pain.

A brief analogy:

If I was to cover the floor in broken glass and asked you to walk across it bare footed, you’d most likely think I was mad.

If I was then to say that if you walk across the glass, I have the power to make all of your and your loved ones’ dreams come true and remove all suffering from the rest of your lives… Well, typically the response is different.

What that shows is that we are terrible at suffering meaningless pain. BUT, if we feel the pain is in the service of what is most important to us, then we will not just endure, but embrace great hardship.

Values Based Decision Making works to answer 4 questions:

  1. What are the values you hold and aspire to live up to?
  2. Who is most important to you?
  3. What is most important to you?
  4. What you do when you are at your best?

By defining, then organising those answers, we can make decisions and drive action in the service of values and what holds the most meaning for us.

What Values Based Decision Making is not:

  1. It is not an answer. It’s an iterative process and, frankly, the work is never done. It starts with self-awareness at an individual level (and shared awareness for teams) and then migrates to action. And action is everything.
  2. It is not about adding anything new. Values Based Decision Making is about minimum effective dose. Remove the unimportant and reconnect with what is most important.
  3. It isn’t necessarily going to make life easier. In fact, life and decisions may become more difficult once you articulate your values. Living up to your values will present new challenges – mentally, emotionally and behaviourally – every day. But using your values to guide your decisions will make life so much more purposeful and meaningful, however you define that for yourself.

The Process of Values Based Decision Making:

Once Values are understood conceptually, here are two approaches – one for individuals and one for teams.

For individuals:

  1. Build self-awareness:
    • What are your values?
    • Who is most important to you?
    • What is most important to you?
    • What do you do when you are at your best?
  2. Make sure that your current goals are in the service of your values.
  3. Build an action plan to bring your values to life through habits and routines.
  4. Put your values into practice.
  5. Accelerate the development of values and practices through a coaching process.

For teams and organisations:

  1. Build self-awareness for the individuals within the team (as above).
  2. Build a shared vision and shared awareness for the team or organisation as a whole.
  3. Foster a culture of psychological safety (Google’s #1 indicator of team effectiveness).
  4. Create a framework of expected team behaviours to help translate values into actions.
  5. Build and certify the capacity of leaders and key people within an organisation to continue to coach existing and new team members.
  6. Embed values and bring them to life throughout the organisation from job ads and performance management to product design, communication rhythms and marketing.

If you, your team or your organisation is struggling to define values or to translate them into decision making and action at scale, or if you are working to innovate in those areas, I would love to talk more with you about your approaches and attempts.

And thank you to Jonah, Alix, James, Phoebe, Lucy and Adam for helping to shape these ideas.

The Art & Science of Recovery [Chris Gaviglio, Jonah Oliver]

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“0.4% improvement is competitively significant.”

High stakes decisions, performance expectations, ambitious projects, adversity, balance, prioritisation, transition and change. We’re all living and working under uncertainty, stress and pressure.

Rather than just surviving, what can we do to thrive in these environments as individuals and teams?

Dr Chris Gaviglio is the Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Queensland Academy of Sport with nearly 20 years of strength and conditioning training experience with Olympic sports and professional codes (Wallabies, Gold Coast Suns, QLD Maroons Rugby League). He’s an applied sports science researcher (performance biomarkers, blood flow restriction training, warm-up and peri-competition strategies) and speaker and consultant on enhancing human performance: From World Class to World Best. He’s also a product designer/entrepreneur (Thera-wedge, Backsak, Sports Rehab Tourniquet),  husband and father of two.

Jonah Oliver is one of Australia’s top performance psychologists. He combines sport psychology and neuroscience to facilitate peak performance with experience ranging from Olympic gold medallists, executives, professional codes (Brisbane Roar, Gold Coast Suns, Essendon), to car racing teams (Porsche – Le Mans World Champion, V8s), indigenous performing artists and surgeons. He’s an executive coach, author, speaker, consultant on talent identification, leadership and organisational performance around the world. He’s also a husband and father of two.

Both of these guys have had a huge impact on me (personally, professionally and in my sporting career) and I thought this was a great opportunity for an in-depth exploration of the principles, tools and strategies for physical and mental recovery. While recovery is front and centre in any sporting endeavour, it is almost either completely ignored, or at worst, often seen as a sign of weakness, particularly in business and career contexts. 

I love the interplay of the physical and mental and that’s why having both of these guys’ perspectives was really interesting and the way they both think about recovery for both daily life and major events was fascinating.

We spoke about lessons learnt from elite performance for individuals and teams and how they can be applied at work, at home and in our daily lives. 


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You might also be interested in my interview with Tatiana Grigorieva (Olympic silver medal, Pole Vault) on Transitions, Fear and Willingness.

Event Notes

Tools, Links and Resources

Conversation Notes (with time stamps for video)

[5:00] Backgrounds

Chris’ background – trainer to the stars
Jonah’s background – working in a prison, retraining

[12:00] What is Recovery and why is it important?
AFL: track, watches, wellness each morning, cortisol levels, urine samplesRecovery: it’s not about the amount of stress you’re exposed to, it’s the amount of recovery you have to to balance it.

State of Origin: How can we provide an environment so that they can perform at their optimum? From the language that we talk about to ambient vision, colours etc.
How do we get someone back to their optimum as quickly as possible? So many options out there but ultimately it’s all individual: cryotherapy, flotation tanks.

The brain rules the body. Don’t want to spend hard energy in recovery. How can we potentiate or prepare our body for performance?

[16:48] How has the idea of recovery changed over the years? Have there been any surprises? 

Used to be passive (eg: go on holiday).
The evidence has transitioned to favour active recovery.
Do something more active and tap into more domains.

Athletes do better with doing something on their day off – sets up the week better. Cryotherapy: -100 degrees gas
The rocks of recovery: sleep, work/life balance, nutrition – unless these are dealt with, there’s no point doing all the fancy stuff.

[22:29] What are the common misconceptions or mistakes you see people making around recovery?

Cold water immersion and the risk of blunting your growth response to the stress. Stress and reflection can help to grow and improve. Be sure to debrief experiences and stress with the right people.

[24:30] Chris’s reflection process in the car on his way home. What was I happy with today? What did I like? What didn’t I like? What can I do better?

[Toby: I reflect most days in the evening just before bed. I write down 4 things I’m grateful for, and then journal notes for the day starting at waking up and then work my way through the events of the day and what I’ve learned as a reflection process.]

[24:55] Jonah’s cup vs water jug metaphor for stress management Stress reduction vs stress expansionInterpretation of thoughts lead to elevated cortisol and adrenal response

[28:35] Antifragility (from Antifragile – Things that benefit from chaos and disorder Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

[28:50] Good stress (Eustress) vs Bad Stress

Strong emotion as an alarm clock
Pain is the only way to grow

[31:40] Stretch vs overload

[33:19] Chris – Taking people to the edge – putting stress into context – the right debriefing the right people around you. In times of stress you can draw on that experience. The brain

[35:25] Jonah – Good high performance director explains why the pain is going to occur.

[36:15] Broken glass metaphor – humans are crap at feeling pointless pain. Stress and recovery – not coping, struggling, suffering – lost the spotlight on the why. Not a deficit of recovery, it’s a loss connection to the why and meaning.

[38:42] Managing major life events

[40:50] Chris’ view of handling major events – load management – cognitive, physical, emotional, Rate of Perceived Exertion. The importance of support team and how that can be used. Being clear about the bare minimums of a session.
What is the 1 thing I want to get done? Prioritise tasks

[44:44] Jonah explains the “Duality of experience” – if you can realise that we are able to feel grief, fear, anxiety, joy, happiness all at once. Giving yourself permission to feel them. And then I can still choose to do the things that matter.
Finding the balance.

[47:02] Preparing for key moments

Plan: work back from the event. The role of testosterone in peak performance for power, cognitive function, determination, assertiveness. Short sharp heavy lifting.
Passive ways to increase testosterone.
Getting in the zone: Watching videos, music.
Planning back from meeting: prep, decompression, caffeine, nutrition
Preparing for energy requirements.
Maintaining body heat.
Do you have the right tools with you? What happens if…? Preparing for the unexpected

Haphazard caffeine consumption – 45 minutes until caffeine peak. 
Homeostatis and the homeostatic response to caffeine dosing – why athletes yawn before big occasions.

[58:40] Tools and tips:
Fish oil and mindfulness
Book: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

[1:01:00] Jonah’s 4/8 breath mindfulness exercise
Breath in for 4 secs and then out for 8 secs.
Do this 3 times.
Then really notice the chair you’re sitting on. How is your body weight is distributed? What does it feel like?
Repeat this 3 times each day for a total of 3 mins of mindfulness.
Neurological changes will occur within 6 weeks of practice in the prefrontal cortex leading to improved focus and attention.

Le Mans driver 1.2 seconds of mindfulness @ 370kms/hr

Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Exercise as the 1 recovery technique

Even a 7 min walk still has a huge impact.

Audience Q&A
[1:05:33] How to take physical lessons into a corporate environment to get into a peak state?

  1. Work back from event. 
  2. Acute period of time prior (1 hr) – What time are you arriving? What are the key elements you’re focussing for the meeting. Plan a decompression time.
  3. Day of: What time are you waking up? Are you getting the right fuel in? Exercise done in the morning. Lower cognitive load of the tasks prior to the meeting. Get rid of distractions – eg shutting down email. Walk
  4. Day before: Travel the night before
  5. Reflection process post event is crucial to develop an individual plan and continue to refine it.
  6. Process vs Outcome


  1. Get nutrition right
  2. Phone off
  3. Look at diary – critical meeting and the week that leads in.
  4. Where’s down time?
  5. Where’s active recovery?
  6. Meeting requests for well being and recovery that can be moved but not taken out.

Chris:What’s happening 3 or 4 days before is just as important. What is your weekly flow? Hard session – where is your down session? 3 weeks on, 1 week off (later start, decompressing staff)

[1:12:41] Sustainable practices of CEOs to navigate daily stresses 
Reading/learning – don’t shut down your learning time.
Definition of happiness – doing things that are challenging.
Finding things in day and week that give us a sense of challenge
Pinball effect – what did you used to do?
Stacking is about combining the answers to the below 4 questions to architect energising, fulfilling situations: 

  • Who is most important to me?
  • What is most important to me?
  • What are my values?
  • What do I do when I’m at my best?

[1:18:20] What should we be tracking as a layman?
Sleep: quantity and quality
4 nights of impoverished sleeps = a 20% increased risk of a hamstring tear.

[1:19:37] Hacks for sleeping
No caffeine after 2:30 in the afternoon
Reducing screen time
Mindfulness – don’t “try to sleep” – practicing mindfulness will take you to stage 3 sleep anyway.
Try to get a good sleep 2 nights before a major event
Movement and exercise will improve the quality of sleep.

[1:23:21] How do we create psychological expansion
Basic principle: Change the relationship to your internal dialogue – the stuff that’s traditionally been not wanted eg anxiety, fear etc.

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Mistakes, Facilitation and Coaching Olympic All Stars – Arjan Vos

Arjan Vos is a Dutch women’s water polo coach and was responsible for a diverse squad at Queensland Academy of Sport. Some members of the squad were just beginning their elite water polo journeys as teenagers. Two of them – Bronwen Knox and Ash Southern – have been named in Olympic All Star teams. He is renowned for his approach to his athletes and the loyalty and trust he inspires.

In this conversation Arjan shares his coaching philosophies including:

  • the role of facilitation vs goal setting as a coach
  • His key coaching question and why it applies to juniors and veterans: What is their goal and how can I contribute?
  • why it’s important stay out of the way and not to give too much as a coach
  • the importance of truth
  • why coaching is an attitude
  • why creating space for mistakes is essential to improving
  • how and why he develops critical thinking in his athletes
  • his reflection strategies
  • and more.

Have you had any great coaches, teachers or mentors? What were their philosophies? Let me know in the comments.

People mentioned:



Questions for My Dying Father

I’ll never forget when Dad called to tell me he had a brain tumour.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. A million things were running through my head. Amongst them was a query: “If Dad might be dying, what questions  could or should I be asking him?”

[At that point we didn’t know that it was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an incredibly aggressive brain tumour. The clock was ticking fast. He died 6 months later on the 24th of Jan 2016.]

So I started an Evernote file called “Questions for Dad”.

I listed some of my own questions and began the search for others.

Over the following weeks and months, I collected questions from friends who’d had their fathers or mothers die – what they had found useful, wished they’d asked, or topics they wished they’d covered with the benefit of hindsight.

Recently I was asked for the questions I’d gathered so I wanted to share them here.

Some of these I was able to ask, others there just wasn’t time or capacity to address. The GBM dramatically affected Dad’s cognitive function and within two or three months, lucid conversations of any length became rare.

Uncomfortable conversations

As you’ll see below some of the questions sparked uncomfortable conversations, others were immensely practical, and others were really uplifting. Often they were a combination. I’m grateful for them all.

I found this 3 part framework really helpful as a purpose for the conversations I wanted to have with Dad:

  1. Please forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. Thank you, I love you.

(Unfortunately I can’t find the reference article but it may be linked the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono.)

I feel fortunate to have asked questions and had conversations that included the first two and that highlighted the third.

A small request – if you have any questions that you found to be good in the process, please leave them below in the comments. It would be great to make this a useful resource for people who stumble across this googling in the middle of a dark night.

I hope you find this list useful.


Questions for Dad

  1. What has become more important to you over time?
  2. What advice would you give your 30 year old self?
  3. What are you most proud of?
  4. What are you least proud of?
  5. Is there anything you’d do differently if you knew what you know now?
  6. What do you regret the most?
  7. When do you think you’ve been happiest in your life? Why?
  8. What do you wish you’d asked your parents before they’d died?
  9. What’s something I don’t know about you?
  10. Are you proud of me?
  11. Why did you and Mum get divorced? Why did you drift apart? What were the underlying reasons?
  12. Do you have any advice for me for my marriage?
  13. What do I want out of this?
  14. What do you want out of the next few weeks/months?
  15. Who would you like to spend time with?
  16. Is there anything you’d like to do together?
  17. Do you need help with your will or finances?
  18. Can you tell me about your childhood, teenage years, video/audio?
  19. What did you love in those years?
  20. What did it feel like to have children?
  21. How do you feel about mortality?
  22. What one thing would make you feel better today?
  23. Is there anything left unsaid in our relationship?
  24. Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you.
  25. What event had the biggest impact on you?
  26. What was one of the worst moments in your life? What did you do about it?
  27. What was life like before you had children?

Other resources I found useful through that time:


Tatiana Grigorieva – Transitions, Fear and Willingness

Tatiana Grigorieva is an Olympic silver medallist (in pole vault, Sydney 2000), mother, coach, entrepreneur and all round fascinating person.

In this interview I did for the Queensland Academy of Sport Action TV series, we explore:

  • the transitions that have shaped her life through sport, business and motherhood including how she went from a hurdler to a silver medallist pole vaulter in just 2.5 years
  • how she manages fear
  • her meditation habits and the importance of visualisation in accelerating her training
  • how she encourages her athletes to think about the long term
  • her early childhood in Russia and why her mother made her sign a study contract when she was 13 years old
  • why willingness is the #1 characteristic of the athletes she works with
  • what it felt like to be jumping in the middle of the Olympic stadium for Cathy Freeman’s historic 400m gold medal.
  • and much more.


What’s helped you through transitions? Let me know in the comments below.

Links from the interview:

“2 Chairs” decision making

The first time I used the 2 chairs game as a decision making technique was when I was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport on scholarship for a year straight after finishing high school.

Frankly I was terrified.

The AIS was the training ground of the best players in the country and I was afraid of what the environment would be like, of being alone (I didn’t really know anyone well in Canberra), of leaving my mum and dad, siblings, friends and a university placement offer…

The stakes felt incredibly high. Should I go or should I stay? I asked everyone I trusted – coaches, family, friends –  some said yes, others no, others asked great questions.

I was secretly hoping someone would make the decision for me.

They didn’t and in hindsight couldn’t. It was mine to own.

Enter the 2 Chair game

It was my mum (who’d learned it from my gran) who suggested this 2 Chairs game to try to help clarify my thinking.

[Note: Part of great decision making and problem solving is how you frame the question in the first place. This exercise assumes you’ve done that. Once you’ve framed the question to a yes/no, go/stay kind of answer, then this 2 Chairs game can help to crystallise your thinking.]

Here’s how it’s played.

How to play

  1. Place 2 chairs in a room facing one another.
  2. Allocate one chair as the “Yes” chair, the other as the “No” chair. (Or Go/Stay chair etc)
  3. Sit in the Yes chair.
  4. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say yes. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  5. Change chairs to the No chair.
  6. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say no. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  7. Repeat the chair swap until you run out of reasons completely.
  8. Which chair will you sit in? Have you made your decision?

Guiding principles

  • There are no trivial reasons. Say them all out loud.
  • This can be played out with trusted people in the room to help prompt your thinking or can be done alone.
  • Keeping notes can be useful.
  • Keep moving between the chairs even if it’s only for 1 reason at a time.

The Outcome

I went to the AIS. This decision was pivotal in accomplishing my Olympic dream.

This game helped me to voice all of the opinions and data I had gathered and settle on a Yes decision. Ultimately the deciding reason in the Yes chair, was that I didn’t want to look back and regret passing up the opportunity. All of the other reasons really paled beside that.

Since then I’ve used this process and shared it with friends for similar decision making situations. Reflecting on the original and subsequent experiences, I’ll add a couple of final thoughts.

  • I’ve found the physical movement between the chairs useful to really get into the mindset to extract all the reasons running around my head.
  • Sometimes I find myself sitting in one chair over the other and realise that the decision has been made.
  • Even when it hasn’t led to a clear decision, it has always been useful to extract the for and against.
  • Decisions are rarely as binary as yes or no. Is there a third way? A middle path? What are other questions that are useful in making better decisions?