Acknowledging Country – Fear, Mindfulness, Journey, A Script, Connection

Three years ago, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, 30 minutes before my event Changing The Game of Influence was due to start, my speaking coach said to me:

You have to do the Acknowledgement of Country, Toby. Google the right words, then say them.

He was right of course. It was my event.

But it had been a long time since I’d run my own event and I’d never started with an Acknowledgement of Country before. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it in my preparation.

And I was afraid of making a mess of it.

Afraid of missing an important piece of protocol or that I might offend someone.

But it was also really important to me, so I googled Acknowledgement of Country in Brisbane. Then I took myself off to hide in a bathroom stall and run through it as many times as I could before guests arrived.

I kicked off the event using the guidance from Reconciliation Australia:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

As a first time, it felt a bit clunky and awkward, but I was glad I’d done it.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though.

The day after the event I received some direct feedback that it could have been better. That I had sounded rushed and that I could have slowed down or paused to give it additional emphasis.

That feedback felt uncomfortable too.

It was time to practice.


Fast forward a few years and I’ve practiced and started events, keynotes and workshops with an Acknowledgement of Country many times using that same guidance.

Then a few weeks ago, I was running my Momentum Live workshop back at the Brisbane Powerhouse. 65 people were coming. A critical part of the workshop is the science of mindfulness and how it applies in wellbeing and performance.

One of the common misconceptions of mindfulness is that it is a practice that we do separately. In reality, mindfulness is what we bring to the present moment or an activity.

Rather than doing mindfulness, it’s about being mindful.

So prior to the event I wanted to see if there might be a way to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgement of Country and really help people connect to it.

The same fears that had shown up three years ago came back even as I considered this.

If I was going to try to bring the two practices together, I wanted to make sure it was acceptable in the first instance and if so, then done in a respectful and appropriate way.

Journey and a script

So I reached out to Dave Williams, a Wakka Wakka man and the owner and Executive Director of Indigenous creative agency Gilimbaa, that specialises in strategic and connected communication.

When I explained my thinking and experience in a phone call, Dave’s counsel was pretty clear.

He shared that everyone walks their own journey with understanding what it means to Acknowledge Country and the connection Country has for Australia’s First Peoples. And that this often starts from a place of discomfort.

So this would become another step in mine.

With his coaching, I developed the exercise and kicked off the event with the below.

I opened with the guidance from Reconciliation Australia again.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Then I invited my attendees to join me in an exercise to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgment.

We’re going to be talking about mindfulness quite a bit through this workshop, so if you’re willing, I invite you to join me in this exercise.

You can keep your eyes open or closed. I’m going to close mine. Just listen to my voice and follow my prompts.

Just for a moment, notice your breath. [Pause]

Then bring your attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice the texture of your socks or shoes. Spend a moment there. [Pause]

Then extend your awareness into the floor and then down the sides of the building and onto the land on which we gather. I’d like us to pause here for a moment to reflect on and acknowledge the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have walked this land before us, for tens of thousands of years. And that we stand on the richness of the contributions they have made in so many ways. [Pause]

Then I’d like us to reflect on the fact that many, many more will walk this land after us. And that all of those people, will stand on the decisions we make and the actions we take, today, in acknowledging, embracing and bringing forward that very same richness.

Take a moment to reflect on that. [Pause]

And then I’d like us to bring our awareness back up from the land, up the walls, into the floor and pause for a moment back on the sensations in our feet. [Pause]

And then, in your own time, come back to the room and open your eyes.


When it came time for me to actually deliver this exercise, all of the same anxiety and fears showed up once more.

I’ve run it in a few more workshops since and they still do.

But after each time, I have felt immensely grounded, present and connected.

With mindfulness accompanying the words and really trying to be present, this process has helped me to experience a deeper, more personal connection to country.

I have so much to learn in this space, so I wanted to reflect on my own journey to date and to share this in case others might find it useful.

In direct contrast to my own childhood, I’ve watched my daughters be taught Acknowledgement of Country as a near daily ritual in their kindergartens and primary school.

They do it beautifully.

I feel incredibly grateful that they will have such familiarity with acknowledging and recognising the contributions, traditions and cultural heritage of our land.

Their Acknowledgement of Country has started much sooner than mine and I can only hope their sense of connection will develop to be deep and rich.

Kevin Ryan – Changing The Game Of Influence

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.

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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

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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Chris Gaviglio and Jonah Oliver – The Art & Science of Recovery

“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

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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