Meet Great Communicators: Mary Louise Kelly.

Mary Louise Kelly was wearing body armor and sitting in a Black Hawk helicopter when she received the call.

It was the nurse from her son Alexander’s pre-school in Washington.  The four-year-old was ill. Barely breathing.  He had to be taken to the hospital.

“Can you please come over right away?” The nurse asked.

No.  She could not.  Mary Louise was high in the air over war-torn Iraq – not anywhere close to home.

Suddenly, the line went dead and Mary Louise was unable to reach the school.  She was also unable to do anything to help her son.

That was four years ago and fortunately the situation turned out to be nothing serious.  Over a recent dinner, Alexander, now a smiling eight-year-old, charmingly told me he doesn’t ever remember the moment.

But, naturally, his mother does.  It was precisely then, sitting in that noisy helicopter thousands away from not only Alexander, but also her elder son James, that Mary Louise Kelly decided it was time for a career change.

She had been a National Public Radio correspondent for years.  Her coverage on terrorism, national security and spies had taken her to hot-spots all over the world. Pakistan.  Afghanistan. Iraq. She’d filed enough adrenaline-pumping stories to fill any would-be international journalist with envy.  But each adventure took her far, far, away from her husband and their boys.

So Mary Louise hung up her flak jacket and resigned from NPR to spend more time at home and write her first novel.  A spy-thriller called Anonymous Sources, it just came out last June from Simon and Schuster to great reviews.

Mary Louise Kelly's first novel "Anonymous Sources" on display in a bookstore right outside of our lunch spot in Florence yesterday.
Mary Louise Kelly’s first novel “Anonymous Sources” on display in a bookstore right outside of our lunch spot in Florence yesterday.

I read it two weeks ago and loved it.  I holed up in a small coffee shop here in Arezzo for the final 50 pages, unable to stop. Normally, I prefer non-fiction.  Biographies. Histories.  Thrillers sometimes are so implausible, I roll my eyes as I read them.   This one, however – while it does have a bigger-than-life blow-up-the-White-House-type plot line –  is woven with such truly engaging and believable characters that I was completely absorbed.

There’s a scrappy, determined reporter gal, whom I would’ve – mostly – loved to have been back in my own journalist days.   There’s a gruff, yet fatherly, editor who sips champagne whom I think I actually did work for a few times. There’s also a sexy British spy who is perfectly at ease in his own skin whom I am sorry to say I never have met.

There are also car-sized loads of bananas.  And a cat that prowls the corridors of the CIA.  But I don’t want to give everything away here.

Let’s just say that as Mary Louise and I had lunch together yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking about what a wonderful trade she seems to have successfully made.

She may no longer be covering the spy-beat  and flying in Black Hawk helicopters. But she did get General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, to write a recommendation for her book which is proudly splashed on its front cover.   She is now living in Florence, Tuscany with Alexander, James and her husband, Nick.  The boys’ school is always nearby.  She studies art history, is a member of a book club (which incidentally happens to be reading Anonymous Sources), and is hard at work writing her second novel.

Mary Louise and that feeling you get when you see your own book on display!
Mary Louise and that feeling you get when you see your own book on display!

Her adventures certainly continue.

Another example of the many forms that great communicators can take. 

Let me know if you buy Mary Louise Kelly’s book, Anonymous Sources, and tell me about a great communicator you know!

Til next time,

Baci,

Gina

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Ah, Siena.

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The look up through the courtyard of Siena’s town hall museum to the country’s large clock tower. Yes. we climbed it!

Gorgeous bright blue sun-filled skies overhead greeted us as we arrived to Siena this weekend. Although our adopted hometown of Arezzo is less than 50 miles away from its Tuscan neighbor to the southwest, we had never made the trip. Probably because you have to get there by bus, rather than train.

We arrived in the morning and immediately set out to find the Piazza Campo.

Bar il Palio -named after the famous madcap horse race that zooms around this piazza twice a year.
We had coffee/Fanta at Bar il Palio -named after the famous madcap horse race that zooms around this piazza twice a year.

I had a macchiato (and Lulu had a Fanta) at one of the many cafe’s that surround its perimeter.  The impressive slanted piazza spreads out like an amphitheater toward it iconic clock-tower and town hall.

Then we bravely decided to climb the 14th Torre del Mangia clock tower – named after its first watchman who apparently spent all his money eating (“mangia” means “eat” fyi).

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Narrow, marble and slippery, the stairs seemed to go on forever.  But, Lulu and I both made it safely to the top where the magnificent views awaited.

Here's Bar il Palio as seen from the top of the bell tower!
Here’s Bar il Palio as seen from the top of the bell tower!

The clear skies allowed us to see for great distances,

Lulu looking out across Siena
Lulu looking out across Siena
..and here's her view
..and here’s her view

but needless to say since it is still January, it was quite windy and cold at the top.

We carefully descended the stairs, toured the museum next door and then found a cozy restaurant nearby.  After lunch, we went over to the duomo and stared at the incredibly animated carvings on the outside.

The photo doesn't do Siena's duomo (cathedral) justice. The animated carvings are non-stop!
The photo doesn’t do Siena’s duomo (cathedral) justice. The animated carvings are non-stop!

We almost didn’t go in. But I am soooo glad that we did.  Inside – with the striped columns and staring down at you busts of ancient popes – it’s Tim Burton meets Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

Honestly, I have been in hundreds of ancient churches. This one is like Tim Burton meets Disney's Haunted Mansion. Super cool.
Honestly, I have been in hundreds of ancient churches. This one is like Tim Burton meets Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Super cool.

I kept craning my head upward and waited for one of those sneering pope busts to burst into a song (or a sentencing) for me.

Yes, the tight shot is blurry. I couldn't hold the camera steady enough. But trust me, these leering popes are eerie and awesome at the same time!
Yes, the tight shot is blurry. I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough. But trust me, these leering popes are eerie and awesome at the same time!

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But none of the popes started singing.

We popped back on the bus without a moment to spare at quarter to four.  Having packed in everything we could during our day, I know one thing for certain:  One day in Siena is not enough.

Fortunately we live close enough that we can visit again.  And we must!

Grazie, Siena –

A la prossima volta,

Gina

Have you been to Siena? When? What special thing did you find? 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

Meet Great Communicators!

(Or in today’s case, “Meat. Great Communicators!”)

Today, I’m kicking off a new on-going series which will profile people who are making a difference through better communications.

But this is not going to only be about millionaire consultants or executives – although there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

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Great communicators can be found anywhere.  So this series will feature a range of people.  Real people who may be making big differences or smaller differences, but together they all add up.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce to you: Alfredo.  He and his wife Monica run Macelleria Alfredo  here in Arezzo.  If you know what “macelleria” means, you know already what their shop sells.

If you don’t, here’s your translation.  They run a butcher shop.  Not any old butcher shop, but one that is built on and committed to customer service.

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There are many small butcher shops here in our small town in Tuscany which also have friendly, caring shopkeepers, but since Alfredo and Monica are special to me, I would like to share precisely how.

Whenever you walk in, you’re immediately greeted.  If there’s a line, no matter; you will still be acknowledged.  Every customer is known by name and preferences.   Whenever I come in with Lulu, Alfredo will hand her a lovely thin slice of mortadella, a light pink smooth textured type of Italian sausage (like Oscar Meyer’s bologna – but shh, don’t say a word).

Last November, when just two days before Thanksgiving, I decided I would try and roast my first Italian turkey, I was cautioned by some friends that it takes about a week to order a bird beforehand.   Not to worry, though.

Alfredo and our Thanksgiving turkey!
Alfredo and our Thanksgiving turkey!

I walked over to Alfredo’s and inquired.  He didn’t have any in stock, but he immediately made a phone call.   (I imagine he was calling some friend at a turkey-farm directly where some poor unsuspecting bird was about to be sentenced to death. Sorry!) He spoke on the phone in rapid Italian for a few moments and then turned to me, smiled and said I could pick up my seven-kilo turkey domani  or tomorrow.

“And it’s a female. Because they are plumper.  More delicious,” he confided to me.

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Yes, sir! It was a ginormous bird that thankfully fit into our oven and came out juicy and delicious!

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Great communications equals great personal relations- which also equals in my case- a tasty roasted Thanksgiving turkey.

Grazie mille, Alfredo and Monica.

If you’re a carnivore who comes to Arezzo and wants to try some authentic Tuscan treats, please pass by and say, “Ciao!” to Alfredo and Monica for me! They’re in the middle of the town’s historic center on Via Cavour.

Till next time, know a great communicator, let me know too and I’ll profile them!

Baci – Gina 

 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

A true story of perseverance.

The band is called Osaka Flu and the word was “whore.”

(If that didn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will!)

The lead-singer and back-up vocalist had come to me for help.  Their band, based here in Arezzo – but, of course, with hopes to make it BIG – plays original tunes in clubs around Tuscany in a style that sounds like a mix between Oasis and Green Day.  Their angst-filled lyrics are all in English. But when I first met them, their overly Italian pronunciation was anything but.

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“No, no,” I admonished at our first lesson, “the ‘W’ in ‘whore’ is silent.  Not like ‘War.’ Just pronounce the ‘H’.  Like ‘Hore.’ That’s it.  Really punch that breath-sound in the letter ‘H.’ Good.”

Here I was helping a guy put the proper pronunciation on that dreadful misogynistic word.  Lovely. My mother would be so proud.

To be fair, the word was part of a metaphor, “You walked out the door, just like a whore….”  The girl in question was only being compared to that term; she was not directly referred to as such.  And anyway, it’s not like I can pretend that I never listened to my share of way-not-feminist bands in my day like, Guns-N-Roses, Van Halen and Motley Crue.  But I digress.

These young men were in earnest.  They truly wanted to sing with proper American-rocker like pronunciation. So I helped them.

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Yes, this is Osaka Flu. But this is not how our training sessions looked.. 😉

Every “Leesten” became “Listen.”

Every “Deen’t” became “Didn’t.”

Every “Going to” became “Gonna.”

Every “F**king” became “F**kin’.”  You get the idea.

The point here is not to take their choice of lyrics to task, but to demonstrate to you that these guys were dedicated and worked hard.  The lead singer can barely carry a conversation in English, but man, he was committed to singing in it.

They came once a week for about an hour.  They would sing a song and I would digitally record it. Then I would play it back and point out the mistakes and they would practice it again. And again. And again.

That was two years ago.   And they have now begun recording their first original cd – full of the songs that I helped them with.  Today, the lead singer picked me up and took me to the recording studio so I could listen to each track and let them know if it passed the grade to my finely tuned American-rocker-girl ears.

They did.  They sounded great.

Yes, each song was still filled with sex and drugs – it’s only rock-n-roll after all.  But each song also sounded like a real American-style rocker was singing it.  Their Italian accents had been successfully silenced.

These guys had a plan, they sought out someone who could help them, and they persevered. It has taken them two years, but they didn’t give up.  They stuck to it.

As I listened to their recordings today, I was honestly filled with pride.  There wasn’t a hint of ‘W’ in that aforementioned word.  Good job, gentlemen.

Til next time, what endeavor are you thinking about undertaking?  Will it take a long time?  So what! Why not get started now?! Let me know about it! 

Gina

For more information on how I may help you achieve your goals, reach out to me here – or please visit my website at GinaLondon.com 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All rights reserved.

Cross-Cultural Awareness! And why it matters.

Do you travel a lot?  Are you employed in a multi-national workplace?  If so, now may be a good time to step back and evaluate your level of “cross-cultural awareness.”

You've got the whole world in your hands... now what?! ;)
You’ve got the whole world in your hands… now what?! 😉

I gave a presentation last week before the “American International League of Florence.”  But don’t let that  first word fool you.  After my speech, I spoke with an Estonian, a Belgian, a French woman, an Italian, several Brits and yes, more than a few Americans.  In short, this hard-working philanthropic organization is comprised of people from all over the world.

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A former past president of the organization who heard me speak wrote to a mutual friend who today forwarded this on to me: QUOTE Gina London è stata simpatica e indubbiamente capace di attrarre l’attenzione, soprattutto con la sua carica di simpatia e amore per la Toscana e Arezzo. E’ una donna indubbiamente che sa parlare a platee multiculturali e in particolare a una platea anche italiana! UNQUOTE”

For those of you who don’t read Italian that translates as:  “ QUOTE Gina London was undoubtedly kind and able to attract attention, especially with her enthusiasm  and love for Tuscany and Arezzo. And she is certainly a woman who knows how to talk to multicultural audiences and in particular to an audience that even includes Italians! UNQUOTE”

I was extremely honored to learn that my presentation – about the importance of story-telling to successfully improve awareness and membership – resonated with many of those in attendance – regardless of their country of origin!

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Many people came up to speak to me afterward, but to read today that I was considered particularly sensitive to the viewpoints and experiences of others from different parts of the world, was touching. It was a pleasant reinforcement of exactly what I try to practice.

I have lived and coached in diverse places like Cambodia, Egypt, Romania and France.  In today’s global marketplace, it cannot be overstated that to be successful, you cannot afford to lose time by “accidentally” disrespecting someone’s culture.

Here are a couple of top-line points to prevent you from careening into a communications road-block.

Read-up on Cultural Norms. Before you visit.  Here in Italy, it is considered quite normal and caring for a grown-up to pat the head of a child – regardless of whether they are strangers or friends.  In Indonesia, where I have trained, however, that same gesture can be considered rude and even evil – as some traditions teach that the person’s soul resides in a person’s head.

Do NOT overgeneralize.  Ever.   Just as it is not true that every American is fat and only watches reality shows (yes, I have been told that), it is also not true that every Italian smokes and parks on the sidewalks  (and yes, the latter is a direct overgeneralized quote – from my then four-year-old who now knows better. But she was only four, so give her a break). People are made up of individuals. Find that common ground.

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If you find yourself preparing to work with a variety of people from a variety of nations, there are a myriad of ways to prepare and empower yourself in this manner. And yes, I do teach and consult on this critical topic.

For more information of how I may be of help for your next meeting or presentation – or preparing your company or division for the year ahead, please contact me here or through my website: GinaLondon.com

In the meantime, I would love to hear your experiences.  Successes?  Epic Failures? What did you learn?

Grazie, tutti!

Gina

Make this YOUR year. Start your project NOW!

“My husband always said he wanted to write a book.  He collected and wrote massive amounts of materials and notes.  But he never did it.  He died two years ago.”

The man’s widow told me this – this week – as she sat next to me during lunch at Harry’s Bar in Florence.

Harry's Bar in Florence, Italy - turn around and there's the Arno.
Harry’s Bar in Florence, Italy – turn around and there’s the Arno.

 

It’s a delightful restaurant overlooking the River Arno.  She was an officer with the American International League in Florence where I had just delivered a presentation about the power of communications and story-telling toward promoting awareness and improving membership for their organization.

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I had also read a couple of excerpts from my  book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me, which is a collection of stories and adventures from my time living in Paris and here in Tuscany.

bookcover press release (2)

I related to the members that as a former journalist, I worked best under deadline.  My publisher, of course, established a deadline for me to write my book.   I am convinced that only through the combination of his encouragement and that all-important deadline hanging over my head, did I finish my book project on time.

The husband of that woman next to me at lunch, however, apparently had no such imposed deadline.   His project was never completed.  Now it was too late.

It’s still January. What have you been thinking about?  What idea you have been mulling about only inside your head?  What is it that you would like to do, but have not yet really begun?

Let's get going!
Let’s get going!

Find someone who will hold you accountable (and encourage you!).  Tell them about your intended project.  Set a deadline or a series of smaller deadlines for you to assess established milestone markers.   Maybe you are a solid self-starter and you don’t need someone looking over you.  Probably you do.  If you would like to announce it here, I am happy to be your “publisher.”

Let me know and together – with a deadline – let’s make it happen.

Don’t let it become too late for you!

 Baci tutti! Gina

P.S. Congratulations to the three people who reached out to me through my new website – GinaLondon.com – and won an hour of coaching FREE!

Check out GinaLondon.com. Here's my homepage!
Check out GinaLondon.com. Here’s my homepage!

I am happy to help you receive your goals this year! Tell me what they are and let’s get busy!

 

New website. New opportunities!

It is with great pleasure that I announce today’s arrival of – ta-dah – my new website! www.GinaLondon.com

Check out GinaLondon.com. Here's my homepage!
Check out GinaLondon.com. Here’s my homepage!

I  couldn’t have done it without the amazing web design team at Blend.  

So, now! You’re invited to take a self-guided tour to learn more about the range of communications consulting, training and coaching I can provide.   You can also book me to speak at an upcoming engagement, moderate a panel, or professionally voiceover a video.

Whether you’re on  a tablet, a laptop or your phone, go ahead and take a peek.   My website is fully responsive – which means it should look the same no matter what  you’re accessing it from.

As you’ll see, the website tells you immediately on the homepage that I want to be your communications partner for business success.

It’s true!

The first three people who reach out to me from my contact page, will get a hour-long remote coaching session: FREE! Do you have a sales presentation coming up?  A speech before your city council or company’s board?  A promotional media tour?   I can help you make sure you’re more engaging, dynamic and memorable.

But wait, there’s more!  If you provide me a referral contact from a company or organization that I ultimately contract with, I will pay you 10 percent of the total contract as a referral fee.  Really. Just provide me the name, title and contact information of someone you know whom you believe to be a legitimate potential communications prospect.  I will take it from there: contacting  them using your name as a reference and working to establish a relationship and to identify their needs.  If something works out, you will be rewarded.

And finally, I’m eager to hear what you think.  If you take a tour, please drop me a line through the website to let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you!
I look forward to hearing from you!

I know we’re all busy, but connecting and helping one another is what makes the world go ‘round.  So, let me know how I can help!

P.S. If your organization is interested in getting a spanking-new responsive new website – that Hubspot says is a must-have for 2014, I’m happy to help connect you with BLEND!

Thank you and grazie, tutti!

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.