“You are Welcome” – My diary of Lagos, Nigeria

“You are welcome.”  “You are welcome.”  In the three days since I landed in Lagos, this is the phrase I have heard most.

From the gracious team at the luxurious Wheatbaker Hotel where I am fortunate enough to be staying –

Willie, who said he watched all my shows.
Willie, who said he watches all my shows. 😉
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
More the the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos
More of the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos

– to the esteemed journalists and managers of various media outlets including The Nation and Business Day newspapers and TVC and The Channels radio and television networks.

The editorial staff at Nations - One of Nigeria's top newspapers!
The editorial staff at Nations, one of Nigeria’s top newspapers.
Meeting with the Kayode Akintemi, the GM of Channels TV
Meeting with the GM of Channels TV
After being interviewed by Business Day's Kemi Ajumobi
After being interviewed by Business Day’s Kemi Ajumobi

I am visiting Lagos for the first time.  Working with my local strategic partners, Amplio Consulting and SwiftThink Limited, I’ll be conducting a series of strategic communications training sessions and workshops between now and July 18.  We kick-off activities tomorrow with the Find Your Edge Summit here at the Wheatbaker.

My incredible partners - Ayo and Folake Owodunni  from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!
My incredible partners – Ayo and Folake Owodunni from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9AM-5PM participants will have an opportunity to practice real hands-on techniques and develop new skills from me, veteran CNN correspondent and international communications consultant, and my new friend and colleague Richie Dayo Johnson, a local and proven leader in communications training, etiquette and business savvy.  The Summit is open to the general public and registration is ongoing.  Click here to learn more!

http://findyouredge.com.ng

This morning, I spoke on Radio Continental to explain why communication counts – especially in the digital age where you can be instantly judged by a global standard.  And later, I met the talented hosts of “Your View,” on TVC to share some secrets of better communications to get results. At every place, the people have been warm-hearted and congenial. These first three days have been very rewarding.

Your views

Yes, it’s true we have driven through scenes of poverty. And yes, it’s true I have a machine-gun toting federal police officer riding at all times in the front seat of my car to stem off unwarranted stops.

Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.
Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.

But one by one, individual by individual, I am meeting an incredible number of accomplished people.  Nigerians who are proud of their country and are committed to making it a better place.

folake and me

I feel very welcomed indeed.

Chukwugozie onyeobula nilee (Thank you all!)  

In gratitude, Gina

P.S.  Are you Nigerian? What are you most proud of?  Are you not Nigerian? What do you think? Looking forward to hearing from you! Ciao –

 

 

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Happy Anniversary

Seven years ago today, I married Scotty Walsh.

wedding dip

I put on a white dress I bought from my friend who owns Mariel Boutique in Denver, picked some tulips and daffodils growing in our garden and drove with Scotty Walsh to the City and County Building in the center of the town.

There we signed a document, paid a small fee and were legally married in that sterile government building under a banner of dusty silk flowers. Fortunately our inauspicious beginning was NOT a harbinger of things to come.

We walked from the courthouse over to the Denver Athletic Club and stood together as husband and wife on the club’s rooftop terrace.  Although our view stretched out over the Mile High City, there was no way we could literally or figuratively see far enough to imagine the travels and adventures that lay ahead before us.

Our wedding day in Denver!
The photo from our wedding day – published in the Denver Athletic Club magazine!

Since that time, Scotty and I have lived in Paris.   We enjoyed learning about its food (my faves: PAIN AU CHOCOLAT and COQUILLES SAINT- JACQUES), the flower-filled verdant parks and the warm people sometimes hiding behind proud and refined exteriors.

Par-eee!
Par-eee!

Now we live in Tuscany.  Again, we have enjoyed learning about the food (my faves: BUDINO DI RISO and SUGO DI CINGHIALE!), the sun-filled piazzas,  and the passionate and caring people sometimes hiding behind the teensiest bit of resounding exuberance.

Tuscan-eeee!
Tuscan-eeee!

As romantic as it may sound, it isn’t always easy to be the Americans living among different languages and customs. And, of course, we are busy raising our daughter Lulu.  Largely by ourselves since our families aren’t here.  We miss them.  We also miss having a car.  We miss the mundane comforts of knowing a system. Even though the US is not always the easiest place to navigate, we know we can pick up the phone and have a real conversation in our native language.  Here we’re constantly the foreign couple who speak a Tarzan-version of the host-country’s language.

Yes, there's a ball and chain. Yes, there's a rolling pin.  (This is modeled after a famous Buster Keaton photo, FYI)
Yes, there’s a ball and chain. Yes, there’s a rolling pin. (This is modeled after a famous Buster Keaton photo, FYI)

But so far, we have made it.  Together.

Thank you, Scotty, for seven incredible years.  May our adventures continue.

 

Grazie a tutti! All you wonderful people who have been comforts and friends to us during the past seven years.   Love and baci to you all!

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Cultural Awareness Part 2 – The Bird!

I watched as the man “flipped-the-bird” at his six-year-old daughter. 

Instantly, I gasped and felt a surge of adrenaline.  What kind of father would do that to his own daughter?

The next moment, giggling, his little girl smiled broadly and flipped him right back! The two of them then laughed and hugged each other.

It dawned on me.  The kind of father who would do that and who would have a little girl who would happily do it too – would be ones who weren’t American and who were not taught specifically (like I was) that this gesture was obscene.

They’re Italian.  And they’re lovely.  The little girl is one of Lulu’s best friends and a kind, well-behaved little sweetie.  I know her parents too. Her mom and dad are loving, caring, and, yes, full of Italian playful spirit.

Unintentional or not?
Unintentional or not?

Obviously, for them, raising the middle finger to each other  was just a part of playful banter – not the supreme insult of which most six-year-olds wouldn’t even comprehend.

It was my personal point-of-view and frame-of-reference that caused me to gasp – not the reality of the situation or their intent.

Consider your listener’s unique point of view.

That startling moment served as another reminder to me about how important it is to try as best as possible, to consider the points of views of “the others” when you communicate.   Not only where your audience may be from regionally or culturally, but what is going on in their lives that may reframe or color whatever it is you are trying to get across.

Your experiences are not necessarily the same as your  audience.

Of course there are plenty of hand gestures in Italy and in other cultures that do pack a real wallop-worth of insult.  I’m not going to go into that now.  Just remember when you’re speaking to you next audience, that not every anecdote or moment that that speaks deeply to you, will do the same for your listeners.  Conversely, something you may take lightly, may deeply impact those around you.

I remember, for example, when I lived in Cairo – I learned a particularly colorful epithet from the man who guided Scotty and me on our tour through the Pyramids of Giza.  Directly – and  bit softly – translated, it means, “Kiss My Red Baboon’s Bottom!”  I thought it was hilarious.  But when I proudly (and naively?!) repeated it in Arabic for my Egyptian staff members  back at my office, they  were shocked.  No lady speaks like that.  It was offensive. Yet, to my non-Arabic speaking ears, it was as lilting as a string of nonsense words from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

Kiss my red baboon's ..yikes!
Kiss my red baboon’s ..yikes!

Search for the common ground.

Your anecdotes and language, therefore, must reach a higher level. One that you are sure will connect and not offend your audience.  Find someone with whom you can practice – and test out your stories or illustrations. Get feedback before you deliver your presentation or make your sales pitch.

It’s essential that every word counts and does not discount what you intend to say.cultural awareness

Author Elizabeth Gilbert in her best-selling book, Eat Pray Love recounts a moment in Naples when an eight-year-old girl in Naples shoots her the middle finger from the back of a Vespa all the while sporting a big smile.   Gilbert writes about a paragraph worth of imagined meaning from the gesture, because to her, as an American, that gesture carried a powerful impact.  But to the little girl in question, much like Lulu’s little friend, it probably meant hardly anything at all.

Ciao!

Here’s to your next presentation’s success!

Baci, Gina

Want to make your next presentation, powerful, dynamic and memorable – in a way that is NOT offensive?  Contact me here or through my website! 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Believing in Miracles.

I think you’re not a proper town in Italy, unless you’ve experienced a miracle. And, Arezzo, my friends, is a proper town! Its most famous miracle is celebrated every February 15 during a holiday named La Festa della Madonna del Conforto, so, naturally, Lulu and I joined in today’s festivities.

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The nexus is Arezzo’s duomo where hundreds of faithful climb the steps and line up for a glimpse of the miracle-worker enshrined inside the cathedral’s ornate chapel.

As Lulu and I ascend, we are almost step-in-step with the procession of white-cloaked clergy, including Arezzo’s long-time Bishop Gualtiero Bassetti, whom Pope Francis (or Papa Francesco as Lulu says) just appointed Cardinal last month.

Pretty impressive turnout!

The new Cardinal and entourage!
The new Cardinal and entourage!

 However, even more special and personal for us, is when, as I prepare to snap a photo of Lulu in front of the duomo, Arezzo’s mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani, snuck up behind and surprised Lulu with a Dracula-like envelope of his coat!

He’s a kind friend, who has graciously cooked and served us an amazing dinner at his home with his family, Zio Beppe (again, as Lulu says) takes a real shine to Lulu – and vice-versa.

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Lulu and Count Dracula, er, Arezzo’s kindly mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani!
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Lulu and Arezzo’s mayor, after an attendant has placed the ceremonial banner on him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

But, as I mentioned, the main attraction lies inside the church, so inside we go.   The queue is a long-one and luckily Lulu has her sticker book which keeps her happily occupied.  

PicMonkey Collage

Finally, we near the flower-bedazzled chapel and there it is: a small glazed clay plaque with the likeness of Madonna, (Mamma di Gesu, as Lulu says) painted on it.  This is what all the fuss is about.

See the little glowing square in the center of the frame? That's her!
See the little glowing square in the center of the frame? That’s her!

The terracotta tile is Arezzo’s sacred protector, the Madonna del Conforto, or Madonna of Comfort.

The story goes that back in February 15, 1796, that plaque was just hanging out in some basement (directly above a stove that covered it in smoky grime) when a series of earthquakes threatened to damage the city.  A few people huddled in that very basement and began to pray. Then, the legend has it that the Madonna plaque suddenly began to glow brightly through its blanket of soot and those dangerous tremors ceased!

The plaque received a cleaning, polishing and place of honor in its prestigious current location, where today it seemed to glow again. The two times I quickly tried to snap a photo, I could never capture the famous face.

We're getting closer to the Madonna del Conforto, but my camera still didn't capture her face.
We’re getting closer to the Madonna del Conforto, but my camera still didn’t capture her face.

As we pass by the plaque’s flowerful shrine,  Lulu and I are sprinkled with holy water by the plaque’s presiding priest and we are each handed a little tract.

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“Okay, we did it,” Lulu says after dutifully crossing herself and exiting the cathedral.  “Now can we go get some candy?”

“Sure, let’s go,” I reply.

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Surrounding the base of Arezzo’s duomo are a ring of concession trailers selling an assortment of chocolates, nuts and Lulu’s favorites: gummies.

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“Yummy! I like the Madonna festa a lot!” Lulu exclaims holding her paper bag of chosen treats.

“But do you really believe that the little plaque glowed and stopped the earthquakes?”  I ask.

“It wasn’t the plaque, Mama, it was God,” Lulu sums up what I had apparently missed.

Because, more than the candies or the Cardinal, it’s that that brings the people here today to celebrate.

IMG_1545

Til next time, Gina

P.S. Got a miracle to share?  Made a pilgrimage?  Visited an inspirational shrine? Let us know! 

 Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

Buon San Valentino!

Although Valentine’s Day is not as hyped here in Italy as in other countries (say, the United States), there was still plenty of pink and red to be found today on my morning’s walk along Arezzo’s Corso Italia.  Come join me!

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The first thing I noticed were these tiny hearts peering up from under this large plant at the entrance to Graziella Patio Hotel!

Immediately at the intersection of Via Cavour and the Corso, I was greeted by the always friendly windows of Bar Stefano, now decorated in a subtlety sweet San Valentino style.

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Even though it is not traditional for Italian children to exchange Valentine cards at school, there was still a stream of Valentine envelopes cascading from the beautiful shop of local Arezzo jewelry designer superstar Giovanni Raspini.

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Next, as I continued down the Corso, I wondered whether I was more intrigued by the alluring lingerie behind the window or by the silver stickers on the window representing those delicious chocolate-wrapped hazelnuts, “Baci”  or “kisses.” Like Hershey’s in name only.  The company’s motto is, “Say ‘I love you’ the Italian way.”  Perfect.

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Rounding out my stroll, on the opposite side of the Corso, this store proclaimed it has the secret of “TRUE LOVE” inside its doors. ???????????????????????????????

Perhaps, but as I wandered along gazing at the array of specially advertised Valentine’s Day sweets, jewelry and clothing, I happened upon this young couple walking hand in hand.

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Without disturbing them, I snapped a photo at the very moment they expressed their love the best way of all –          -from the heart.

Buon San Valentino, tutti!  

No matter what or whether the gifts – I hope you have a loving day.

Til next time,

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

Birds of a Feather

When I first snapped this group photo of a synchronized geometric pigeon formation on Arezzo’s Chiesa Saint Maria in Gradi, it was just for fun. Then I started thinking more about it.

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Perhaps because I am a compulsive “life lessons” gatherer, I began to wonder the following:

1.       Who was the leader?  Which, among the dozens of birds I saw resting on the church’s pediment, was the first to land there?  Was it the leader in a flock already flying and the rest followed?  Or did the first one land solo, but look like it was having so much fun that others flying by decided to land and join in?  Why?

2.       How many did birds did it take to “trend”? Assuming that they all didn’t land there together, I wondered how many of them in twos or threes had to congregate there first – before the many more swerved over to check out the church rooftop?  What was the (thank you, Malcolm Gladwell) tipping point for this avian afternoon hangout? If you’ve ever tossed a bread crumb to a single pigeon, you know it doesn’t take long before a crowd of friends appears from almost nowhere.  But here at the church, there didn’t appear to be any food – only sun and rest.  Perhaps that was enough.

3.       How long was it before they left and how did they leave?  Okay, most likely the birds left in flight. But since I didn’t stick around until they did, I wondered how long the group decided to hang out up there and whether when one decided to depart (would it have been the same one who started the trend?), did the rest follow en masse  or only a few at a time? 

Follow the leader
Follow the leader

Sheep vs. Pigeons

Usually, it’s the sheep we get compared to when discussing how and why people seem to follow others.  But that unfortunate comparison often leads to the allusion of slaughter and I’m just talking about landing on a quiet Tuscan church that holds in store no apparent harm!  So, indulge me just a little more, if you please.

I wonder who we follow and why?   I read a lot about communications and personal brand marketing these days, to keep me current when coaching and training my clients.  I sometimes, however, get distracted by a Daily Mail type tabloid about some celebrity’s drunk driving arrest (thank you, Justin Bieber) and I waste valuable work time.

Lulu in Parco Prato's former meadow hangout
Lulu in Parco Prato’s former meadow hangout

My friend Francesco tells me that people in Arezzo used to flock (sorry!) to the meadow in Parco Prato a few years ago every summer evening– laying down blankets or sitting on the lawn.  The grown-ups would chat while they sipped aperitivi and the kids would run and chase each other and be kids.  Nobody does this anymore and there appears to be no reason as far as I can tell.  I wonder why what seems like a lovely social gathering spot fell out of practice.

Maybe I have too much time on my hands for such pigeon ponderings, but I think once the weather properly warms up, I’m going to grab some friends and picnic blankets and head over to Parco Prato and see what we can do!

Here’s to being leader pigeons! (Please do pick your preferred animal avatar of choice.)

Til next time!  What/who are you proud to follow?  Guilty of following?!

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Ooh! I am sooo distracted!

Click. It’s the Olympics. Ah.  Cool. Downhill.

Tap. It’s a text about an upcoming voice over appointment.  Time change. Got it. I’ll be there.

Tap.  It’s another text. This one from my cell phone provider telling me I’ve won some contest.  Marketing Spam. Delete.

Buzz.  It’s a DM Tweet from a Social Media author who would like me to write a guest blog. Yes. Would be delighted.

Brring.  It’s Scotty on the phone. He’ll be bringing a pizza home for dinner.  I don’t have to cook? Awesome.

 ◊    ◊    ◊

pizza

That was all in the spread of about thirty minutes.  I’ll bet you can more than relate.

In our world today, we’re becoming more and more fragmented and distracted. Everyone and anyone can reach out and tap, buzz or brring us at any time.  We’re expected to be constantly available.  We go to meetings and presentations with our smartphones and tablets, so we don’t miss anything from the outside.  Unless we purposefully “unplug,” we remain connected even during so-called vacation time.

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Our brains are filtering information at a rapid pace. I read somewhere, for example, that the average person is so adept at scanning, they only read parts of the headlines, let alone the articles.  I don’t remember where I read that; I probably got distracted.

So! It’s obvious we ONLY pay attention to what really captivates us.   What are we to do about that? Here are three ideas.

  1. Learn how to become captivating.   How can you expect to sell anything? To persuade someone?  To motivate people to action? If you’re communicating like everyone else on every social media platform out there, you can set yourself apart  when you open your mouth.   For your personal and professional brand to stand out from all the noise of social media, smart phones and the like – your competitive edge is how well you can engage your audience when you speak.  If you don’t speak well, the people in the boardroom or in the audience are going to turn right back to their lap top or their smart phone.  You know this is true.  So do something about it!
  2. Don’t just broadcast, engage.  When you use social media to post something about yourself or your company, are you just throwing information out, or are you trying to genuinely talk to people?  Do you have an automatic Tweet follower response, or are you personally thanking people?  Forming relationships may take more time, but they will likely be deeper and more loyal if they feel you care about them.
  3. Quality over quantity. That leads me to this: a smaller network of trusted influencers is going to help you more than 100K anonymous followers.  Again, these kinds of relationships will likely take more time, but will also be more likely to remain with you and help provide real connections to your next great thing.

No matter what it is you’re trying to do, the trick is to make yourself heard and remembered ABOVE of everything else.

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Doesn’t becoming captivating sounds like so much more fun than being just another piece of white noise?  Buzz! Opps, gotta go!

Til next time, how do you try to captivate others? What captivates you? What distracts you?

Baci, Gina

 Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.