My Experience at TEDxHouston: Resonate

I sang “Twinkle Twinkle Like Star.” I traded colored pencils with audience members to fill in a Color by Number illustration (I didn’t finish). I drank coffee with speaker Nilofer Merchant and admired her custom newsprint pleated skirt. These are a few snapshots of my first TEDx experience.

My Color by Number.

Overall the speakers at TEDxHouston: Resonate were in equal parts interesting, thought provoking and inspirational. But here are the three speakers that resonate with me three weeks later.

Magician and storyteller Ben Jackson dazzled and confounded us with his amazing sleights of hand woven into his story of how he became a magician. While performing these feats of wizardry Ben chatted about how he developed his skills, his travels around the globe and how his magic touches people. It was a mesmerizing 18 minute presentation.

Magician Ben Jackson – courtesy of his website.

Houston’s own Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Inc. told a chilling tale through movement and music about a ruler who foolishly banned salt from his kingdom. The result? People were ill and close to death. Weiner linked salt, an essential mineral for our bodies, with art, essential for a rich and textured life, especially for children. Now, every time I use salt on my food or in recipes,  I think of Jane’s performance and how much art nourishes my life.

Choreographer/dancer Jane Weiner. Photo: Simon Gentry

The day concluded with the electrifying words of educator Jay Berckley. I can see his simple, yet startling graphics comparing education in the United States with Finland. We spend $11,000 per student, administer a full battery of standardized tests on said students and realize the highest high-school drop-out rate among industrialized nations. Finland spends $7,000 per student, never administers a standardized test (!) and graduates its students into college or vocational school to learn a trade.  Berckley’s passion for his students made me think about my fabulous sixth grade teacher Mr. Carmine.  He was the first male teacher I had in grade school. I still remember when we hatched fuzzy baby chicks in incubators bringing science to life. Prior to that there was nothing memorable about my public school education.  I loved going to Mr. Carmine’s class every day.   Berckley’s talk made me wonder where Mr. Carmine is right now. I hope he is still in the classroom and not in an administrative capacity. Prior to Berckley’s TEDx talk I hadn’t thought about Mr. Carmine in decades.

So here are my recommendations if you decide to apply to attend a TEDx event in your city. Own your essay – fill it with your passion, insights and experiences.   When accepted, register early – room is limited at each venue. Opt for the live speaker format if you can afford it. Have fun and share your experience with others.

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My Story of Professional Gratitude

As Thanksgiving approaches I have been thinking about my personal and professional blessings. As my solo consultancy celebrates its 15th anniversary I have been reflecting on the meaningful projects and experiences I have been thankful to be a part of in the role as the public relations consultant.

Here’s a small window into my professional life.

For the past two seasons I’ve been fortunate to serve as the public relations counsel for Houston Chamber Choir, the city’s oldest professional choir.  It was a thrill to watch the Artistic Director Robert Simpson and the Choir prepare for the premiere of the “lost” manuscript of Giovanni Paolo Colonna’s Psalmi ad Vesperas (1694).  Dr. Anne Schnoebelen, the world’s foremost authority on Colonna’s music, was present at the rehearsal and offered her insights into how musicians would have pronounced certain notes in the 17th century.  The result of the performance is the first recording of this work – ever.

Another long-term client, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company continues to deepen its repertoire by commissioning new works by renowned choreographers.  Recently Larry Keigwan of Keigwan + Company came to the Houston Met studio to re-set his exuberant work, Air, on the company.  I got to sit next to Larry in the studio, and talk with him about the inspiration for his piece (flight attendants and the fun of flying) and then watch him work with the company.  Larry radiates positivity and grace.  So as the company polished the work, his revisions and corrections were shared with laugher and love. It was one big smile.  This work was clearly an audience favorite at the conclusion of the company’s seasoner opener, 11.11.11, as people openly laughed and exploded in applause at the conclusion of the piece.

These two examples demonstrate how much I have to be thankful for on a professional level.  Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll.

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The Cobbler’s Great-Granddaugher has a Fresh Web Site…Finally

Baldassari Grillo, my great grandfather, is most likely looking down from heaven, shaking his head.  How, he must wonder, did his someone of his lineage, come to be a procrastinator (I’m owning it) regarding promotional work for herself? Especially one that’s a communications professional. My great grandfather, a cobbler with high-end standards, emigrated to the U.S., set-up shop in New Jersey and raised a happy family of seven children with his wife, Vita.

And, he made beautiful shoes for each one of them.  My Aunt Rita recalls a gorgeous pair of black patent leather Mary Janes with a side button that her father special for her. This was a man who learned English in night school, did physical labor all day and faced ethnic discrimination with grace.  In fact, from Aunt Rita I now know the definition of “wop” – it means “without papers.”  When you emigrated if you had a relative or friend who “vouched” for you, you came to the U.S. with papers.  Kids would pass his shop and taunt him calling him a “ginny wop.”  He just kept working.

My web site was looking tired.  I knew it, owned it, but kept pushing forward on client work instead of addressing my need for a brand review. Google the phrase “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.”  There are thousands of hits from graphic designers, public relations professionals, web designers lamenting on their blogs about how they too put the refresh of their web portfolio last. I’m in good company, but not smart company.

But now I have Jon Scott Weaver in my professional life.  He’s a gifted integrated designer who knows how to create graphic content that works effectively on all social networking sites.  He can also refine your content with an editor’s eye. So we embarked on our journey. With gentle nudging from Jon, I actually sat down, evaluated my strengths as a public relations consultant and “magically” wrote the copy for the site. With a deadline and  accountability to Jon for his professional time – I did the work. And it was fun.  I have a fresh web site and a fresh brand that effectively communicates my story as a professional and a person.



So the cobbler’s great-granddaughter not only has a fresh look for her business, she has a smoking shoe collection as well.  I think it’s in the genes.


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Big, Rich Texas on the Style Network

Now this is “must see TV.”  Big, Rich Texas, a new Reality TV show on the Style Network just launched on July 17.  It’s spectacular summer trash.  Set in Dallas (natch) this new series features mother/daughter teams navigating the world of country-club society.  Just to be sure we’re rooted in Texas, the second episode is  Beauty Queen Drop-Out.  From the Style network web site I can deduce that six blonde women and two brunettes are the “stars” of the program. I guess the Longhorn cow in front of them is just a prop.  We really don’t have Longhorns hanging around in major cities like Dallas. They prefer pasture land in the Texas Hill Country where there are blue bonnets to pose in.

It’s frightfully hard to differentiate the Moms from the Daughters.  That’s why the tab on the program web site, Meet the Cast, comes in handy as you acquaint yourselves with these Texas beauties.  The content of Beauty Queen Drop-Out included a Mom and Daughter duo at a bar, perhaps the Country Club bar, asking random patrons if the daughter needed a ‘boob job.”  Those Dallas girls may use language like that, but here in Houston we refer to it as “breast enhancement.” You know, it’s a little more classy.  Other visual nuggests included a beauty pageant where the girls received tiaras for dubious achievements the height of the speculators worn during the recent wedding of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  There’s a old Texas saying, ” the higher the hair, the closer to God,” and apparently this applies to tiaras as well.

It’s a train wreck, one I  just can’t stop watching.  I have to DVR the first episode, Welcome to the Club, so I can understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of belonging to a “posh” Country Club.   That way I can be fully prepared for the third episode in the series, Brawling Beauty Queens, which sadly doesn’t premiere until July 31.

To paraphrase a famous saying, “Texas, we have a problem.” Gosh, everyone is going to think that Barbie dolls escaped from the doll house and relocated to Dallas. But for gravitas several of the cast bios assures the sensible viewer that many of the Moms are professional women pursuing such career paths as “global marketing executive,” “pageant coach,” “boutique owner” and  “professional model.”  What? No petroleum engineers?

I for one am on the chuck-wagon.  I liked the BRT Facebook page and the Twitter account – and you should too.   I’ll be taping this beauty of a show and reveling in the sheer stupidity of good old fashioned Reality TV –  Texas style. We do everything bigger and better in Texas.

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Want Art? Tell Austin by May 13

It’s sausage making time in Texas – the legislative type, which isn’t as tasty as the product that comes out of the hallowed pits across the state.  Funding for the cultural arts, namely the Texas Commission on the Arts is on the chopping block. Today and tomorrow House and Senate Conferees will meet to reconcile the House Budget which axes TCA; and the Senate version, Senate Bill 1, slashes the agency’s budget in half from the last funding cycle – but it doesn’t terminate the agency.

The cultural arts generate $4.5 billion per year in economic activity in Texas. Their importance to education and the quality of life in our state in intangible.  Need more ammo: click this link to see the analytical data detailing the positive impact the cultural arts have on the citizens, communities and businesses around our state.

E-mail House Conferree Representative Sylvester Turner of District 139, Houston and Senator Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, District 4, to ask them to support the Senate recommendation for TCA funding.

NOW.  Before our rich and proud state is known as a cultural waste land.



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Three Grand Seeks Qualified Texas PR Student

It’s just like dating. The Public Relations Foundation of Houston has a $3,000 scholarship to award to a deserving student.  The Foundation Board seeks a well-rounded public relations student.  The student or parents of the student are seeking unrestricted funds to be used for college expenses. “Deserving” translates to a student that is majoring in public relations or a related field (communications, etc.) at a Houston area university. They maintain at least a 3.25 GPA in the major and a 3.0 GPA overall.  They are a full-time student.  They have leadership skills like serving as an officer in PRSSA; or demonstrated community service. Match? Then apply for the PRFH Scholarship by this Friday, March 11.

Not convinced? $3,000 means new software.  A FlipCam for creating videos. A trip to the PRSSA National Conference. A rewarding and valuable internship instead of a minimum wage job.  So don’t hesitate – download the application now and apply today.  It could be the match that propels you from college to a career.

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