As the bus speeds north out of London on the M1 towards Sheffield, I don’t mind that it’s rainy. It did not bother me this entire week in the UK either.

After such beautiful weather this October in South Africa, I feel that I’ve already had more than my share of great weather this year.
My time in the UK has been about seeing some important people in my life. About making the extra effort to have a meal, or have a pint with friends who I had not seen in years.
So as we walked from Marble Arch to Soho and back, or when we bumbled around the buzzing bars and restaurants of Covent Garden, we were in fact having a celebration. It was a celebration of friendship.
I am grateful to have had this time to visit such good people after the wonderful opportunities in South Africa. As my career grows this and next year I will not allow the business of it get in the way of spending time with good people.  Because these connections inspire me and make life such a beautiful journey, I will endeavour to always put my relationships first.
Take the time to maintain your friendships even when you feel you’ve put in more than your share of the effort. Sometimes this will be frustrating. But when you’ve given to real friends who care, that warmth and kindness will always come back to you.  Enjoy the celebration of friendship.
Thank you British JETs and friends for such kind hospitality, again. See you soon!

After climbing the Lion’s Head in Cape Town with Mark Dodsworth – the founder of the Red Zebra Foundation – he invited me to work with a youth group the next day. The plan was to hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town with 16 youth and to do my juggling program for them at the top. I was excited.

It was a busy morning purchasing 30 tennis balls from a store that I’d never been to, but I was able to do that and grab a bite to eat in central Cape Town just in time to catch my ride to the trailhead. There I met Jo-Annstrausse – a famous South African television presenter and model. She had volunteered to come and work with the group as well. I was immediately impressed with how friendly and down to earth she was.

The students were brought in by the company ETC to thank them for their strong efforts in school. This program was set up to encourage them to stay on the right path, to keep off of drugs and to go after their dreams despite their challenges. Only one of the 14 – 16 year old children had ever been to Cape Town before.

The hike was beautiful although cloudy for the 2nd half. Hiking in the cloud was still enjoyable as it made me take a closer look at the things that I often miss while hiking – the local plants. I was reminded of just how much I love being on mountains. I always get so much energy from being up there.

After 3 hours of medium-paced hiking, we were at the top. It felt like we had done some work, but nobody was exhausted. We arrived at this wonderful hut for the evening activities. Although it was not raining, there was so much condensation on the trees at the top, it seemed like it was. So it was a glorious treat to get in from the wind to find a roaring fire was already burning. One of our guides, Paul had arranged this.

The cabin was over 100 years old with 2 foot deep stone walls. Inside was simple and charming. There was no electricity, just candle light and bunk beds for the students to sleep in.

Once we were settled and dry, there was some magic and some games before Jo gave a beautiful talk. She spoke about how we are all who we are because of those around us. She gave some detail about her challenging childhood and how she went from rags to riches. And she also told them about the importance of education and to help those in their community.

I was truly inspired by her casual, funny speech and wondered how I was going to follow it!

After a brief break, it was my turn. We moved a couple of the tables aside to accommodate for the juggling. I knew that the presentation on focus that I usually do might not be appropriate so I made some modifications. The points that came out of me built on Jo’s presentation. As I taught them to juggle, I had them discuss the most meaningful thing that they took from her talk, among other things.

We had FUN and it went very well. It’s always satisfying to teach a group to juggle because when people achieve a certain step, they often shout out or cheer at their new success! Sometimes you can hear bursts of this from various parts of the room as it happens to different people. The excitement builds as they are learning.

They were very playful and fantastic to work with. I found it more meaningful to me than some of the other work I’ve done because of the looks on their faces. They were lost in this new play with tennis balls bouncing around everywhere. There was no judgement, and it seemed that any problems that they had in the world were definitely not there with us at that time. I know that I’d created a few new jugglers while sharing my message. At that young age, students are so impressionable, and I believe that it’s the best time to make an impression. I must do more of this with my work!

This day inspired me to work with youth once I get back to Canada. And I will. I know that the gifts I have do not need to be limited to building my business for me. I must share them now with people who need them most.

Following my session, Mark Dodsworth and his colleagues from Red Zebra arrived and facilitated an amazing drumming session. It was also powerful.  And finally, we had the braai, and to close the night there was a goo-in-the-dark juggling show to Mark’s “lakar beats” on the jambe.

It was an intense program with this group of kids and some inspiring adults. I was impressed with how well they all did as many of them had been up since 5am that day!

Jo speaking to the children

Juggling on top of this mountain with a group of disadvantaged youth turned out to be the highlight of my first 3 week tour in South Africa.

I am so grateful for what this experience has taught me and I am excited to share what I have learned with my friends, colleagues and clients once I am back home.

For the ACRE Education conference I was asked to deliver the surprise closing keynote address! They have

Tony delivers the closing keynote at the 18th annual ACRE conference in South Africa

Tony delivers the closing keynote at the 18th annual ACRE conference in South Africa

used a surprise keynote speaker at each conference for several years. This tradition started when one keynote speaker did not show up, and the conference organisers were forced to throw some presenters up there with very little notice. It was a hit, and this year it was my turn! This was a great honour for me and I created a speech based on some of my experiences while there. It took place on Tuesday, October 9th during the closing ceremony of the Education conference at the Klein Kariba Resort.

I spoke about how people should try to take one thing and not everything; assume that everyone is brilliant; and about the benefits of reflecting on new knowledge.

Often the quantity of new information – especially at the world’s largest creativity conference – we are exposed to, can be overwhelming. How many times have you been to a conference or event that you were initially excited about only to find that your notes and new resources were still sitting in a pile next to the computer several weeks later, untouched?

I facilitated an activity that engaged the audience to identify their most valuable experience or new knowledge gained at the conference. They were then challenged to hold each other accountable to take action on this thing through an email exchange.

Secondly, I spoke about how we should consider that everyone is brilliant! In this section, I described in detail how I arrived in South Africa by listening to the message of a new friend. I was speaking about my new South African colleague, Francois Coetzee, who pushed me to reach higher than I thought I could and to be more resourceful. His challenge allowed me to come to South Africa, to work with the South African 7s rugby team, to present at these conferences, make new friends and professional connections and also to deliver this keynote.

Finally, I spoke about reflecting. Because you can learn anything that you want to in this world, but if you don’t make the time to reflect on it, you risk losing it.

Throughout the speech I juggled to illustrate the points physically as well as verbally. It was well received by the audience and I was pleased with how it went. The feedback from my friends and colleagues after the talk was very re-assuring and positive.

I felt a little nervous before going on stage. After all, I was about to present in front of some of the best presenters in the world, and it was my first international keynote. But once I was given the stage I felt right at home. During the introduction I joked around with my audience a little by occasionally putting on one of my silly accents. This kept the mood light and most importantly, kept me relaxed enough to do my thing. Once I got into my presentation I felt right at home and there was no turning back. I was in complete control and I loved it!

My advice to anone who gets to this type of stage (which for me was a new challenge), is to visualize the experience as often as you can before getting up there. I made sure to spend as much time in that large hall on the stage before the keynote. Fortunately for me, I did one of my juggling workshops on that stage earlier in the conference, so I did have a feel for it in advance.

Activity during the keynote presentation

I also sketched out an image in as much detail as I could of me on that stage with the audience before me, looking at me. I lived it in my mind often before doing it, so that by the time I got up there, it was like deja vu. (that’s a Craig Valentine line, and it’s really how I felt)

More fun to come…

On Wednesday October 3rd, 2012 I had the privilege of working with the South African Sevens national rugby team. I was put into contact with the head coach, Paul Treu through Kobus Neethling and delivered my “Joy of Good Focus” workshop. It was a beautiful, warm evening when we met at a hotel board room in Pretoria for the session.

My first impression of these guys was that they were positive, energetic and big. Some of them had arms larger than my legs and there were plenty of firm handshakes.

As I taught them how to juggle, we had some dialog about mistakes, and how to learn from them. They played together to identify their goals and improve their focus and there were some interesting discoveries.

Once we got to the stage of working with 3 balls, I noticed that this group was unusually proficient. I thought that this was just due to their athleticism. But when I asked who knew how to juggle before my session, nearly 1/2 of them raised their hands! I was impressed that despite having the ability to juggle, they went at my pace and allowed me to deliver my message. What a classy group of guys!

By the end everyone was indeed juggling. I wish them the best as they are in Australia now to compete.

It was a physical, fun evening and I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work with such a world class team.

See for yourself by checking out this 2 minute video of Tony with the Springboks that summarizes the focus workshop.