Archive for Public Speaking Posts

published in Failure, John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, Public Speaking, Workplace Safety by Maryanne | January 15, 2019 | 14 Comments

The Bigger the Failure the Better the Lesson


Last week, I found myself delivering a safety presentation to a gymnasium filled with two hundred Junior High School students. The kids were great. Rambunctious yes…but for the most part, attentive and well-behaved.

The presenter, on the other hand, well…she had a few things to learn. And what better way to teach an old dog a few new tricks than by placing her so far outside her comfort zone that she has no choice but to learn them. For in terms of what I consider to be enjoyable activities, public speaking to teenagers ranks slightly below having a triple root canal.

Admittedly, thanks in part to my current Bohemian writer lifestyle, my public speaking skills are a bit rusty. But I certainly know the story (the circumstances that led to John’s death) and the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund’s (JPMF) workplace safety messages inside out and backwards. I’ve delivered our safety presentation dozens of times to a variety of different audiences over the years…but never to a gym full of 14-year-olds. In the past, other JPMF speakers have done the school presentations.

In other words, I didn’t know my audience and I hadn’t bothered to do the research to tweak my presentation accordingly. But (for a variety of reasons) since it was ME standing in front of those kids, it was me who had to deliver the presentation…so I did the best I could.

And it’s fairly safe to say I was a resounding failure.

But that’s okay because while I was flailing about at the front of the gym, focusing on the wrong elements of the story, failing to make our safety messages relevant to that particular audience, causing the microphone to make that horrific screeching sound (I think I actually heard some boos from the crowd on that…can’t blame them) and struggling with the damn audio/visual system, I was also learning.

I had no choice. My contact person at the school (also responsible for crowd control) just happened to be a very switched-on, take-no-guff Vice Principal who knew how to handle the students AND, I soon learned, how to make our safety messages relevant to them.

Since the kind soul  had to keep coming up to help me with the A/V anyway, at one point she started taking the microphone and explaining to the students the points I (in an ideal world) should have been making.

Here’s a brilliant example of the Vice Principal in action:

She took the mike, looked at the gymnasium full of kids, paused a moment for effect (which really works by the way…the crowd hushed immediately), then pointed at them and said: “YOU have a role to play in helping make sure police officers, firefighters and paramedics make it home safely to their families.”

Then she pointed to the overhead screen behind her where an image from one of the JPMF’s videos was paused on the screen, then resumed addressing the students: “Those first responders come into YOUR school, YOUR homes and YOUR future workplaces to keep YOU safe! They are extremely well-trained but they are coming into an unfamiliar place and cannot possibly know all the hidden dangers…which is why you have to help make wherever you are as safe as possible.”

Then she handed the mike back to me. Wow. A little later, she did the same thing with our traffic safety messages.

Afterwards, I confessed to her that I had gone into the presentation not really convinced that young people – many of whom don’t yet have part-time jobs or their driver’s license – would find the presentation of interest or relevance.

To this she looked at me, crossed her arms (she is a Vice Principal after all) and said: “Do you have any idea how incredibly important the Memorial Fund’s safety messages are for kids this age?”

Obviously not…but I was certainly starting to figure it out.

“They are certainly old enough,” she said, “to understand that what happened to John was not only preventable it was completely unacceptable. The Memorial Fund’s safety messages and videos are powerful and effective…you just have to tweak the presentation so that you make it relevant to their age group.”

We’re not supposed to be good at everything

The very next day, wouldn’t you know it – but I was having coffee with a JPMF Board member. He, too, has delivered many safety presentations over the years but, like me, had been hesitant about the relevance of our safety presentation to Junior High students.

I told him all about the presentation and what the Vice Principal had said, including her specific examples of how to make the safety messages relevant to teens.

After I finished speaking, he leaned back, nodded and said, “Yup…got it. After hearing that feedback, I’ll do those presentations from here on in.”

And there you have it…we aren’t supposed to be good at every single task. If public speaking was where I wanted to direct my energy, then yes, of course I’d learn from my mistakes and tweak accordingly moving forward. But sometimes it’s okay to fail at a task for the purpose of learning and sharing what we’ve learned, so that someone else can pick up the ball and run with it.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life.

The Question That Took Me to Chicago


MA having her first slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, WINx Chicago, Apr 2017

“What if there was no secret but there was a question? Not just any question…Life’s Most Powerful Question: What’s Important Now?”

– Brian R. Willis, Winning Mind Training Inc.

What’s Important Now?

The question, “What’s Important Now?,” can serve as a guide to help us prioritize the choices and decisions we are faced with every day. It is a question that can help us overcome life’s challenges, obstacles and road blocks.

Brian Willis first heard about the question (represented by the acronym W.I.N.) while reading the book Winning Every Day by the famous college football coach Lou Holtz. Coach Holtz used to remind his players at Notre Dame to ask themselves this important question throughout the day.

“There is a powerful lesson to be learned from ‘Coach’ for all of us,” explains Willis. “Every day during our personal and professional lives we are faced with a number of critical choices and decisions. Our responses to those choices, the decisions we make, have a lasting impact on our health, our relationships, our careers and our finances.”

In order for us to achieve excellence in our lives, Brian suggests we ask ourselves this simple, but powerful question throughout every day – What’s Important Now?


Because the simple act of stopping to ask this question causes us to briefly pause while our mind imagines the impact of the choices we have and almost immediately brings to mind the most desirable choice.

“When I say most desirable I do not mean the choice that will give us the most immediate gratification,” Willis explains. “I mean the choice that will have the most positive impact for us in our lives, based on the foreseeable future. This one powerful question allows us to prioritize decisions, choices, actions, and events in our personal and professional lives.”

The reason “What’s Important Now?” is such a powerful question is that it is about both the present and the future.

Brian Willis is a mentor of mine – and a good friend. Interestingly, our paths crossed before we did. Brian was a Calgary police officer who trained my husband, John, when he was in recruit class. After John’s death, Brian and his lovely wife, Lynda, became strong supporters of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund…and of me, personally.

Brian first introduced me to the “What’s Important Now?” question more than a decade ago. And the older I get, the more often I find myself utilizing it as a powerful tool throughout my day.

Brian recommends we ask ourselves this question 35 to 40 times throughout our day – and I suspect I am probably getting pretty close to doing just that.

Why? Because it works like a charm to help keep me on track with what is REALLY important in any given moment or situation.

For more information about What’s Important Now, please visit the W.I.N. website. And I highly recommend signing up to receive Brian’s weekly blog via e-mail.

Which brings me to Chicago…

When Brian and his colleague, Roy Bethge of the Virtus Group, asked me to be one of nine speakers at WINx Chicago 2017 in late April – a TEDx Talks style event for growth and advancement of the law enforcement profession – I immediately said yes.

Our presentations could only be 18 minutes in length…which was a real challenge! But I did it. We ALL did 🙂

And the experience of being part of WINx 2017 was amazing. It was an opportunity of a lifetime…and I am so glad I had the courage to embrace it.

All of the talks were filmed and will be shown on You Tube. Here is the link to the 2016 WINx talks.

And since I was in the Windy City anyway…

For those of you know me personally, this won’t surprise you in the least – but since I was in Chicago for work anyway, I figured I might as well extend my visit a few days to see the sights. Lynda Willis joined me and we had a blast, roaring around the streets of Chicago!

Here are a few pics from the fun portion of the program:

Unbelievably decadent Chicago-mix Garrett popcorn…cheddar cheese & caramel!


Looking up at the Willis Tower, Chicago


“The Bean” in Millennium Park


One of “The Faces” in Millennium Park


MA & Lynda on the ferris wheel at Navy Pier, Chicago


One view from the Willis Tower, Chicago…skyscrapers galore!


MA & Lynda standing not so steady on the glass shelf, 103 floors up, Willis Tower, Chicago

Back on solid ground, here we are outside the theatre where we saw the Hamilton musical. OMG…it was incredible!!

Meanwhile back at the ranch…or the country kennel, as the case may be, Sadie was NOT impressed with her overly cozy canine companion!

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.


Commemorating 15 Years of Workplace Safety Success


MA speaking at JPMF 15th anniversary event

Maryanne speaking at the JPMF’s 15th anniversary event, Calgary, AB, May 2015

The following presentation was delivered by Maryanne Pope, Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF), in Calgary, AB at the JPMF’s 15th Anniversary event on May 23, 2015


Thank you so much for coming this evening and for all your support over the years – I really appreciate it…all of us at the JPMF do.

And a special thank you to Calgary Police Chief Paul Cook, Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth and EMS Chief Darren Sandbeck – for taking the time to attend this event and saying a few words. Your presence here tonight speaks volumes.

As you all know, in September, it will be 15 years since John passed away. But I remember, like it was yesterday, a specific incident at John’s funeral reception – that I’d like to share that with you now.

After John’s funeral, we were all in this huge banquet room at the Hyatt downtown and someone was up at the podium, saying a few words about John. I was in the crowd, listening…and I specifically remember standing beside the buffet table – ‘cause if there’s a buffet in the room, I’m not gonna be far from it 🙂

Anyway, I remember standing there, listening and I suddenly got really nervous. I just had this really strong feeling that I needed to say something. But I had no idea what. And then I felt this little…almost like a push from behind. But when I turned around, there was no one nearby.

Then the next thing I knew, I was walking towards the podium. And then there I was, standing at the mike…without a clue of what I was going to say. Boy, did that room of a thousand people ever go quiet fast.

And then I heard myself say, “I am SO determined to make sure something good comes from John’s death.”

And now here we are, almost 15 years later, and it is absolutely amazing to see just how much good has come from John’s death through the workplace safety initiatives of the JPMF – and in many other ways, too.

But what I didn’t know all those years ago, standing at the podium as a broken-hearted and terrified young widow, was that the key to ensuring positive change came from John’s death had very little to do with “I” and everything to do with learning how to work with like-minded individuals who cared just as much as I did that John’s death hadn’t been in vain.

And since you’re here tonight, you fall into that category…one way or another.

But in the early days, some of those like-minded individuals were the 3 police officers –recruit classmates of John’s – who started the JPMF: Cliff O’Brien, Glenn Laird and Joel Matthews. And through brainstorming together, we realized that the tragedy of John’s preventable death could be used as a powerful educational tool to help prevent other workplace injuries and fatalities.

And if John were here today, I think he’d be shocked to see what the 4 of us somehow managed to get off the ground…so I guess we must’ve got some work done over all those lunches and beers at Joey Tomato’s 🙂

But what I also I didn’t know 15 years ago – and I don’t think Cliff, Glenn and Joel did either, which is a good thing – was just how much work it would be to try and tackle an issue as mammoth at workplace safety.

So although the 4 of us figured out pretty quick what we wanted to achieve – educate the public about why and how to make their workplace safe for everyone, including emergency responders – we had no clue how we were going to achieve that…nor how much time, effort and money it would take.

But we muddled through somehow and got the first 2 PSAs done – with the help of a lot of people, including Shannon Lyons who did some great work for us in the early years.

And then Ian Wilson, our Managing Director, found his way to us – and helped us find our way through the Boots PSAs, safety video, Safety Presentation Program and dozens of fundraisers, community education events and countless grant applications.

Ian has been a tremendous blessing to me personally by taking on the role of Managing Director – ’cause I really sucked at it – and is an incredible asset to the JPMF. Ian makes things happen. So thank you, Ian, for all you do, including tonight’s awesome event.

Now you’ve already heard 2 of our safety presenters tonight – Jody Laird and Lindsey Jepson. They are both outstanding speakers – and are doing a phenomenal job getting out into companies, schools and conferences to deliver the JPMF workplace safety messages.

And, as Jody mentioned, it is through the Safety Presentation Program that we are finally starting to see actual behaviour change. So thank you Jody & Lindsey – and welcome to our newest presenter, Sarah Starling.

I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Brian Willis. Brian’s not an official JPMF speaker – i.e. we don’t pay him! – but he delivers officer safety presentations all over North America…and always mentions the JPMF.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Sarah Hourihan, who was our first Safety Presentation Coordinator. Sarah did a tremendous job getting the program going. And now Carolee Israel-Turner has jumped in with both feet and doing a great job.

I’d also like to thank Kristin Atkinson, who is the Secretary on our Board and a long-time volunteer and very dear friend of mine – as well as Aaron Chakowski, who is a now a Director on our Board. And welcome to our newest Board members, Rui Medeiros and Paul Wyatt.

And a huge thank you to ALL our volunteers over the years…from those who have worked our casinos, the CPS ½ Marathon, the CPA golf tournament and everything in between. Our volunteers are absolutely imperative in helping us raise the funds needed, for us to get our safety messages to the public.

Thanks also to all financial supporters and donors…and that includes all of you who come out to our special events, drink too much and then spend lots of money at our silent auction!

I’d also like to thank Jan Stuggert, who works in Occupational Health & Safety. Jan is a tremendous supporter of the JPMF and she is one of our pipelines to the OH&S world – some of whom are here tonight. So thank you Jan and to all of you in OH&S – both for coming this evening and supporting the JPMF…as well for all the important work you do, day in and day out.

And on that note, a big thank you to all the police officers, firefighters and EMS in the room tonight…it is an honour to be able to work with the JPMF to help raise public awareness about the risks you face on the job. So thank you for doing the work you do…and thank you to your spouses and family for all their behind the scenes support.

Which brings me to my own family and friends – and John’s family and friends. Although you probably think I’m crazy – which I am – for my rather obsessive dedication to the JPMF, I think you know that the work we’re doing does make a difference. And so for your behind the scenes support all these years, I thank you.

The past 15 years have taught me what team-work can achieve. Workplace safety IS a massive and complicated issue.

But by working with others and using John’s death as a powerful – and personal – example of what can happen when safety isn’t a priority, we are collectively working towards creating a culture where everyone gets home safely from work.

On a final note, I’d like to share with you a little chat that Cliff and I had a couple of months ago – about tonight’s event.

Now, Cliff and I have had many little “chats” over the years…and they often go something like this: “Hey, Cliff, I have a great idea for the Memorial Fund!”

“Uh huh.”

“Okay, so for a fundraiser, how about we make some of those bobble-head dolls for the dash board on cars! We can sell them for $50 each and there can be a police one, a fire one and an EMS one!”


So I keep going: “Maybe we could even have a John bobble-head as the police officer…no, no, that’s kinda weird. Okay, we could have you or Glenn or Joel’s head bobbing around up there…”

Then Cliff gives me the look. And says: “You are kidding, right, Pope?”

And another bad idea shot down! But it proves my point about the importance of team-work.

Anyway, the chat Cliff and I had a couple of months ago was of a more serious nature. Because, in usual Cliff-style, he said it like it was: “This 15 year anniversary-thing…I don’t like the word celebration. Yes, we’ve achieved a lot in John’s memory – but the whole reason for the existence of the JPMF is nothing to celebrate.”

He’s absolutely right. But therein lies the paradox of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. An incredible guy by the name of John Petropoulos died at the age of 32 – because of a missing safety railing.

But since we can’t bring John back, the next best thing we can do – and are doing – is help ensure that what happened to John doesn’t happen to others…one PSA viewing, one safety presentation at a time.

So then perhaps tonight we are…commemorating 15 years of achievements, while remembering a pretty awesome guy who gave his life in the line of duty.

But we still have an awful lot of work to do.

Since John’s death in 2000, more than 14,000 Canadians have died from work related injuries or illnesses. That is staggering.

But on a happier note…actually, it’s not that happy either. But it’s gonna have to do ‘cause that’s what’s next on the agenda. The JPMF Board is having to say good-bye to one of the founding members: Glenn Laird.

Glenn has been the Treasurer for 15 years! That’s incredible. Mind you, in the early years, of course, the Treasurer position was fairly quiet because there were very little deposits to keep track of! We had lots of ideas but no money! But, as the JPMF grew, so did the number of trips to the Calgary Police Credit Union…as did all the e-mails flying back and forth.

But Glenn has been much more than the money-guy for the JPMF. Glenn’s motto has always been, “Let’s get ‘er done, Pope.” After John’s death, there was a time to grieve and a time to plan. And then the time came to get things done. And through his actions, Glenn taught me how to get out of my own damn way – and just get done whatever needs doing.

Glenn, on behalf of the JPMF, I cannot thank you enough for all your hard work over the past 15 years. Now, as a big rough & tough cowboy and former Tac cop, I would love to make you cry, so here goes:

As you know, my Mom and John did NOT get along. But my Mom did respect him. And she always said you can usually tell the calibre of a man by the quality of his friends. And Glenn, you have proven this to be true.

You have gone way above and beyond the call of friendship…and I know John would be so proud of all you’ve done to help ensure his death wasn’t in vain.

And Cliffy, that goes for you, too.

Now if you can both come up here a sec, as Glenn we have a little something for you from the JPMF…in appreciation of your 15 years of hard labour.

P.S. It worked…I actually DID get Glenn to have a bit of a sniffle!

MA, Glenn & Cliff at JPMF 15th anniversary event

L to R: Cliff O’Brien, Maryanne Pope & Glenn Laird

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s e-zine, please subscribe here.