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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Why Wellness is the Next Big Thing in Real Estate


Ask people what wellness real estate means and you get a variety of misinformed answers, due to misperceptions about what wellness itself actually entails. Wellness is more than simply a physical construct. True wellness incorporates physical wellness, yes, but also mental wellness, environmental wellness, social wellness and access to nature, the latter of which plays a part in all the other aspects of wellness. 


greenmountainfarm.org

Let’s face it. Most of us spend the vast majority of our lives inside. In normal times, we shuttle between home and office, with stops at stores, gyms or restaurants. Even when we are on vacation, we spend a lot of time inside, whether we are stuck at the airport or luxuriating inside a resort room. As a result, our indoor spaces have an outsized impact on every aspect of our lives. By ensuring that the places in which we dwell are well, our built environments can be transformed into vehicles for health and well-being. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, wellness is having its moment. Perhaps for the first time, people have paused and reflected how the environment around them, whether built by man or Mother Nature, impacts their feelings of well-being.


Real estate should reflect nature


At the same time, scientists are sounding the alarm about how our environment, both outdoor and indoor, impacts our overall health.  According to the World Health Organization, “Whether people are healthy or not is determined by their circumstances and environment. To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health.” 


The real estate industry is taking note of both the science and the wellness awakening that has evolved during the COVID era.  In the past, when the term “wellness real estate” was bandied about (if it was bandied about at all),  it usually referred to the building of a spa, a fitness center, or maybe even a healthcare facility. But now, developers in almost every key sector of the real estate business, including hospitality, residential, retail or commercial, are paying heed to how health and wellness ingredients can be baked into a project. 


Adding glass panels to ceilings helps bring nature inside


While those ingredients may vary depending upon the type of developments, among the ones that should be considered universal are:


  • Access to Nature

  • Air Quality 

  • Acoustic Insulation

  • Biophilic Design

  • Energy-Efficient Lighting/Light Sensors

  • Fitness/Relaxation/Recharging Areas

  • Indoor and Outdoor Green Spaces

  • Indoor and Outdoor Water Elements

  • Natural/Non-Toxic Building Materials

  • Preservation of Green Spaces

  • Sustainability (including energy-saving technologies)

  • Temperature Control

  • Third Spaces for Social Interaction

  • Use of Natural Light

  • Ventilation/Air Filtration Systems

  • Water Filtration Systems


All of these ingredients contribute to wellness, in at least one of its forms. And while, in the past, some of these elements were overlooked or omitted due to budgetary concerns, given the interest in wellness, today, most are no longer optional.


Friday, March 19, 2021

The Relationship Between Third Places and Social Wellness

 Having been stuck in one place for more than a year, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “third places” and their role in social wellness.

ChicagoParkDistrict.com

Third places, as defined by Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book The Great Good Place (and its follow-up called Celebrating the Third Place), are neutral territory; public places where people gather, exchange ideas and have a good time. Third places, writes Oldenburg, "host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work." Such places, he argues, are crucial for building community vitality, democracy and civil society. In my own less lofty terms, third places promote the types of interactions that have the potential to sprout friendships and meaningful social relationships.


According to the National Institutes of Health, there is growing evidence showing that social networks and community involvement, the building blocks of social wellness, have positive health consequences. Persons who are socially engaged with others and actively involved in their communities tend to live longer and be healthier physically and mentally. 


cambridge.org

So clearly, there’s a need to create structures to enhance social wellness. Enter third places, where people can regularly socialize in unprogrammed and informal ways. Those places might be community gardens and parks, neighborhood pubs, or for the fortunate few, country clubs. Whatever form they take, third places should serve as forums for social interaction. The most popular third places tend to be easy to get to, either close to home (your first place) or to work (your second place). The quality of propinquity encourages both spontaneity and regularity.


In recent years, Starbucks has bastardized the concept of the third place. Theoretically, a local coffee shop could be a third place. But the key to being an authentic third place is social interaction. What I see when I enter a Starbucks (flashing back to 2019) is a bunch of cappuccino-sipping cosmopolites who are basically alone together. They are all ensconced in their own little worlds, typing away at keyboards while further cutting themselves off from the world with their earbuds.


Alone together
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This scene is diametrically opposed to the social construct of a third space. Alone together does not cut it.  A true third place encourages informal conversation and shared experiences on a frequent basis, thereby building a sense of social cohesion. After all, it is only by repetition that we build up relationships.


Our pandemic year forced our first place to become our second and third place as well, and we know how that’s been. Our homes have been converted into places of total retreat from the outside world. With second and third places largely confined to virtual realms, we have quickly discovered that the online world is no substitute for in-person interactions, particularly when it comes to building social relationships.


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There’s a pent-up desire for IRL human interaction. When things get back to whatever normal is going to be, people will be seeking out third places where they can reconnect with others. That’s why, in a post-COVID world, there is a real opportunity for those in the real estate realm, whether working in retail, residential or office space, to build third places into their development or retrofit plans.


Look, after a year of being conditioned to work and shop at home, businesses are going to be struggling to convince consumers and employees to do their things away from home. Meanwhile, people are reconsidering where they live, as more jobs become virtual and the value of knowing your neighbors comes back into vogue. Knowing that demand for third places is strengthening, architects, developers and urban planners will all have to start factoring in third places that encourage social wellness. In upcoming posts, I will examine these ideas in greater depth.  



Monday, February 8, 2021

Of Biophilia, Friluftsliv and Mother Nature

I recently penned a 5,000-word opus on behalf of Hawkins International that envisages the lexicon that will dominate the headlines in 2021. The list includes seven words that have come to the fore due to the effects of the pandemic. Here’s another sneak preview. 

Mother Nature’s power to soothe was rediscovered during the pandemic. We craved outdoor spaces for exercise, dining and chatting from safe social distances. We fled cities for the countryside, mountains or beaches. This yearning for the great outdoors will last, manifesting over the next decade with increased emphasis on architecture that encompasses both indoor and outdoor spaces – think spas, shopping malls, and office buildings dotted with courtyards, open-air atria and rooftop gardens.


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All of that will mean greater use of biophilic design. The discipline emphasizes natural light, natural materials and patterns evoking nature. It’s also about reflecting nature in color palettes and creating areas of protective refuge. (See more in this brief bible of biophilic design from environmental consultant Terrapin Bright Green.)


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To heighten access to nature, more hotels will likely be driven to add balconies or verandas to guest rooms, or at very least windows that actually open. Public spaces will also go alfresco, as we saw during the pandemic with F&B offered in outdoor spaces to enable social distancing, and spas using rooftops for exercise classes and open-air cabanas for treatments. Both trends will likely continue into the future. More meeting areas will likely be designed for indoor/outdoor flow, with The Gettys Group already envisioning the redesign of boardrooms and event areas with plants enhanced by digital projection to simulate nature in places where outdoor access is limited. 


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Collective Retreats 
Love of nature was reflected in our travel choices in 2020, which saw a huge rise in demand for camping, glamping and RV rentals. RVshare, a recreational vehicle-sharing marketplace, booked record numbers last year, fueled by the desire of cooped-up pods to get out on the open road. Thanks in part to the RV boom, many camping sites, including several national parks, experienced record numbers. Already trending up, glamping became mainstream, with resorts adding glamping-style units and companies like Collective Retreats and Under Canvas experiencing rapid growth.



Framing Friluftsliv


Then there is the Scandinavian import Friluftsliv, Norwegian for “free air life.” "It’s really putting nature at the forefront of everything that you’re doing in your life,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert. “In 2020 I think it was the first time a lot of us really gave a sense of more appreciation and connection to the outdoors, and so I think for 2021 that sensibility is going to continue to increase.”







Thursday, February 4, 2021

A New Lexicon for 2021: So Long Pivot, Pods and Social Distancing. Hello, Comfort, Flexibility and Biophilia

 I recently penned a 5,000-word opus on behalf of Hawkins International that envisages the lexicon that will dominate the headlines in 2021. The list includes seven words that have come to the fore due to the effects of the pandemic. Here’s a peek. 

Comfort

What is comfort post-COVID? It’s about feeling good mentally and physically. Consumers will be looking for products and practices that produce good vibrations and extend a sense of safety and security as well. The desire for comfort spans all sectors, from growth in athleisure wear, to increased sales of residential wellness equipment, to getting “back to basics” with crafting, home cooking, and comfort food to soothe the soul.

 COVID Ushered in a Crafting Craze 


Cue Cottagecore is a lifestyle aesthetic centered on everything warm, fuzzy and nostalgic. Introduced on social media channels a couple years ago, Cottagecore absolutely boomed in 2020. As Gemma Riberti, head of interiors at WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors explained, nostalgia “has an incredibly reassuring power. In times of uncertainty, a well-known past is looked at with fondness and longing.” That’s why so many people locked down at home turned to arts and crafts and home cooking, harkening back to simpler times. Even Taylor Swift got in on the act, ushering the comeback of cable knit cardigans and American folk music with the release of the best-selling album of 2020

A cozy cottage on the coast of Norway

Cottagecore extended to our “cottages.” As Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson noted, “From calming, nature-inspired hues to dreamy, cozy shapes to the simplicity of bygone eras, we’re all looking to our domestic spaces to bring that sense of comfort, stability, and solace we can’t find elsewhere in the world.”

The meaning of comfort has expanded during COVID, with privacy and space becoming huge factors in comfort expectations. Many are seeking out wide-open expanses in nature, private villas or glamping-style suites for vacations, second homes in less-populated areas, and transportation via private jet. Even mass carrier Delta won big during the pandemic with its promise to keep middle seats empty.

In the hospitality space, we saw increased interest in self-catering accommodations, and hotels rejiggering public areas to create more private nooks. Many also utilized suites as private dining rooms: Bloomberg News cited several hotels that adopted this strategy, including the Eliot Hotel in Boston, where in-house dining spot Uni employed a handful of rooms to serve ramen and sushi accompanied by piped-in music. Montage Kapalua Bay moved its traditional beachside luau into residential-style guestrooms, offering safe places for guests to experience Polynesian food, dance and music.

In-room Dining at The Peninsula

Comfort post-COVID will also entail enhancing feelings of safety and security, largely through perceived hygiene. Retail, restaurants and hospitality will need to make their cleaning protocols front and center. For example, since last spring, United has been publicizing its CleanPlus program, a partnership with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic. Hyatt was among the hotel companies setting up programs with rigorous safety and cleanliness protocols. Other hotels are working to build consumer trust and comfort with verified health security systems such as Sharecare Health Security VERIFIED® with Forbes Travel Guide, a tech-enabled verification system that establishes a consistent global baseline for health security across more than 360 expert-validated standards.

Many new cleanliness protocols are bound to stick at airports, just as post-9/11 security enhancements did. Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America recently told NBC News that “those technologies and protocols include sanitizing robots, restrooms that alert maintenance crews when cleaning is needed [and] contactless check-in, bag check and credential authentication.”




The relationship between comfort and nature was never stronger than during the pandemic and it will continue far into the future, which is why it's the next lexeme on our list. The word “biophilia” stems from the Greek for “life” and “love,” suggesting humanity’s innate biological connection with nature. It’s why we find a walk in the woods so soothing and natural light so stimulating. Basically, biophilia is why nature makes us feel better.

More on that in the next blog post.




Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Hot Springs Movement in the United States Gains Steam

The ancient Greeks did it. So did the ancient and not-so-ancient Romans, Japanese, and Chinese. Heck, even some of the founding fathers of the United States did it too. But despite its illustrious past, the idea of taking the waters has never really caught on in the United States, until now. Hot springs could be on the verge of a major wellness moment.


For centuries, many European and Asian cultures have viewed mineral-fed hot springs as a source of health, wellness, and healing. But according to the Global Wellness Institute, the sector is quite underdeveloped in North America, due to a lack of a historic bathing culture that is prevalent elsewhere. The times are changing, however, as more Americans are looking to nature for its power to calm and rejuvenate, especially in these COVID times.

In the United States, hot springs are seen in recreational terms rather than as a wellness endeavor, according to Vicky Nash, a tourism consultant who is dedicated to professionalizing the hot springs industry. Thanks to the efforts of Nash and a former U.S. senator, among others, hot springs are suddenly being reframed as wellness destinations across the country.




MOM-AND-POP OPERATIONS IN TRANSITION

According to Nash, about 28 states have hot springs in one form or another, although the majority are in the West and Southwest. Many of these waters are on public land, and a few are contained within fancy resort complexes. But for the most part, hot springs facilities are rustic mom-and-pop operations, solely offering a soak in the forms of mineral bathing and swimming. Some are a little more tricked-out, with extras like massage rooms and dining outlets.

Many of these smaller operations, long in need of a facelift, are in the process of changing hands. According to Nash, “A lot of the smaller hot springs facilities were established in the 1970s. Now those owners are selling, and new owners, including investment groups, are coming in with an interest of revamping them and getting them up to speed” for the growing wellness market.


Natural Hot Springs in Idaho


That’s why many facilities, shuttered for years, are reopening, some with multimillion dollar investments. For example, a Phoenix-based couple, Mike and Cindy Watts, purchased the ailing Arizona Castle Hot Springs in 2014. The original facility was built at the end of the 19th century, but it was abandoned during the 1970s. Earlier this year, it reopened as a luxury healing center for the well-heeled. Some of the bungalows, complete with private outdoor tubs, list at $1,600 per night.

Mark Begich is another person betting on the business. The Alaskan businessman purchased Carson Hot Springs in the late 1990s. His company refurbished the property’s historic buildings, located just a few miles from Nevada’s state capitol. Also added were a restaurant and brewpub, making the facility more of a destination versus a pass-through. He, along with a group of investors, also owns Jemez Hot Springs and CaƱon Del Rio Inn and Spa in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

BUILDING A NETWORK

Begich, by the by, is not just your run-of-the-mill developer. He heads up Northern Compass Group, a business and strategic communications consultancy. And he happens to be a former U.S. senator (D-Alaska). After leaving the swamp in 2014, he jumped back into the hot springs arena. First, he purchased those New Mexico properties and now, he’s become the force behind the development of the brand-new (as of October 2019) Hot Springs Association.

Begich pointed out, “In rural areas, local-level mom-and-pop businesses are critical to the economy. In remote areas, developing these facilities brings in money from outside the community and creates jobs.” But for the most part, they have been left to their own devices  By creating an association, individual operators will experience strength in numbers.

“There are so many layers of the business, but no one is coordinating information,” said Begich. Having an association to bring together hot springs operators across the United States “means these small businesses can pool resources, joining together to have purchasing and marketing power.”

Schawna Thoma is vice president of Begich’s Northern Compass Group. “Most hot springs are family-run, and people often feel isolated or intimidated about reaching out. We will serve as a network for these people, and offer tools and serve as an information resource.” The organization will allow small properties to band together to build awareness, while also doing less sexy things, like helping to negotiate water rights, share new technology, and develop affordable insurance programs. It will also start tracking visitor numbers and economic impact.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR GROWTH

The latter, said Begich, will be of immense help to operators seeking loans. “Right now, hot springs are difficult to finance,” according to Begich, “because the classification is difficult. That’s why the data is critical; it’s for financiers to understand the business.” That understanding may lead to a simpler lending process.

Vicky Nash is another person bringing together resources for the hot springs community. She helped develop the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which links five hot springs destinations in the western part of the state. During its five years in existence, each of the five communities has experienced an increase in tourism.She also launched the Hot Springs Connection in 2019. It was the first conference in the United States dedicated solely to the needs of hot springs operators. 

Now that the industry has its own trade association, its own annual conference, and, to a certain degree, a new generation of owners, hot springs are destined to become the next hot thing in wellness tourism.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Good Vibrations: Sound Healing Makes Waves in the Wellness Industry

   If you have been noticing more spas offering treatments that incorporate Tibetan singing bowls, tuning forks, or gongs, you aren’t alone. Sound therapies are starting to make waves in the spa industry.


In the ultra-competitive world of luxury wellness travel, companies need to do more than just offer gorgeous views, great-tasting food, and aromatic gardens. They need to think about sound too.

Increasingly, properties including Hyatt’s Miraval Arizona are employing sound therapy to pull in wellness-oriented customers. The idea is that people’s ears offer a path to relaxation and healing every bit as powerful as eyeballs, nostrils, and fingertips. And companies are citing ancient wisdom known to groups as disparate as Australia’s aborigines (think didgeridoos), Tibetan monks (think singing bowls), and Native Americans (flutes, drums, and rains sticks) as part of healing practices.

“Sound can signal the body to release its own tension and negativity, dropping the brainwave into a meditative state quickly and effectively,” said Pamela Lancaster, a widely regarded guru in the field and “master healer” at Miraval Arizona.

What Miraval Arizona and others are realizing is that sound is a powerful tool in reducing clients’ stress levels, improving their moods, and alleviating pain. And given the hectic, anxiety-ridden world of 2020, more and more travelers are seeking out such restorative treatments.




WHAT’S IN A SOUND?

Proponents of sound therapy call it “vibrational medicine,” arguing that certain systems in our bodies vibrate at different frequencies. If these frequencies get disrupted by ailments like emotional distress or illness, our well-being could be affected.

While efforts to heal through sound therapy is as old as ancient Egypt, scientists have only recently begun to explore its efficacy. The wellness community, however, has been providing sound therapies for more than a decade, with some treatments growing more and more into standard offers.

The offerings include massages that are synchronized to music, listening to the peaceful sounds of “deep nature” and taking in the beauty of Tibetan singing bowl sessions. Tuning forks of varying pitches are thought by some to be a way to “unblock” people’s “stagnant energy,” And so-called “sound baths” — an ancient form of deep meditation — create relaxing, repetitive sounds using musical bowls, cymbals, and gongs.

“An immersion in sound frequency cleanses the soul,” said Robert Lee, a leader at  Eaton DC, a hotel and wellness center in Washington, D.C. “It allows for a recalibration to a deep stillness that we can all access within ourselves.”

In fact, sound can be used to create a sense of stillness that people crave, he added. “While trying to quiet the mind in a quiet room is nearly impossible, sound actually makes meditating easier.”

WHERE SOUND AND TRAVEL OVERLAP

At Miraval Arizona, Lancaster has seen firsthand how much sound can help visitors leave behind their stresses and negativity and settle into a meditative state. The resort offers Vasudhara, a water treatment combining Thai massages with pulsating sounds emanating from underwater speakers. “The body brings itself back into a place of homeostasis,” Lancaster said, about the treatment. “And things have a propensity to begin to heal.”


Vasudhara at Miraval Arizona


Michelle Pirret, a “sonic alchemist” at the Four Seasons New York Downtown, suggested this type of therapy is powerful because the human body is comprised mostly of water. “When frequency is played on the body, cellular water is vibrating,” she said. “This escalates hormonal release and relaxation.”

The Lodge at Woodloch in northeastern Pennsylvania offers a vibrational treatment that uses the sound waves of singing bowls to create a relaxed, meditative state. Its “Gong with the Wind” selection combines yoga and meditation with holistic sound immersion. The acoustics come courtesy of conch shells, bronze gongs, and singing bowls.

Sound Healing Instruments
at The Lodge at Woodloch

Primordial sound meditation is also on the menu at the Chopra Center for Well-Being in California. Guests receive personal mantras, specific sounds or vibrations that help them achieve quieter, more peaceful states of mind.

In Wisconsin, Kohler Waters Spa at The American Club has wet treatment rooms featuring VibraAcoustic bath technology. There, a big bathtub is tricked out with transducers that send vibrations through the water and aimed at opening up lymphatic pathways, said Nikki Miller, director of Kohler Waters Spas.

For companies looking to add sound therapy to their offerings, here is one piece of counterintuitive advice. Rather than just focusing on the noise, resort operators also need to focus on designing spaces for, well, blissful silence. “Creating a soundproof space significantly enhances the effectiveness of the experience,” Lee, of Eaton in Washington, D.C., explained.

“Silence,” he added, “must be given the honor it deserves.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

How to Be a Better Digital Moderator

 When blogging tools became available on the Internet in the 1990s, everybody “became” a writer. When smart phones with cameras became ubiquitous during the first decade of this century, everybody “became” a photographer. As we know from the subsequent explosion of bad blogs and blurred images, just because technology exists doesn’t mean everyone has the skill set to employ it effectively.


Next in our tale, we zoom to 2020, the year of Zoom and GoToMeetings and other online conference platforms. Today, everybody is “becoming” a presenter. But despite how easy Anderson Cooper may make it seem, being an anchor and an interviewer is no easy feat. The ability to conduct a discussion among a group of panelists and to ask key follow-up questions, all the while keeping the program engaging, is a skill that needs to be honed. 


Having worked in the television industry for many years, first as a producer for CNN, next as a contributor to various TV news and chat shows, and now as a media trainer as well, I have discovered many of the keys to on-air success. The majority of these translate directly to the digital world, with a few technical tweaks.


Now, I am not here to talk to you about lighting and camera placement and the best webcasting equipment. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on those topics. Instead, this post provides direction on how to become a better digital moderator.


A digital moderator must serve as host, interviewer and producer. Bet you didn’t consider the “producer” hat. But the fact is, any good show starts with a producer, someone who develops the outline and the flow, and then selects the elements that will create an entertaining and informative program. Even if someone else is doing some of this work behind the scenes, as the moderator, you should at the very least take on the pre-production role of pre-interviewing all panelists. Without taking this step, your session could easily lose focus and flow, or become repetitive..or all of the above.


Preferably, the pre-interview should be done via video. Speaking with each panelist in advance serves several purposes.


  1. You can learn about the type of information each panelist can uniquely provide, which will enable you to develop relevant questions and steer the conversation.

  2. You can ensure that each panelist focuses on a different subject or angle, thereby avoiding redundancy.

  3. You can get clued into each panelist’s presentational quirks. More on that in a minute.

  4. Establishing a pre-meeting connection will give even the edgiest panelist a higher comfort level.


Now, about those quirks. The pre-interview is the time when you learn whether speakers are bores, or if they fancy themselves as witty intellectuals. Knowing these tendencies in advance will help you create a game plan to avoid ennui, ill-advised humor or tedious lectures.


It’s all in the questioning.  For the long-winded panelist, it’s best to ask questions that encourage succinct answers. For example, “Diane, can you briefly sum up, in about two minutes, how technology can enable better eco-tourism practices?”  Similarly, if the panelist tends to spit out technical jargon, the moderator might ask, “Joe, for those of us who are not industry experts, could you explain in simple terms how that works?” In either case, if the panelist reverts to bad habits, feel free to gently interrupt to ask for clarification or brevity. 


A good moderator also makes sure that each panelist gets his or her proper face time. Balance your speakers. Don’t allow one to dominate. As the anchor, you need to be aware of who is hogging the spotlight, who’s reluctant to speak and who’s somewhere in the middle. You might have to gently cut off the palaverous ponderings of Spotlight Suzy, while drawing out the deep thoughts of Shy Simon. Another way to balance is by doing rapid-fire response rounds among all the panelists, or asking for feedback about what another person said.


As an anchor and as a moderator, you have to be able to multi-task. You have to stay aware of the time, and ensure time is available for audience questions and answers. If questions are submitted on a side panel, you, as the moderator, need to keep an eye on what’s coming in the whole time, while continuing to pay attention to what your speakers are saying.


Listening, in fact, is the most critical skill any moderator can have. Certainly, it’s important to have a prepared outline of questions. But a good moderator will toss those out on the fly should the conversation warrant. Instead of sticking to your list of questions, LISTEN to what speakers are saying and follow up on important points they are making, even if it steers the discussion a bit off-course. That said, don’t let too many digressions take you completely off topic. As the conductor of the session, you do need to make sure the conversation ultimately stays on track. 


In the next post, more on improving your presentation skills.