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Spotlight On: Nora Young, Host of CBC Radio’s Spark and Author of The Virtual Self

Spotlight On: Nora Young, Host of CBC Radio’s <I>Spark</I> and Author of <I>The Virtual Self</I>

Nora Young is an informed and ideal guide for anyone looking to examine—and plan for—the ever-changing high-tech landscape. She helps audiences understand trends in gadgets, apps, social media, and more, while showing them how to better protect their privacy in our increasingly digital world. The host of CBC Radio’s Spark and the author of The Virtual Self, Nora demystifies technology and explains how it is shaping our lives and the larger world in which we live. We put the spotlight on Nora today:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

I love making radio, but when I was first asked to present to groups of people, I found it so energizing to connect face-to-face. I love that it’s truly interactive: you can respond to what the audience is engaged with, and follow their interests in the Q&A. I also find I always learn things from the groups I’m speaking to, which I love.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

This sounds a little corny, but talk about what you’re passionate about. People can tell if you’re going through the motions, but if you’re really engaged with your field of expertise, you’ll be happy researching it, keeping up to date, and figuring out how to tailor your knowledge to all kinds of audiences.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I think my strong suit is in “big picture” ideas. That’s why I particularly enjoy speaking at the beginning of a conference, so that audience members can take themes I’ve looked at and adapt them, work with them, challenge them, as they absorb the rest of the conference.

I have a goal for every single episode of my radio show: listeners should learn something, feel something, and have a good laugh. It’s the same goal for speaking in person.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

Leading up to a speaking engagement, I always like to talk to the event organizer, to find out what’s top of mind for the audience, but I also like to hang out for a bit before I present. You get a feeling for the conversations of the day, and things you might not otherwise know–perhaps there was a story in the morning news that’s particularly relevant for the group you’re speaking to on that day.

As for rituals, I’m a big believer in the power of breath: some deep slow breaths calm the last minute jitters, and charge me up for the presentation.

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

I teach yoga to a small group of friends every week, and we give the money each person pays for the class to a good cause. Usually, that’s Kiva, which is a peer-to-peer, interest-free microloan organization. I like that it supports entrepreneurs with good ideas and vision, which can help bootstrap local communities in the developing world. As a tech person, I love that it uses the power of the internet to connect people.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

There’s part of me that’s always wanted to be an architect. I’m very interested in problem solving and creating new approaches to how we do things, which is part of what a skilled architect does. I’m not a very “visual” person though, so it’s likely my buildings would fall down. Probably a good thing I’m in radio.

Desert island album?

A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane.

Best subject in school?


Last book you read?

Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje.

Last film you saw?

World War Z. I cannot pass up a zombie flick!