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Lessons in thousands of words a minute

So much to do, too little time? Maybe not, according to speed-reading guru Gerard O'Donovan. Martin Whittaker reports.

GERARD O'Donovan confesses to being a bookaholic. He says he buys five books a week, but only usually has time to read three.

On the desk in front of him is a 300-page paperback. He claims he can read it from cover to cover in just an hour and a half.

Speed reading is one of the skills O'Donovan teaches as part of the intensive personal development courses his company runs for businesses and individuals.

"The average person reads 200-240 words a minute," he says. "We can take people and teach them how to read up to 2,000 words a minute, with increased comprehension."

One technique, he says, is to train people to stop going back over what they have already read - something we all do. Another is to give his students a pointer, usually a chopstick, to read with.

"We teach people to read two lines at a time, then increase it to three," he says matter-of-factly. Read three lines at once and take it all in? Is that possible?

"It certainly is," he says animatedly. "I could talk for hours on this subject. People simply don't realise what fantastic capabilities they possess."

Dr Vincent Walsh of the department of experimental psychology at Oxford University, is sceptical of O'Donovan's claims. He says: "If you have been pumped with that amount of information, it doesn't necessarily imply organised comprehension. I'd be sceptical of the tests that they'd used to substantiate those claims."

Gerard O'Donovan does this for a living. He gives talks, workshops and seminars, teaching people how to "unlock the incredible powers of their minds".

His company literature describes him as an "international specialist in self-development".

A gently-spoken Irishman with an evident gift of the gab, he began his career in the Royal Marines and then ran his own financial services company before selling it in 1992.

Meanwhile, he took a masters degree in psychology and moved his career into teaching personal development techniques.

"We tend to follow America. Fifteen yers ago self-development was embryonic - now it's huge over there. In the UK now it's embryonic, but one day I believe it will be very big here too."

He runs his business, Noble Manhattan, from his home in Weymouth, Dorset. There's a staff of six, and a pool of experts from academia and business whom he can call upon to give talks.

The company is much in demand. As well as travelling throughout the UK and Europe, giving courses to corporate giants and small businesses, O'Donovan also does two-day open courses for individuals willing to pay the pound;250 plus VAT fees.

The course in accelerated learning teaches how to speed read, showing how to gather information and sift out the important bits. He also teaches a technique known as mind-mapping.

Instead of taking notes in a linear fashion left to right across the page, O'Donovan teaches how to use symbols, colours and diagrams, starting in the middle of a page and branching out like a spider's web, with the more important points near the centre.

"How do we teach our children to take notes? In sentences," he says. "But we can't remember sentences. So many words are superfluous. Mapping is really to do with picking out the key words and images on a subject."

He says his accelerated learning course is popular with teachers. "A lot of them come in so they can learn the skills and apply them in the classroom."

O'Donovan's other courses come in a range of titles like Leadership and Success Forum, Quantum Leap, and Communication Skills to Change Your Life.

But aren't all these concepts commerce-orientated? Do people really want to live their working lives at 2,000 words a minute?

He insists his courses also promote health, and spiritual and emotional wellbeing. "We teach that it's crucial to have a balance. There's no point in having a wonderful career if your personal life and marriage go down the tubes.

"But there's nothing you can't change. People can change just like that if they want to, and that's tremendously motivating news."

For further information on accelerated learning, telephone 01305 816625 or 020 8387 8880.

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