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My Canadian Stuttering Association Workshop: A Written Recap.

My Canadian Stuttering Association Workshop: A Written Recap.

Thursday, October 17th:

It has been nearly a week since I got back from Toronto after giving my Canadian Association workshop on vulnerability. It is a funny thing really. I pitched the workshop months back in April and I knew it was coming but when the week of the trip arrived, it caught me off guard. It was my birthday on the 17th of October, the day before I flew out to Toronto. Work was busy and I was hastily working on a information "package" that my good friend (and very experienced public speaker), Tim told me was necessary for events like this. I spent hours working on my promotional material and printed out the only hard copy minutes before the application crashed and I lost the file. In the past, I would have panicked and stayed up all night redoing it but it was already late and I didn't have the energy. Besides, that is why we have local Staples stores and colour photocopiers.

Friday, October 18th:

I quickly got copies made on my way to the airport the next morning. The quality was good enough and after a train ride or two, I was at YVR checking in with time to spare. I was flying WestJet and I am not sure about the on-board app that is now being used in place of the more old-fashioned video screens in the back of the seats. I had to watch Detective Pikachu on my phone and I would have preferred a screen. First world problems.

Obviously, I was avoiding reviewing my workshop using live action Pokemon as a distraction. I have given a few speeches and workshops at this point and I still feel the need to go over things again and again. In truth, you have to wait until the day to gauge the audience and there is a danger in over-rehearsing material. The flight was four hours long and there is a three-hour time difference between Vancouver and Toronto. I didn't arrive at my destination until around 11:30pm. A 40-minute taxi ride later, I was at the hotel, tired and hungry. The hotel itself was not the most luxurious but, it was close to the venue and had a good internet connection. I found a McDonalds and ate back at the room, making final notes before falling asleep.

 

Saturday, October 19th:

I know I only got around 5 hours of sleep and was wide awake at 6:30am the next morning. You know that horrible feeling of not being rested and knowing you won't go back to sleep? That was where I was at. I decided to get up, eat (a protein bar, cereal and some apple juice) and shower (cold, as I needed to shake off my weariness). Another thing I am still figuring out is what to wear to these events. A full suit seems a bit much as these are usually more informal gatherings. Jeans and t-shirt is too casual and unprofessional. I like to dress somewhere in the middle. As a rule, I bring dress shoes, polish them before hand and always have a matching belt. People notice these things.

The hotel was close to the venue. After walking for less than 10 minutes I was there. I arrived at around 8:30am and the meeting room was already buzzing with activity. I briefly met my liaison to the CSA, Casey and after signing me in, I let him get on with managing the day. I wasn't given much guidance and the workshop wasn't assessed beyond the initial pitch and I had a little waver of fear. I wasn't going to talk about anything too controversial but I am still getting a handle on "pitching to a specific audience" and "reading the room". In other words, what sounds appropriate/relevant/hilarious to me, may actually offend others. I didn't want that to be the case here.

My spot was at 4:00pm, the final hour of the day and there were two other workshops running at the same time. One for children and the other on forgiveness. By 3:00pm I was feeling uncertain. A large portion of my workshop was interactive. Shocking as it may sound, I do actually get tired of talking about myself and I wanted the audience to get something new for themselves over the hour by talking to each other. Being someone who stutters myself, I have shut down in sessions where I was asked to talk to someone else. I called another trusted friend, someone who has been an amazing teacher around pitching and preparing my speaking events. I didn't ask her what to do, rather I outlined my plan to make a request of people and if that didn't work, I had a backup. The phone call helped settle my nerves and gave me confidence to go in and do what I wanted to do.

The hour passed quickly. Thankfully everyone was more than willing to interact and we talked about vulnerability, some practical tools and had a brief Q&A session at the end. I love the Q&A as it keeps me on my toes and gives me feedback on my own performance. On a personal level, I had to overcome a very subtle challenge. The previous speaker had left a chair in the centre of the stage. I saw it and was avoiding sitting down. Sure, I walked and talked and stood by the podium, but the chair was still there empty. In my head, I imagined it like the Captain's chair on a starship and that hour was my time in "command" as it were. I was determined to take chair and by the latter half of the workshop I gingerly sat down and stayed seated until the end of the session.

After the conference ended around thirty participants went for dinner. It was nice to hang out in a more informal setting and after two hours I went back to the hotel. I was drained and needed to change before meeting Sachi, an old friend from acting school who now lives in Toronto. We didn't get together until 9pm and as tired as I was, it was thrilling to see her. Doing things like flying to a strange city for 24 hours just to give a talk is exciting to me and I wanted to take every opportunity to get the most from the limited time. Sachi and I talked about old times and of letting go of those old times. I miss the acting classes and more to the point, I think I miss who I was back then. A little more carefree and less cynical. Arriving back in my room at 11:30pm, I had a total speech breakdown on the phone ordering a taxi. Learning to coach oneself is another valuable skill and I am proud to say I got myself through the disappointment of not being fluent. If I am going to speak to people on these matters then I had better practice what I preach.

 

Sunday, October 20th:

I woke up early again on Sunday, my phone showing 6:30am. I got up, showered and began to pack. Checking out was quick and I waited for "Sid" the taxi driver to arrive. Now that my nerves had settled, I noticed how hungry I was. It was time to feed the beast before boarding the plane.

I was stuck in the middle seat on the flight home, which always sucks. The girl to my left was buying duty free make-up in between snoozing. The guy to my right was watching a movie on his lap-up in between farting. I was exhausted and sleeping as best I could. Arriving back to a rainy Vancouver at midday, I spoilt myself and took a cab. Arriving home, I unpacked, Skyped Mum and Dad (as is my Sunday ritual), hit the gym (I ate a lot of carbs over the two days!) and then began working on a video diary of the whole adventure, to mark it and International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22nd.

All in all, it was a crazy weekend. I would do it again in a heartbeat. After everything is said and done, the cost and time and effort are all part of the journey. Being a public speaker is something I have begun to love. All of my training comes into play and it is a way to acknowledge my own challenges with stuttering while doing some good in the world and helping others. I have to say a huge thank you to the CSA and to all the people in my own life who have been supporting me on this particular journey.

I have already begun looking to creating more speaking/workshop opportunities as we move into 2020.

 

 

 

Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog
My VoiceStory “Vulnerability” Speech: LIVE

My VoiceStory “Vulnerability” Speech: LIVE

The opportunity to give a speech and become a VoiceStory speaker was too good an offer to refuse when the phone rang in January 2019. I decided to speak in June as the topic was "vulnerability". I've done a lot of reading on the topic, mostly Brene Brown's growing catalogue of books and considered myself informed on the subject. When it came time to put pen to paper I found I was totally blocked. This went on for weeks, so much so that I very nearly cancelled the whole thing. When I did pick up the phone and talked to VoiceStory's Winston Yeung, he asked me a very simple question: "What does your soul want to say?" I had spent so many years looking to "fix" my stutter and be "normal" that my soul was mute with its answer.

Eventually the speech took form and I had to dig deep to see that many of the things I told myself in my youth were wrong. Shock horror, I know. But by sticking with it, I learnt that the power of vulnerability for me was connection, forgiveness and most of all being willing to let it all go. That was the real realization. Letting go is difficult and painful and involves a degree of grieving. Beyond it all is empty space, and that is space to create life newly and continuously. It is a second chance, or third chance or however many chances you need to be happy.

I don't know about you, but I find the idea that it is never too late rather comforting.

Enjoy the speech. The link is below:

https://youtu.be/jrrhIDYCsV4

 

You can learn more about VoiceStory and view many other speakers at https://www.voicestory.ca

 

 

 

Just One More Drive
Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog
National Stuttering Association Conference 2019: A Short Recap & Video.

National Stuttering Association Conference 2019: A Short Recap & Video.

This time last week I was on a plane flying home to Vancouver from The National Stuttering Association's annual conference in Fort Lauderdale. My head was spinning after just giving my first "official" workshop on stuttering with my Dad (he flew in from Dublin to be part of the action).

I had experienced speech therapy and self-development conferences in the past, but had no idea what to expect from the NSA and it was a total eye opener. People were free to speak and stutter openly and a lot of the attendees were families. I had to give up my own sensitivity and bias towards being a person who stutters over the five days and it wasn't always easy. A lot was squeezed into the few days, so the best I can do here is to mention my own personal highlights.

I don't even know where to begin. Let's see...

  1. On the first day, the power was off in the hotel and it was HOT. I was waiting for Dad to fly in that night and knew I had a workshop to prepare, so I could prepare him when he arrived. I was worried no one would come to the workshop or that we would fall flat on our faces. I was also triggered by people stuttering openly. I had learnt in the past that stuttering was bad and you had to fix and/or hide it. I had to go down to the lobby as it was the only place with working lights and I grabbed some free pizza as we couldn't cook either. I sought out the quietest space I could find and sat down. To my surprise, there was a little kid just sitting on the chair beside me. He immediately said "Hi" and began chatting to me. My initial reactions was to recoil as this was a strange little human. My second thought was to ask where his parents were and after I got over myself, I actually listened to him. He was stuttering a little but was totally at ease with his speech. I told him I was waiting for my Dad and we were giving a workshop. His mother arrived, flustered and after she calmed down, the little boy asked if he could come to the workshop. I was moved to tears. This little kid could have been me all those years ago and he was so at ease in his own skin. He ended up going to the talent show on the day of our workshop but still. This was a defining moment for me and made the whole trip worthwhile.
  2. Listening to people who stutter talk about jobs and being a success in life. Various NSA members talked about self-advocacy and being a stand for themselves and their professions. This is an area for me to work on. The keynote speaker on Saturday; Sharon Steed, was amazing and very inspiring talking about being an "Empathy Consultant". I loved it when she encouraged everyone in the audience to be a "boss" and make requests, be strong and never settle for less. This message was reinforced all weekend. Stuttering is not a handicap and if we feed into that mindset, then we might not achieve all we could in life.
  3. Meeting a huge number of amazing people from the NSA in the flesh was another reason to jump on a plane. There are too many for me to mention here, but as an organization, I was blown away by the acceptance, love and support on display. I can see a huge opportunity to connect with similar groups globally such as the McGuire Programme and National Stuttering organizations globally as the message is universal. We are in this together and by finding a tribe, no one needs to struggle alone.
  4. Finally, being able to hang out with my Dad, share past experiences and get really complete with them. Seeing there is and was never anything wrong and that we both did our best under challenging circumstances. I was so proud to see him talk to the other parents about his fears and concerns. Coming halfway across the planet to support (and feed me) really shows his love. A huge Thank You Dad!

There is probably more, but they are the moments that stick out in my head.

As I said, words are not enough. So here is a video summarizing our "Father and Son Journey". Tags:

 

Enjoy

 

Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog
The story of the little book that could: Recapping the launch.

The story of the little book that could: Recapping the launch.

I don’t know how many hours sleep I got on Saturday night last week. My parents had arrived into Vancouver the night before and I was out with them having dinner. Thankfully, two of my closest friends, Rory and Amy were there too. I was drinking wine, trying to play it cool. Tomorrow was the big day. A day I thought would never come. Just One More Drive was “officially” launching and friends and family had travelled far and wide to be here for the launch. Susan, my sister and her fiancé, Zebulon (we call him Zeb, but what a name) had been delayed in LA and wouldn’t be in Vancouver until after midnight. But this was happening, whether I was ready or not.

Getting home just before midnight, I tried to relax by watching some old Deep Space Nine, specifically the episode where Commander Riker’s evil twin steals the USS Defiant. Watching that ship jumping to warp had me considering doing the same thing. It wasn’t out of fear as such, more blind panic and total uncertainty. We had joked over dinner that all I was doing was releasing a piece of work that could potentially expose the whole family! Still, it was out of my hands now. I eventually went to bed and slept poorly.

At 7:30am on Sunday morning, I was up and preparing. Rory and I had to get the food before 12pm and I was due to arrive at the venue by 1pm. I had not been in XY for many years but knew it was a beautiful spot. My first thank you has to go to Jenn Mickey and the XY staff for hosting this event. They were amazing and so relaxed. The bar was huge. It looks very small from the outside but is massive on the inside. The colour theme for the day was decided to be blue, based on the book’s cover and the bar counter changed from a bright green to a cool Tardis-like blue. That to me was a good sign.

The food had been laid out and I was ready to go on stage supported by a projected slide show. I sat down and looked through the pages of the book that I would be reading from. I had three picked out and rehearsed. This back stage area was essentially a small dressing room and I couldn’t help but smile at how I was back again in another dressing room. Years of actor training and one live TV appearance later, I wondered what would come after this launch. I joked about appearing on Ellen and then imagined all the money I’d earn and then got stressed because I couldn’t decide what to buy first; an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro. The bar owner, Jenn called me out to set up the stage and I quickly forgot about my video game console confusion.

The stage was a perfect size with the slide show now projecting. I had a rough idea what I was going to say and I knew Dad would be the first speaker up with me. The M3 is his car and it seemed like a nice place to start. I had asked Dad if he would be willing to speak the week before and he said “yes”. Everyone else at home who heard thought I was mad. But this is his story as much as it is mine. I read a small extract about our adventures driving to school. How myself and my sisters would be flung around the car as we raced to the school gates on a daily basis.

Imagine my surprise when my father stood up on stage and was lost for words. I was expecting him to make a joke about the car or me or something and he genuinely seemed very moved and unsure about what to say next. After Dad had said a few words, I read about one of my closest friends here in Vancouver, Rory. Now, people say I am hard work and I would assert that Rory had the hardest job of all. He met me when I was literally like a lost puppy in Vancouver. Scared and shy and suspicious of humans. He learnt that all I needed was gentle persuasion, frequent cups of tea and cartoons to get me out of my shell. We spent a month living together watching Avatar: The Last Air Bender before I began to trust him. I was honoured to have him talk. Like my father, he was unsure what to say. We had joked about things he could say and things he shouldn’t say. He knows me too well. I was holding my breath in the hopes that he would say something inspiring or at the very least socially acceptable. Thankfully, he said some very nice words, praising me and the book. I smiled knowing that he hadn’t read it yet. All joking aside, he was and is amazing and comes off like a star in the book. The final speaker was another person who has been on this journey with me for a number of years. I like to call him “Doctor Ed” and he spoke in a professional capacity as a clinical social worker. I deal with suicide in the book and it was something I wanted to give a few minutes to. However, I didn’t feel qualified to speak on this topic. Ed is knowledgeable and professional and has a vast amount of experience in this field. It was great to have him speak and round off the talking portion of the launch. The experience for me was surreal. Sitting there on stage with the lights blaring was something new and exciting.

It was hitting me that as of this day, I was an author. A real-life author. I had written this book and over the five years it had taken to get it to this point, I had never really imagined it would happen. Here I was staring out at a great gathering of people wondering what was to come. There were over 100 people there and the bar really was the perfect venue. I was sharing with these people myself and the journey of the book and finally handing it out to the world.

We cleared the stage and I got a quick glass of water. It was time for the signing and I had a highly capable (and beautiful) woman called Nina managing the sales and I got to sign my books for paying customers for the first time. I was living the dream for sure. I had never signed books before and I was terrible at spelling. Poor Zeb had to return his book to me three times as I couldn’t spell his mom’s name correctly. After a few more books, I was settling into the routine of signing and thanking people for their support. Truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing. After an hour, the signings were done and the boxes were empty. We sold 88 books on the day and I have sold a few more since then. I can’t believe I effectively sold out and couldn’t have asked for a better day.

I can say without doubt, all the endless nights of writing and editing and pitching have been worth it. This is the perfect time to give the book away and put it out in the world. My hope is that it will encourage conversations around the various issues I talk about and let people laugh at the absurdity of life and see that we are all so much more alike then we think.Getting down from my soapbox, there are so many people I need to thank and I will probably forget someone, so I apologize now in advance if I do.

The first person to thank is Brent. I know him as “Big Bear” and he is in the book! He secured the bar for this event and I couldn’t have asked for a better place. Brent, thank you.

The photos that are here in this blog and on social media were taken by Jenn Co-McMillen. Jenn, your work is amazing and thank you.

To Nina on cash, you have been a coach and friend to me over the last nine months. The man I am inspired to be, is in part because of you. Thank you.

To “Squad” (also featured in the book) you are all my second family and this launch wouldn’t have happened without you. Thank you.

Rory, you are my rock. Thank you and I do firmly believe that hyperdrive speed is based on emitter strength rather than power sources but I am prepared to debate that with you again. Thank you.

To Amy, you have inspired me to keep playing big. Thank you.

To my family. I have no words. I love you, forever. Thank you for making the journey out here to see me.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, bought a book and reads these blogs. I have no idea what I am doing but am having a ball finding my way. The final photo below sums up how I feel right now. Here is to the future.

 

For more information on Jenn Co-McMillen visit her website at www.redalchemy.ca

Also check out XY’s website for more information on this great bar at https://xyyvr.com

 

 

 

Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog
Designing the Cover: Part Two

Designing the Cover: Part Two

Welcome to the second part of my blog all about the cover design for my new book. We left off with the final selection of the "blue" cover and now that we had a direction, it was a matter of experimenting and tweaking.

I was drawn to the simplicity of the colours and imagery. The font was something I liked from the start. It was bold, clear and informal. This matched the tone of the book and I hoped reflected my slightly unconventional sensibilities. The separated sub heading in its own box was part of the clean look we were going for. The faint M3 image coalescing at the bottom corner worked a lot better than having the car in the centre of the cover and was a clever compromise between having multiple smaller images too.

The final visual effect that I felt really worked were the faint vertical lines in the background. They were similar to the ones on the M3's identification plague on the centre console. BMW only built 600 Sport Evolutions and strangely, they didn't have the cars individual build numbers them.

All that being said, the image looked too blue to me. I wanted to add more colours without the whole thing becoming a mess. I looked to the M3 itself. The Sport Evolution came with a red stripe on the front and back bumpers. It was the late 80's and red stripes adorning cars typically denoted speed. Not too subtle and arguably slightly tacky, so tacky in fact that the M3's previous owner had removed this visual cue on the car before Dad bought it; for the cover though, it would break up the blue and give the readers eyes something to be drawn to.

This looked good and Kiri experimented with font size and effects as well as modifying the M3 image. The next addition came from the "M" logo, specifically the purple and red that accompany the blue. We had the idea of replicating it before my name, which had been extended to match my recently publishing thesis from 2002. (A long story for another blog that is in the works).

This little addition looked good, too good in fact. I was concerned that I may be sued by BMW and/or its M division at some point for copyright breach or something equally expensive. Being me, I also envisioned prison; where I would either wither under incarceration, or rule the joint with an iron fist. Either way, I didn't want to find out and it didn't make it into the final design.

Alas, the cover still didn't feel right to me. I knew I was being anal but this was going to be the face of the book and I was not going to let it be signed off on before I was satisfied. At this time, I was devouring the first season of Dreamworks Voltron: Legendary Defender and I had fallen in love with the cartoon. This was a reboot of a classic cartoon I had watched in my youth by the people who had brought us Avatar: The Last Air Bender and the even better (in my humble opinion) Legend of Korra. The Voltron lions were the real stars to me. In the first episode, we are introduced to the blue lion initially and I knew I had found my next piece of inspiration.

Image sourced from voltron.wikia.com 

Refining a book cover based on a semi-sentient, weaponized robot space lion did seem slightly crazy and I remember being sheepish in my email to Kiri explaining my ideas. Firstly, I wanted the M3 to seem alive and awake on the cover. The lion's eyes could be replicated on the M3 by adding a simple headlight effect.

I also wanted to use the lion's colour scheme with its grey body and blue highlights as a counter point to the colour scheme we had used throughout this process. The result was interesting but Kiri felt the blue popped more. I agreed.

The final cover design reverted back to blue and the headlight effect was fully rendered. There was a lighter blue hue incorporated into it too. It was simple and eye-catching and I am thrilled with the final product. The back cover is matched with a rear view of the M3 and a blurb on myself. I am not posting it here as it contains spoilers. But stay tuned. The final printed books will be arriving in the next few weeks!

Just One More Drive

Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog
Designing the Cover: Part One

Designing the Cover: Part One

Designing a cover for the book has been a hugely rewarding process for me. My academic background is in marketing and I have a particular love for branding. As such, I wanted the book to have a distinct look.

I was very lucky to be working with the amazing Kiri Northam, and all these designs belong to her. Before our initial meeting, she asked me to come up with a scrapbook of ideas. Being a geek at heart, I was inspired by many things and all of them had a sci-fi twist to them.

I compiled a 50-page scrapbook with various ideas. The first thing I latched onto was an Art Deco theme, with the Bioshock video game franchise as the inspiration. The art direction in the three games of the series is both beautiful and eye catching.

The next thing I looked to was starship design. The Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica is one of my all-time favourite designs. The colour scheme of grey and orange/red is eye catching without being overpowering.

Geeky t-shirts were also instrumental. Franchises like Alien, Star Wars and Doctor Who nearly had my head explode with ideas. I loved the simple use of colour and logo design and wanted something similar on my cover. The Weyland-Yutani Corporate logo from the Alien franchise is one such logo. Any geek knows what he (or she) is looking at in an instant, but it is not too recognizable either.

Poor Kiri had to go through all these eclectic ideas, and to her credit she appreciated the fact that I had some clear ideas. The morning of our first meeting was a little nerve wracking. I had no idea what she would come up with and I knew she had been reading a rough draft of the book. It's a strange feeling to meet someone who knows you intimately and you know nothing about them.

Anyway, we met in a coffee shop in August 2016 and Kiri presented me with four designs. Just seeing these covers had me excited. It was the first time I got the feeling that this was really happening and seeing an M3 on the cover was amazing.

Cover 1 had the Art Deco look down and although I liked it, it didn't feel right. Cover 2 was more book-like in its design and it had a traditional appeal that I liked. Cover 3 and 4 are a play on the same theme. Incidentally, I didn't come up with the blue colour. Everyone assumes it is TARDIS blue, but Kiri created this on her own. In the end, it would be Cover 4 that would be the design that we would move forward with and refine over the coming months.

Stay tuned for Part Two coming next week.

Cover 1: Art Deco M3

Cover 2: Many Small M3s

Cover 3: Large Everything!

Cover 4: "Mm, I like the blue..."

Posted by Robert O'Brien in Blog