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.