Posted on

A Speech & A Revelation

Toastmasters would be appalled!

Recently I was invited to speak at a fundraising event hosted by Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh (BVRS). Admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve last done any public speaking but I was pumped at the prospect of a presentation that would rival any of the Ted Talks (maybe a tad delusional I know, but let me have my moment).

Planner that I am, prior to the event I furiously wrote, edited, scrapped and repeated so many versions of my speech I lost count. This was my big moment, the outcome of which would hurl me into the stratosphere of greatness!

The venue was a charming 1920s renovated single-screen movie theater. Guest gift bags, multiple raffles with great prizes, buffet of delectable appetizers, drinks and a movie, made for a fabulous Girls’ Night Out.

On entering the lobby guests were mixing, mingling, and having a good time. I met so many lovely ladies, some of whom were very familiar with BVRS and others who wanted to learn more about the organization.

Eventually it was time to enter the darkened theater (thank goodness I brought my tablet which contained my notes or it could have been a very bad day). After Erika Arbogast, President of BVRS thanked everyone for coming and gave a few brief words on the event, she introduced me.

I didn’t think I was nervous but it’s the only explanation I can come up with for what happened next. One of the first things I learned on public speaking was to not begin with an apology, can you see where this is going? Yup, I explained something to the effect of how having a tablet as opposed to note cards was preferable, yadayadayada.

Then to my horror I lost my place on my tablet and drew a complete blank. As I heard myself uttering uh, uh, um, uh, I was simultaneously counting the ahs (a task learned in Toastmasters). For an agonizing minute that stretched on for what seemed like hours I totally lost my memory.

Plans to slay the audience were pushed aside as I had to regain my composure to carry on with my message. While I didn’t say all that I wanted to, giving up on the tablet and talking from my heart ended up being okay.

Many of us go through life trying to find out our life’s mission and here I was living my purpose and didn’t fully understand it until the other day. I’ve been an advocate (now Abilities Crusader) for many years but it wasn’t until May 3 of this year that everything clicked into place.

Twenty eight years ago my middle son, Devon, was born. Till this day I don’t know how my grandmother knew, but she said something was wrong with him. To read more on Devon check out A Shot in the Dark.

By the time Devon reached first grade his issues escalated requiring hospitalization from which the diagnosis of ADHD along with other acronyms was given. When he was placed in special education this was when my advocacy began—this was my purpose and this was the topic of my speech.

When I lost my eyesight challenges like putting on makeup, taking medication, getting in and out of the shower, preparing for work, shopping, watching television, walking the dog, being unable to distinguish bushes from animals or trees from people—everything was difficult. If I thought all of this was hard, coming to terms with not recognizing the faces of people I knew and loved nearly broke me.

Many times I wanted to give up but I am so thankful for organizations like BVRS whose Access Technology Program brought me back from the brink. It was through this program that a trainer came to my job and he showed me how to use technology to continue working. He introduced many solutions to make living with sight loss easier.

Little did I know that managing Devon’s issues through 12 years of school was the gift of my purpose to help him, others, and myself. By BVRS fulfilling their purpose of helping people with sight loss and other disabilities reclaim their lives, they’ve allowed me and many others to continue living our purpose.

BVRS focuses on abilities and they realize the importance of seeing people as individuals each of whom is born with a specific mission. The services they provide aid people in re-attaining a meaningful life. I will always be grateful for what BVRS has done for me.

58 thoughts on “A Speech & A Revelation

  1. When you spoke from your heart, i’ll bet you won every heart in the theatre! It’s not the tripping that matters it’s the getting up straight and continuing. And you did this perfectly. I wish I’d been there to applaud you in person.

    1. <3 Thank you so much for your sweet remarks Claremary. You've warmed my heart <3 <3

      1. You’re welcome, Stephanie. I was a teacher and stood in front of teenagers every day for over 30 years. But I still find myself getting tongue-tied at the strangest times when in front of a crowd.

      2. Geez, I’m losing my mind Claremary. I thought I replied to this message only to find I did not. 30 years as a teacher is amazing and I’m sure given that length of time was also very rewarding for you.

      3. Stephanie, I was in the classroom for 19 years and a principal for over 12 years. Yes, it was rewarding. Many good memories. Are you preparing your next talk? I hope so. Clare

      4. I hope to be doing so soon. Right now I’m focusing on my store. Between that and all the social media I feel a little overwhelmed but hopefully I can eventually get some help. Oh and Clare you can call me Steph 🙂

      5. Steph, Sometimes the social media does take up too much time. I’m feeling that way right now, so I may start posting once a month. I’m not sure yet, because I have to make some decisions on my next book. And if you have a store to run, well, that really overloads your days. I can imagine, however, that you would be in demand for speaking engagements and I’m sure you’ll be great. Clare

  2. It sounds as though your perseverance in bravely raising Devon inadvertently strengthened and prepared you for the trials of becoming ”legally blind” Steph.
    I have participated in Toastmasters but did not continue (perhaps I will finish the course sometime in the future) so I do understand the fear of public speaking and facing an audience. Well done in continuing without your tablet. 🙂

    1. Thanks Wendy. I have to agree with you on how raising Devon prepared me for the loss of my sight although initially I couldn’t understand the why and how I was going to move onward, especially because I had it all worked out. But to some degree such is the beauty of life in we are never certain of the detours which can arise at any given point.

      The Toastmasters club I belonged to was at work and I loved every minute of it but ours came to an abrupt end when our president could no longer run the group. If I had a bucket list Toastmasters would have been near the top because I longed to join a club many years ago but the timing wasn’t right so I am grateful for the experience.

      1. It’s a shame it ended Steph. Is there one near by that you could join?
        Every time I read your blog, I learn something new with regard to how you cope and the strategies and mechanisms you use or adopt and adapt in daily life. There is an idea I’ve been toying with but I’ll give it some more thought. I’ll email you as soon as it become more concrete. Thank you for another great post Steph!

      2. Yes it was but it ended a couple of years prior to my retirement. I haven’t looked into any chapters since leaving work mainly due to timing but it’s something I can consider going forward. Oooo, now I’m curious. Can’t wait to get your email.

  3. We are so grateful that you came and shared your story with our guests. You were a hit!

    1. My pleasure!! Thank you once again for having me and allowing me to thank you for what you’ve done for me.

  4. I am deathly afraid of speaking in front of an audience but somehow when I stand there in front of people; after the first few shaky seconds which seem like forever, I suddenly get a rush of adrenaline and I am on fire…. its so weird, been in a few contests got a trophy or two.
    I still drink juice from my personal favourite trophy, which I got at this contest, where I froze when I was about to begin, I absolutely went blank could not remember what language I spoke even….. people in the audience started murmuring, and I could see someone coming to escort me off the stage ……. then the adrenaline rush kicked it….. and I calmly Begun “Did You Feel The Magic in the air As you waited for me to make you live forever. I stand before you to immortalise you Ladies and Gentleman”……….and pretty much winged the rest of the speech. (those opening words still stuck in my head years later)
    Everyone thought it was part of the act and when I was through I got a standing ovation, I also came first….. good times.( I should blog this story sometime)

    You never really know how strong you are until you have to face something that challenges all you are then you realise how much practise you have had but never knew right? Thanks sharing Steph.
    ~B

    1. I got chills reading this B. and can imagine just how powerful your opening line was especially with the nervous pause that lent itself to the successful outcome of your speech. As introverted as I am I seem to do much better winging it when asked to speak on the fly and like you, the adrenaline fuels me.

      1. I think I know why, when you plan ahead what you intend to speak, it usually ends up being what you think other people would like to hear and not exactly what you really want to say or mean but on the fly, its you raw and undiluted (which is a good thing…usually hahaha)

      2. That makes sense. Plus on the fly eliminates even a hint of a robotic speech.

      3. OOOOh unless you at a robot convention hahahahahahaha

      4. Okay B. its 1:30 in the morning, I can’t sleep and I read this comment–TOO FUNNY😧😲😆😬

  5. Steph, you are living a purposeful life. My heart was in my throat when you talked about speaking in front of the group. You handled a stressful moment with grace. Whether you give a prepared speech or you speak from the heart, your experiences and wisdom will always help others. Look at her go, she’s a woman on the move!

    1. <3 Thank you Susan for this lovely comment. Hearing this made me smile and feel so darn good 🙂

  6. Sheesh! I’m glad you recovered. Speaking in front of people can be challenging, even if you have it all together. And I learned something: never begin with an apology.

    1. It was an interesting experience, almost felt like an out of body type thing. Too bad I forgot to have someone shoot video of it 😉

      1. Next time 😉

  7. Stephanae, you are an inspiration! What a gift this post is – telling us that huge hurdles can be overcome and leave in their wake stronger people who share what they have learned with those of us who may be despairing.

  8. Sounds like you went through the flames and came out laughing, Steph – good on you!
    I love the way that some things seem to come well despite the preparation we put into them. 🙂

    1. Haha Yes, I have to say though I was not amused the night of the event. It was one of those “I wish the floor would swallow me” moments.

      1. I’m glad that it didn’t – otherwise I would not be enjoying your blog. 😉
        (selfish? me?)

      2. hahaha nah, you’re not selfish 😉 I just got done checking out your “Your Nuts!” post and I’m still giggling.

      3. Ah – that way you say it – has me giggling too. 😉

  9. I also am a Toastmaster. I have been for quite a few years and once I am on stage I forget the jitters, and launch into a most enjoyable experience most often for others as well as myself. I have competed in and won several local and area contests. About three months ago, I was about half way into a contest speech and I went blank as a wall. I had left my written speech on a desk outside the designated speaking area. I had to walk over and use it to get back on track. Needless to say, I lost! 😀

    1. Toastmasters was such an enjoyable experience and I leaned so much. Our group was a closed one at work. Kudos to you Oneta for competing in and winning in several contests, I would have loved to have seen you speak. Even though you didn’t win the one where you had to grab your notes, you kept going❤

  10. Great, funny, heartwarming as always! I always have to be super prepared before doing any public speaking, and it’s always completely nerve-racking for me. I would have been mortified if I ditched my notes/tablet…good for you!

    1. Thank you Caroline 😄❤

  11. Great post! Sounds like there’s a lesson here. All the preparation we make is sometimes for nought. Most times it’s just best to speak from the heart. <3

    1. I think you’re right Michelle. ❤

  12. Powerful post, Stephanae. Makes me realize that most things I complain about aren’t even worth complaining about. You’re my hero!

      1. You’re welcome!

  13. I’m very impressed that you managed to make a good job of your talk even without your notes. I think a lot of us would find it hard to recover from the awkward minute at the beginning. I know I would point to something at the back of the room and then slip quietly off stage.

    1. Awe man! That’s genius Bun. I’m gonna have to keep this one in my back pocket for next time👍

  14. I can understand your dismay but it sounds like it worked out ok. I’ve taught many workshops from youth to corporate and always felt nervous. Audiences are usually quite forgiving.

  15. WOW!! Steph, that is an incredible story!! Not only the speech part, the whole thing.
    You were certainly prepared to advocate for yourself, after helping Devon all those years.
    You are a strong, courageous woman!!
    Thank you so much for following my blog.
    Melinda

    1. Thank you Melinda!! I still have the 4 inch binder that contains every piece of correspondence and IEPs (Individualized Education Program reports) from day care up to 12th grade. My first meeting at the school was a bust but I educated myself on special education and was fully prepared for subsequent meetings. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t communicate with school officials.

      1. You’re welcome, Steph. Oh my goodness!! You are very well documented, then!

  16. Wow—I’ve never been good at public speaking, so your predicament would be a nightmare to me—good for you for getting through it so well!!
    jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    1. I so wished that the floor would have opened up and swallow me at the time. The one saving grace was that I couldn’t see the facial expressions 😉 I think that would have pushed me over the edge. There were several people who came up to me after the event and their comments were very positive.

  17. Your courageous honesty is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Tanya! 🙂

  18. We all stumble and we just get up and move on. Loved your courage and determination and of course your Aha moment. Great post.

Leave a Reply