The Amazing First fish Hoek Brownies

As a speaker, it has not been a surprise to me to discover that I love talking to adults about the capabilities of those who are differently abled, but I will admit I was surprised to discover how much I enjoy talking to youngsters on the same subject.

I had the opportunity to speak to the girls from the First fish Hoek Brownies this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The first time I spoke to a group of youngsters I was completely intimidated… Okay, maybe intimidated isn’t really the word – I was terrified! It’s one thing talking to a group of adults and sharing stories of some of the funny things that have happened to me since losing my sight, but talking to children is a completely different thing… especially as I do not have children myself.
An industry network is a powerful thing, and the speaking business is no exception. I asked one of my speaking colleagues, American professional speaker, Mark Brown, for advice and gained huge value from his experience of working with youngsters for many years. His basic advice? Involve the children as much as possible, as they become bored if you simply speak at them. So I try to follow this great advice whenever I speak to children.

When preparing to meet with First fish Hoek Brownies, I decided to let the girls take the conversation where they wanted, inviting them to ask whatever questions they had. The tricky bit was working out the logistics of the group interaction, and thankfully I had the help of a sighted adult to ensure that everyone got a chance to speak, and that no one dominated the conversation.

I was impressed by the diversity of questions asked by the girls (aged 7 – 10 years): from how I do things, to what it is that I see, from whether or not I remember what I look like, to how I play a guitar. And, of course, the girls wanted to know all about Eccles, my retired guidedog who accompanied me to the visit.

One of the first rules of speaking I learned was to know your audience, and my assessment that I had made the right decision in letting the girls ask questions was Bourne out by their supervisor, who told me that she had never seen the girls so attentive, and so well behaved. I just thought they were amazing, for the variety and maturity of their questions, and their openness to the concept that, despite my lack of sight, that I am just a normal person who does things a little differently.

The Question of Speaking for No Cost

Cds IMG 0429This afternoon I gave my presentation “Strength, Passion, Success” at the signal Hill rotary Club. As with the other Rotary clubs at which I’ve spoken recently, I was not paid for this presentation, though both I and Dawn Corin, who assisted me with transport and support, did receive a meal at the meeting. Many of my pro speaker friends have asked me what value I get out of speaking for no fee and I’ve given this question a great deal of thought over the past few weeks.

I want to make it quite clear that I do not intend speaking for free forever, that I will gladly accept paying gigs that come my way that suit my preferences. For now, however, I am gaining value from speaking at organisations like rotary and, linked to my illustrated children’s books the Adventures of Missy Mouse, schools and youth organisations like Brownies, for which I do not receive a fee. “Why?” you may ask…

There are several reasons:

  1. By simply speaking, I am raising my profile as a speaker, which will result in future paying gigs
  2. I am getting a chance to perfect my speech in front of an audience, so am improving my skills
  3. I am using the opportunity to change people’s perspective of what a person living with a disability can achieve
  4. I am building goodwill for organisations that are close to my heart, like casual Day and Toastmasters International.

Of these, the third is the one that gives my soul the greatest level of joy – each time I speak, I have the ability to raise people’s awareness of how those of us who are differently abled accomplish tasks, and give my audiences permission to ask questions that they might not usually do, for fear of offending those of us who are differently abled. It gives me a real sense of accomplishment each time someone comes over after I have spoken and shares with me how my presentation has inspired them and shifted their thinking about disability And that is just awesome!

Tributes Excellence 2015 Book

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Earlier today I submitted an article for the coming book about the recent Tributes Excellence Awards in Mangaung, South Africa at which I received the award for the category of literature and education And I’ve just got a great response from Musa E Zulu, who is putting the book together – mail extracted below:

“Wow! Man, this is packed with emotion and the choice of words employed is the true mirror image of an author extraordinary!”

I’ll let everyone know when the book comes out…

The Espresso Show – My First Ever TV Appearance!

Wow! What a day!

Having the opportunity to appear on television as a Casual Day Goodwill Ambassador was a chance not to be missed – yes, it meant waking up at the crack of dawn to be at the studio by 06h00 in the morning, but its seriously not every day that you are given a chance to appear live on TV, is it?

I found the whole experience quite surreal. There is a lot of sitting around and waiting while things happen around you, and then several flurries of activity to get everyone ready to go on air (umm, or should it be screen for TV?) – sitting around feeling spare while people rush backwards and forwards around you, only to be hurried into make-up at some unknown sign (and my word, are those make-up ladies professional!). Then more waiting around, this time “in the wings” between the sets as other segments of the show are shot. Next comes the flurry of activity as everyone is mic-ed up correctly and the engineers check that the microphones are working, and there is a (super quick) run through of what the presenter is going to ask each person. The anticipation builds as the segment just before yours goes ahead on the other set. Then suddenly you are being hustled towards the set, told where to sit and everyone holds their breath as the final countdown begins.

And, just as suddenly it is all over – a 5 minute segment on what Casual Day is all about with each of us 3 Ambassadors being asked a single question… though I’m still not sure what I would have done if they had actually asked me the question meant for Simone of what it meant to me to be a role model as a hearing impaired ballet dancer!

I left the set with the strange awareness of how unreal the TV world must b – when you are on set and on camera everything appears and sounds so calm and relaxed… but behind the scenes you are very aware that there is organised chaos as the various role-players shuffle guests from one place to another so everything appears slick and professional to the viewers at home. The crazy thing is that it works, as was clear when I watched the recording of the segment that Jabulile, Simone and I took part in.

All things considered I found it a singularly strange experience.

But, would I do it all again if offered the opportunity? Hell yes! I haven’t had that much fun in ages!

If you want to watch the video, here it is…

The Tributes Excellence Experience 2015

The last month has been a whirlwind of activity, from my initial suspicion when I received the e-mail congratulating me on being awarded a Tributes Excellence award for 2015, culminating in the awards banquet two nights ago.

You must understand the reasons for my initial suspicion – the mail I received was through my website, was related to an award that I had never heard of, was from someone whose name I didn’t recognise, and a few speaking friends had recently received fairly similar scams. So I was somewhat suspicious, as most people would have been. However, after some investigation, not only did the whole thing turn out to be legitimate, but it also turned out that the award put me back into contact with someone I had known when I was studying at the university of KwaZulu Natal, back in the days before I lost my sight.

To explain the whole thing would take far more than just a single post, but perhaps a little background might be of help: the Tributes excellence Awards are awards that are bestowed annually to women with disabilities who are recognised as having excelled in their fields. The list of previous recipients numbers some truly incredible women – to find out the calibre of women who have been recognised, you can take a look at the Tributes website: www.tributessa.co.za

And so, we, the 2015 Tributes Excellence recipients, and our traveling companions, spent a few days in Mangaung (or Bloemfontein, for those of you who know it by that name), being treated to a number of events, experiences and celebrations, courtesy of the Mangaung Municipality. I found the cultural tour of Mangaung of particular interest with my background and love of history, and was moved by our visit to Amelia House, a home for children with severe Cerebral Palsy.

The Tributes Award Ceremony was quite an event, with several government dignitaries from local and national government in attendance, and an audience of around 400 people.

But for me the most lasting impression of the Tributes Excellence 2015 experience will remain the relationships I built with the 12 amazing women who were honoured as this year’s Tributes Excellence award recipients. I was impressed, humbled, motivated, amazed and inspired by the passion and dedication shown by each of the women who were recognised, each of whom is playing a role in making Southern Africa a better place for those who are differently-abled.

Cape Pulpit Interview

Cds 2015 08 20 22 59 54My second Casual Day interview was with Radio Cape Pulpit 729 AM today.. Only this time it was a pre-recorded interview and, right now, I’m not sure when it is going to be aired, though definitely before Casual Day on 4 September.

This time I was not alone, as my amazing fellow Cape Town Casual Day Ambassador, Simone Botha, who is a hearing impaired professional ballerina, was also interviewed.
Here’s something you may not know: a person who is hearing impaired and uses a cochlea implant to assist them in hearing, generally will do an in-studio interview as a telephone interview poses challenges.

The previous interview I did focussed on Casual Day, the positive change that the Casual Day event has on changing lives of persons living with a disability, and on where people could get their Casual Day stickers. This time, it felt to me like the focus was on me- and what it was like living without sight… and that made me a whole lot more nervous – I’m not sure if that was a hangover from my previous reticence to tell my own story, or whether I was merely startled as I had assumed the focus would be on Casual Day, but that’s how I felt!

Still, I found myself enjoying the experience of this interview, and especially of sharing the experience with Simone – though we were interviewed separately, Simone sat in on my interview and we took advantage of the opportunity to get some photos.

I’m loving the time I’m spending as a Casual Day Goodwill Ambassador, and doing my small bit to make a difference!

CCFM, Here I Come!

We couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried – the day I was featured in the People’s Post newspaper, in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, was also the day I was scheduled to do my first Casual Day media interview, on Radio CCFM 107.5, in Muizenberg.

Thanks to Andrea Vinassa, our PR Champ at the Casual Day office, I was well briefed on what types of questions I might be asked, and she gave me all the salient facts that I would need to sound like a great ambassador during the interview.

Fortunately I had the chance to chat to the interviewer for a few minutes before we went on air so I had a good idea of what to expect… although, knowing what to expect and being efficiently prepped only helps with part of the nerves!

But, as I always say, it is those nerves that keep me focussing on what I’m doing and saying… it’s only when I’m not nervous that I mess up!

In general, I felt the interview went well – thanks in no small part to the preparation given to me by Andrea, and to the experience of unprepared speaking that I have gained as a member of Toastmasters International –I am living proof of the fact that Toastmasters works!

If you’d like to listen to the interview, you can do so below.

It Never Rains, But It Pours…

Have you ever been in a phase when it suddenly feels like lots of things start happening at the same time?

There I was, busy with my brand new writing project today when I noticed I had received an e-mail… from the PRO of Casual Day inviting me to be one of their Goodwill Ambassadors for 2015. I’m really excited about this opportunity as I believe it will enable me to use my blindness to make a real difference in the lives of others living with a disability.

For those of you who don’t know about Casual Day, it is South Africa’s biggest fundraising event for persons with disabilities that is held every year, usually on the first Friday in September. Casual Day raises funds that support a spectrum of various disabilities, reaching some 500 organisations that support those living with disability.

The role of a Casual Day Goodwill Ambassador is to raise awareness of the positive impact that Casual Day makes on the lives of persons living with a disability, and to increase Casual Day sticker sales, thus making a real contribution. The role often includes radio and TV interviews promoting Casual Day… so who knows where it will take me…

If you’d like to know more, you can check out the Casual Day website at www.casualday.co.za

Missy Mouse – One Year Gone

Book 1 coverIt is hard to believe that a year ago I started selling my illustrated children’s books, The Adventures of Missy Mouse, as a way of raising awareness of the capabilities of persons living with a visual impairment. It’s been an amazing journey so far and the response to the books has been exciting – there is very little that feels as rewarding as getting feedback from a child who has enjoyed reading the books I’ve written, or hearing from parents or grandparents about how much the children in their families have been enjoying the stories.

If you’d like to find out more about the books, you can take a look at the Missy Mouse website: www.missy-mouse.com. Or connect on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/missymousebooks.

PS You can order the books through the website if you live in South Africa, or through amazon.com if ordering from elsewhere in the world.

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