You Want Me to Talk about What?

several people sitting around a table, including Lois Strachan

It’s not often I feel nervous when going to facilitate a session on disability at an organisation. Yet that was definitely the way I was feeling as I climbed out of the Uber to run a recent day-long training at the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB).

I wasn’t nervous about facilitating a daylong session, nor for presenting to students at CTSB – facilitation is one of the things I do on a regular basis and my relationship with CTSB over the past two years has meant I’ve spoken for them at a number of events, including presenting a keynote at their AGM, and another at a fundraising dinner, and I presented the commencement address at their graduation in 2018. So neither of those aspects made me anxious.

Rather, it was the topic that had my nerves working overtime – they’d asked me to speak about romantic relationships. And that topic is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Here’s the thing – I’m happy to tell the story of how Craig and I met (it was my guide dog, Leila’s fault). I’m equally willing to talk about how we accommodate my visual impairment with things like household chores. But going any deeper than that is just too personal for me. So, what made me nervous was how I’d reply if the conversation drifted into areas where I wasn’t comfortable.

In the end, the session proved to be both easier and harder than I’d anticipated. I described what I thought a good relationship might look like, and some signs that might indicate a relationship isn’t healthy. I shared stories from my life to illustrate what I meant in each case. Then the group spent a few hours asking questions and sharing their own experiences about relationships.

What made it easier than I’d initially feared was the fact that the group respected the boundaries that I wasn’t really comfortable talking about. What made it harder was to listen to some of the stories of what the students had experienced, and were still experiencing.

I left the CTSB with a profound sense of gratitude for all that I have in my life. Not to mention a sense of respect and awe for the strength, resilience and determination of the students I’d been privileged to spend the day with.

PS: Fiji also had loads of fun, since she got to meet two other guide dogs, which happens only rarely when I speak at organisations.

What’s in a Question?

Cds IMG 4440Over the past few weeks I’ve been privileged to present to a pretty wide diversity of audiences – from pre-primary school learners to retirement groups. I’ve come to realize that even though my audiences have been very diverse, I have come out of each experience with greater knowledge and understanding than I previously had.

Some of that understanding relates to how other people see the concept and the abilities of those who live with a disability. And at times that knowledge is startling, and even a little frightening – you’d be amazed at some of the myths and stereotypes about blindness I’ve had the chance to demystify.

But at times the insights I’ve gained have been about myself, my life and my own assumptions and self-imposed limitations. Regularly I find myself reflecting on some of the questions at quite a deep level.

It’s yet one more reason why I like to include a no-holds-barred question and answer session when I speak to an audience. Not only do I get to address some of the questions that people are often scared to ask someone with a disability, but I also get to ask myself some pretty challenging and profound questions about my own purpose.

And That is a true gift – so I want to say thank you to my audiences for these gems of self-discovery!

Time to Brush Up on My Skills

When this is published I’ll be immersed in the professional speaking world at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa Convention. This year the annual PSASA Convention is in Cape Town so it’s right on my doorstep – at least it is, if one thinks of the whole of Cape Town as one very big door!

Over the past few months I’ve been part of the organising team for the convention, working with conference convenor, Bronwyn Hesketh. I’ve been on a few conference organising teams before but this one has been the most fun – probably the most work but definitely the most fun! It’s been great seeing the whole event take shape before our eyes… not without the odd mishap along the way, but that’s only to be expected.

I’ve also had the opportunity of interacting with the 16 speakers taking part on the programme. So I already know what they’ll be speaking on. I know I’ll gain insights into topics that will make me a better speaker and help me grow my speaking business. It’s going to be a great way for me to brush up on my skills!

I have no doubt that Fiji will be staring out of the glass doors at the panoramic view from the conference centre at the Lagoon Beach Hotel, plotting

Here’s another Fiji video – this time of when she and I went walking in Tokai Forest.
(Link here)
It was a beautifully warm morning. In fact, at over 32 degrees Celsius it was verging on being a little too warm! The sky was clear and there was a gentle breeze keeping it from becoming stifling. It was a beautiful day to walk in the forest.

I did have an ulterior motive for wanting to walk there – I wanted to assess Fiji’s dog and squirrel distraction levels in a safe environment. Occasionally I’ve noticed her being a little too eager to go and play with other dogs and with squirrels… though I’m not sure that chasing squirrels counts as playing – at least, not if you happen to be one of those squirrels!

Naturally, Fiji behaved perfectly when we were in Tokai Forest. Yes, she may have looked at a few dogs and noted when two squirrels sped past her, but at no stage did she veer off course or pull towards them. I was really proud of her as I know it must be hard for a dog to so totally ignore what their instincts are telling them. Well done, Fiji!

Hope you enjoy the short video of Fiji and I walking down the forest path…

A New Experience

Cds IMG 3022Tomorrow I’ll be trying something new as a facilitator. In fact, I’ll be trying several new things in a training session for Toastmasters leaders in Cape Town. Not only will I be co-presenting a session for the first time, but I’ll also be incorporating video into the session… and trying to transition between the three different elements of the presentation.

As you can no doubt imagine, as a blind person I’m pretty anxious about how the visual aspects are all going to fit together.

The way I’m handling the anxiety is by preparing as much as I can ahead of time. I sent the presentation and video link to both my co-presenter and the event organiser several days ago, and met with my co-presenter to talk about how we’re going to run the session. I’m preparing myself for the Q&A session by reviewing all available material so I can effectively handle any questions that the audience ask.

Yes, all this preparation is time-consuming but, far more importantly, I think that it’s the best way for me to ensure the attendees gain as much value as they can from the session – and that’s by far the most important thing to me!

A Half-Day of Hope

Cds IMG 0130Here are two photos of my recent workshop at Hope Cape Town. You may remember I was booked to go and speak to the community health workers from Hope CT a few months ago and really enjoyed the energy and passion of these incredible women and men who work mainly with children living with HIV+ and AIDS.

The NGO invited me back to run my half-day session Ready, Steady, Speak! On strategies to organise your thinking when answering questions.

It was wonderful to see the delegates stepping up to the challenge of answering some difficult questions as they worked through the programme – using the techniques I offered them to manage their anxiety, and the strategies I shared to help organise their thoughts when speaking. I was impressed at how effectively the delegates expressed their thoughts and opinions in the exercises.

Thanks to sue and Ana of Hope Cape Town for making it possible for me to run the workshop – and to the community health workers who are doing such an amazing job out there in the community.

If you’d like to find out more about the Ready, Steady, speak! Programme please contact me

Reflections on a Workshop

2016 04 09 08 32 43One of the things I enjoy about facilitating workshops is the interaction between the delegates and their engagement with the topic. As a facilitator I feel it is my job to do what I need to in order to spark the discussion and then simply nudge it as it develops.

Of course, a balance needs to be reached between giving participants the guidance and information they require to empower them and then letting them run with the discussion or the exercise.

Last week I facilitated a workshop on mental flexibility and was once again reminded how powerful the facilitation process can be to give people the space to find their own answers, to think in new ways and to arrive at (sometimes startling) self-awareness.

It is such a privilege to share an experience like that with a group of workshop participants… and is a truly rewarding experience for a facilitator!

Limiting Assumptions – Are You Sabotaging Yourself???

As a workshop facilitator I am always interested to attend workshops given by other industry leaders. On 22 February I was privileged to attend a workshop on limiting assumptions given by Canadian success mindset mentor, Jayne Blumenthal

Very few of us are aware of our limiting assumptions, let alone how those limiting assumptions impact on our behaviour. I was startled to realize how much of my behaviour is determined by the opinions of others – I mean, I knew that I was very aware of what others thought of me, but had not realized quite how much of my behaviour was governed by that and the degree to which it impacts on how I act and how I react.

More importantly, I was not aware of how often that belief stopped me from pushing forward with my plans and goals – I’d always just thought I had a bit of a problem with procrastination… but I’m now being forced to test the truth of my belief.

What are the limiting assumptions that are guiding your actions… and lack of actions? Are those limiting assumptions stopping you from achieving the success you are working towards?

Are you actually sabotaging yourself?

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