Confess, never liked that expression! Felt it crude and rude. But after giving my first ever “Inspirational Speaker” talks this week, YES, PLEURAL, not one but TWO (!!!!!), need some new language to express the leap!
My first talk, on Sunday, was at The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAFF) 13th Annual Walkathon in Crissy Field. Thank you, Dina Chon, for inviting me! “TAAF is dedicated to bettering the lives, support networks, and medical care of those affected by aneurysm and other types of vascular malformation of the brain.” The Walk-a-Thon is their main fund-raising drive. It brings out survivors, their loved ones and families, medical professionals, and families and loved ones commemorating those who passed from vascular malformations for a day of camaraderie, support and learning. For many, particularly those who have lost loved ones from hemorrhagic stroke, it is a day they look forward to all year. A place where everyone understands. Where their grief is welcomed, celebrated and lightened. And funds raised go to cutting edge researchers, who are the advancing state of the art of detection and treatment.
A little medical background: fewer than 15% of strokes are hemorrhagic, as mine was. Hemorrhagic strokes are, predominately, from vascular malformations. Some vascular malformations are congenital, a few acquired, some are symptomatic before rupture, others are silent; rupture and “the worst headache of my life”, collapse and or death is often the first indication of a problem. Imagine that in a new born, a 7-year-old, a teenager, a pregnant mother. But no need to imagine. Hemorrhagic strokes are an equal opportunity disaster, affecting infants, youth, young and old, people with none of the classical medical risk factors for stroke.
So, I was humbled, excited and proud to be invited to speak.
My second talk, on Thursday, was for the Pacific Stroke Association’s 18th Annual Stroke Conference. Thank you Rezvan Moghaddam, Executive Director, for inviting me! PSA is the premier Stroke Association on the Peninsula. Their mission: “to reduce the incidence of stroke through education and to help alleviate stroke’s devastating aftermath through support programs for stroke survivors and family caregivers.” The Stroke Conference is a continuing medical education activity, and attracts medical professionals working in the field. So, a daunting audience.
Now, many times over the 2 years I’ve been performing My Stroke of Luck, people have encouraged me to craft my story in a way that could reach more people - as a book, or motivational or inspirational speaker.
But I dragged my feet. I wanted to have the best show I could and diverting energy into a non-performative presentation felt counterproductive. Need to perfect and fully embody the show!
But I’ve done the show close to 90 times now. And though I am still making new discoveries with each performance, still loving performing, I also have a sense of mastery. So, it feels as if I can take on a new challenge. I would like to reach a larger audience and share my lessons learned in as many ways as I can. And recent positive feedback from a proposal for a book, My Stroke of Luck: A Memoir of Stroke, Recovery and Transformation, was heartening and inspiring.
So, when Dina and Rezvan each asked me to speak, basically, I couldn’t say no, though I had no idea where to begin!!
Being me, of course the first thing I think is: “Well, I’d better learn something about speaking.” So, I watched a bunch of popular Ted talks, listened to Talk like Ted: 9 Public Speaking Secrets of The World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo and struggled through reading Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson. All of which were illuminating, inspiring, exciting and left me feeling totally inadequate.
But I’d already said, “Yes,” and already had dates and had been given titles, “New Normal” for TAFF, “My Stroke of Luck” for PSA. Time to deliver!
As I struggled through the drafts, I realized, though in some ways, being a motivational speaker is radical shift, in others, it is a natural transition. The show evolved over several years, an organic, creative process that was both healing and illuminating for me and my family. Crafting a speech is a much more deliberate, intellectual and conscious activity, though the emotional excavation has been done. It was more about crafting the story of what I learned, what I took away, what you can take away.
Although I would have liked to present “off book”, theater term meaning, with speech fully memorized and embodied, I realized that was too big an ask. So, I gave myself permission to read my speeches. Which I totally needed to do! So liberating! As it evolved, I was editing both speeches down to the wire, and every edit was an improvement. After Sunday’s talk, I want back to the drawing board, reshaping for the different audience, and incorporating new insights.
And on Wednesday, between the two talks, I had a performance at the Fromm Institute in San Francisco, a Center for Life Long Learning, part of the University of San Francisco. Thank you, Lynne Kaufman, professor and award-winning playwright of 20 full length plays, including Two Minds, currently running at The Marsh, San Francisco, and The Acid Test: The Many Incarnations of Ram Dass, performed at The Marsh San Francisco for almost a year, featuring veteran actor (and one of my favorite former teachers) David Keith. I was a guest in her class, The Art of Storytelling, which, over the session, features 8 live performances with introductions and post-performance discussions. (Think I’m going to enroll next session!).
That performance, almost 6 weeks after my run at The Marsh ended, brought half a dozen new discoveries!!! (And one never before word flub!!!! Sigh!) After a month off, catching up on all the life I’d neglected over the months on the road and then The Marsh, I began rehearsing again. And, suddenly, I saw many things in a new light, and brought new energy into the show. So, though we had NO lights, and it felt like a creative leap!!! YES! And a few new questions in the Q and A.
So, what happened? Totally rewrote the talk for Thursday!!! Found some new things to say!
And after delivering speech Thursday to a rapt audience (confess, I was the only speaker of the day without a parade of power points!!! And the only stroke survivor to speak to professionals whose life work is optimizing our treatment and recovery, and raising awareness of stroke), I went home and made a bunch of note for rewrites and tailoring to various audiences.
So, guessing Diane the Inspirational Speaker is a work in progress. But so grateful, and so looking forward to where this road leads!