Category Archives: speaking

my first reading

I pick up my book with trembling hands. “Thank you for being here. I’ve been speaking for the burn fund for a long time. Whenever I’m with you guys and our fire fighters it feels like coming home.”

Deep breath.

“I’m going to read you a little of chapter 12 called ‘Home for Christmas’.”

Deep breath. My hands are still shaking. Keep still. But my hands won’t hear me.

I begin to read aloud from page 63. “Tinsel, wreaths and garlands…” On a hot July evening I read about going home for Christmas after being in the burn unit for 6 months. In front of me is a small audience of fire fighters and burn fund supporters. We’re on a large boat, big enough to hold many people, serve dinner, and pick up a gaggle of campers waiting on an island for us as we make our way across the ocean.

It’s quiet as I read. There is a smattering of applause when Peter is mentioned. Peter is the fire fighter who drove me home when snow had fallen hard in the Lower Mainland, making the roads slick and dangerous. My voice is steady but my hands continue to shake. This is the first time I have read my book aloud to a group of people. For years I’ve spoken to audiences large and small, telling my story, and I have never been this nervous, this raw.

I finish reading on page 66. I look up. “Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for listening.”

People are smiling and clapping. I look at my family, at Scott and my kids. Annie and Ben have never heard me give a speech. They’re too young to read my book, but they came with me today. I wanted them to be here, to be a part of what I do and meet kids who have suffered, who are spending a week at camp to have fun and be free. Ben jumps up from his chair. “Good speech, Mommy!” He wraps his arms around me tight. I squeeze him back, hard. “Thanks buddy.” I return to my seat beside Annie. Tears shine in her eyes. “Mommy, some of that was so sad. It makes me sad.” I pull her to me, rest my chin on the top of her head and breathe her in, shampoo and sunshine. “It’s okay. I know. But there is a happy ending.”

Swept up
in the incredible people of the BC Professional Fire Fighters burn fund

1082731_10152075690059202_159081274_n1085225_10152075690064202_1643917081_nThis photo of these lovely women reading my book was snapped and sent to me. The second photo was taken on the Burn Fund Cruise where I did my very first reading and signing.

promise

This post was meant to go up a week and a half ago and then the flu found us. I’m sorry I haven’t been around, my friends. I’ve missed reading your words. Now that I’ve returned to the land of the living, I’ll visit your places. Here is my belated post…

“I have to back off.” I reached this conclusion after having a long conversation with Scott about our daughter. Annie and I have been busy reacting.

As parents we comfort each other with, “Do what you think is best. You know what’s best for your kids.” Sometimes I don’t know what’s best.

I listen to other mothers and I mentally scribble, sway, scream as I race to keep up. When did parenting get complicated? Was it always this hard? I’m pretty sure I’m giving this too much thought. Maybe I’m pushing too hard. Clearly, I need a vacation and a martini. I long to soften life’s bumps and blows for my kids and, at the same time, I want to teach them to cope. My instinct is to hang on when I should take down the fences. Let them be. After 9 years of knowing my daughter I’m still unsure, I still second-guess. Who is she?

A week ago, perspective found me as I told my story. I heard my breath, the beat of my heart. For one hour my worries lay at the back of the room behind a small group of kind people as I answered questions. I saw my mangled car, the hospital. I saw me. I saw Scott. My family. My friends. Someone asked, “When you were in the hospital, what did you want from people? What did you need? What worked for you and what didn’t?”

I explained what drove me crazy. Self-help books with a heavy religious hand. People with plans to fix. I was broken and I had to be broken for a while. And what helped. People who were there with love and no agenda.

Later that night, on my way home, belief was on my mind. When I was jerked from a coma and confronted with a question, “Heidi, do you want to live?” and I answered, “Yes,” I knew I could get through. When my conviction wavered, the belief of my family and friends carried me. I rested in their hope.  Trust heals and strengthens. Belief is often what holds Scott and me together. We’ll get lost and then find our way, each other’s anchors.

I parked the car and hurried inside to tell Scott about my great evening. Annie stood just inside the door waiting, “I wanted to say goodnight.” I squeezed her hard; buried my face in her hair.

“Mommy, that’s too tight.”

I sighed, “I know. It’s because I love you so much.” I released her with a kiss, “Have a good sleep.”

I watched her shuffle to the stairs, tripping over pajama pants that puddle at her feet. And I ached. I didn’t know I could hurt this much, feel this guilty, get this angry and love this much.

I don’t always know what’s best and I don’t always know what I’m doing, but I’m her promise. To love and believe.

public speaking tips

I’m working on a presentation I’m giving at the end of the week and I thought, hey, why not write about preparing speeches and what happens when you find yourself in front of a group of people giving the speech? Here it goes…

Do what works for you. I write out my speeches. Some will say that you shouldn’t – notes in point form only. Either way, do what works best for you. Writing it out helps me to get a feel for where I want to go. Every time I give a talk I tailor it for that particular audience. I’m not reading my speech. I will glance down from time to time and it helps me to keep track of where I am.

Present to the mirror. Give the speech at home to a chair, to the kitchen cabinets, to the mirror. Doing it out loud allows you to get a feel for the pacing, where you stumble and what needs to be fixed.

Waiting is the hardest part. The anticipation of speaking is worse than speaking in front of thousands of people. Scott can attest to this. I don’t know how many times I’ve shout-whispered at him, “This is going to suck. I have to change everything!” In that half hour leading up to the presentation, I am sure I will bomb. It’s normal. You’ll be fine.

If you bomb. Debrief with someone you trust. Shake it off. Have a drink. Move on. Obsess about it for days. No, wait. Don’t do that.

Don’t picture people in their underwear. We were given that brilliant advice in school to help calm us, but here’s the thing. It’s creepy. Don’t do it.

Don’t consume alcohol before delivering a speech. Years ago I was the keynote speaker at an event where they plied me with drinks. It was very generous of them, but I wanted to be coherent. I stopped at one martini and followed it up with a lot of water and food. I was fine, but I’ll never do it again. You want to keep your wits about you. No one should be so relaxed they’re slurring their words. A couple of months ago I gave a speech, bee-lined to the bar as soon as it was over, grabbed a glass of wine and began to drink like I earned it. Ah, victory.

Expect nervousness. Butterflies are normal. It keeps you on your toes. In fact, if you’re not a little nervous, I would wonder what is wrong with you.

Engage with the room. Make eye contact. Not shifty eye contact, like you’re looking for a quick getaway. But clear, controlled eye contact. Move your head. Look for the people paying attention, smiling. Focus on those people. Don’t be distracted by the person on their phone or the person who’s leaving. Stay with the people who stay with you.

Smile.

Use humor. My story is heavy. Heavy, heavy. So, as I list all the terrible that happened I tell a funny story or make a casual observation that relates to the topic to lighten the room. It gives your audience a chance to exhale. After sharing the sad tale of losing my left leg after a 2 month battle to save it, I often list my favorite things about the hospital – one of them being morphine. Sweet, beautiful morphine. Sometimes I wish I still had access to a drip.

Slow down. But, not too much. Because slow talkers are the worst. I have a tendency to talk fast, especially when I’m nervous or I’m eager to get to the good part. My life was horrible and then it wasn’t! Ta-da! But, as I’m talking I remind myself these people are here to hear you. They don’t know the story like I do. Breathe. Pause. Speak clearly.

Beware of tics. Throat clearing, ums and uhs. If you’re prepared, that helps curb the tics. If you’re doing something on the fly, those tics love to hang out with you. I don’t have any special tricks. Just be conscious of the tics and try to eliminate them. Instead of an uuuhh, swallow or take a breath.

If you forget. Don’t panic. Take a beat. Look down at your notes. What seems like hours to you are just a few seconds to the audience. I once spoke at Parliament where the Ministry was giving the burn fund 2 million dollars. Media was there. Important people of the government were there. I was doing well, covering my points. I had not brought notes because I had this. And then. As I approached the end. I blanked. What came after rehabilitation and the importance of community? I didn’t know. My mind was a black hole. I was sure I heard the drip of a leaky faucet on the other side of the building. Somewhere in the static that was my brain, words found me and color returned to my face. Later someone said to me that pause (my freak out) emphasized the point. You could really feel the emotion. And I just forgot. It often feels worse than it actually is. If you forget a part of your speech and keep going, no one will know.

Be yourself. People are there to see you. They’re not ready to pounce if you make a mistake. Unless you’re a comedian or a politician, there is no threat of heckling. You don’t need to be perfect. You will feel natural and at your best if you are you.

Over to you. What are some tips or tricks you use when you’re in front of a crowd and the spotlight is on you?

part 2 – be true – your life is a story

I should have prefaced my previous post with from the past. (I did change it a couple of days ago.) 2 years ago I was wrestling with writing my story. Even though I had been giving speeches I was terrified of spending time in dark places to tell my story beyond 30 minutes. Now I’m all in.

Near the beginning of a speech and toward the end I say this: Everyone has a story. This is mine. What are you going to do with your story? Your life?

Each of us has something in our lives we need to be true to; whether it’s to stay the course knowing this is exactly where you’re supposed to be or to pursue another direction or to uncover a path you didn’t know existed like finding a secret door to a secret garden where wonder and delight flourish (my childhood wish). Whatever the choice is, it’s about creating meaning in our lives. Not merely existing. Not giving up. Being true. Meaning can be found everywhere.

We live as story – as a work of art with many parts, colors, and layers. A significant word in the top corner, a ray of sun to the left, poetry to sum up your soul, a stormy cloud that threatens, roots that run deep into the earth. Parts of your story haven’t made it to the page, yet to be discovered and explored.

My story isn’t only about recovery after a devastating car crash, but about my childhood, my marriage, parenting, the wacky things my kids do that make me gasp and laugh sometimes all at once. (Oh, the day I had yesterday.) Friendships that enrich my life. Obligations I must meet. Being compassionate. Still, there is more. Destiny that begs to be drawn.

And I want meaning in it. I demand it.

Sometimes we can’t control the circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we’ll respond. A part of life slammed into me, undid me and emptiness stalked me while I sought my version of whole. Finances continue to make me batty and I can’t chase every dark cloud away, but I can choose well and reach meaning.

While we fill in our stories and attempt to make pieces fit as others slip through our fingers, through our stories we get to help people. The meaning in our lives can be in front of us, beside us. It can be simple. Sometimes it’s picking up a friend’s child for school to help them out, buying someone a cup of coffee, being good to your spouse, teaching our kids about compassion, and noticing others. Sharing grief. Going out of our way, we let people know they’re not alone. Our stories cross and intertwine.

Your story, your life is never done with you. It’s always moving, shifting and you’ll want to be in it – right smack in the middle. So you can’t miss it. With all the cost and risk. With all the sadness, delight and wonder. With all that you have to offer. Living your story is worth it.

Swept up

In Barefoot Contessa Vancouver

Now for something frivolous and fun, and meaning can definitely be found in fun…this sweet store is one of my favorite places to shop. From clothes to belts to jewelry it is all things lovely as the ladies that work at Barefoot Contessa will tell you.

new news!

I am going to be on the radio!! I will be featured on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) program North by Northwest with Sheryl MacKay.

Sheryl heard me speak on CBC’s Early Edition for the Angel Campaign in December, got in touch with me and asked me to be on her show. Of course I said yes! I’d be honored and I was. I geeked out just a little sitting in CBC’s waiting room and then in the booth with my headphones. I should have pulled out my phone to sneak a photo. Like most Canadians I didn’t want to impose, so I politely left my phone in my purse.

We were there to talk about my story. Sheryl had asked for the manuscript which I sent and then I harassed her with emails like, did you get it? It didn’t get lost out there somewhere, right? I had this vision of the file never reaching her and landing in some crazy person’s inbox who…I don’t know what they would do with it because, of course, this is illogical and would never happen. But, I’m slightly neurotic. And it’s my memoir, my almost-book.

We talked story for 40 minutes which will be edited to somewhere between 15 – 17 minutes. Sheryl is lovely, laid-back and easy to talk to – too easy. I could have freely over-shared, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone.  Like I could have told her about the time Scott’s co-workers overheard a very private conversation between me and Scott when Scott, unknowingly, hadn’t turned off his ‘on’ button while they were video-conferencing. My face still burns with humiliation. She made it that comfortable.

North by Northwest is a program that’s on every weekend featuring artists, musicians, writers and chefs sharing their passions and inspirations. And I had the incredible honor to be interviewed. The show will air this Sunday, January the 22nd, after the 8:30 am news. Here in Vancouver you can listen to it on 690 AM or 88.1 FM. You’ll be able to listen to it at their website and I’ll follow up with that information when I know more. You can follow me on Twitter (@heidicave) by just clicking at the top right corner of my blog where I will be sure to tweet more details. Or Facebook. I’ll post there too.

Here we are…the whole family this time.

because of what they do

“We pass them off to the next set of hands and then we never see them again.”

I heard that from a few firefighters in Merritt at their Annual Firefighters Appreciation Banquet on Saturday night where I was honored to be the keynote speaker. They rescue and safely give their survivors to paramedics. Most firefighters don’t know if they survive their hospital stay or know what happens after they leave the hospital. They might come across the story in the paper and that’s the only information they have, but the stories don’t come full circle for these brave men and women. I heard again and again how great it was to hear from someone that made it and was doing well.

I feel safe, comfortable when I’m with firefighters, like I’m with family. I don’t know if it’s because they rescued me from a burning car or if it’s just that I’ve spoken to so many of them now and see that they are consistently good, solid people. They know how to have fun and at the same time take what they do seriously. It’s these reasons and more. I mean, who doesn’t love firefighters? When I’m in a room full of firefighters I am home.

“I had such a good time!” You could hear me saying that over and over again to the people at my table, to the mayor, to everyone I had the pleasure of coming into contact with. I did have such a good time.

We were served great food (I’ve been to a few of these dinners and this might be the best meal yet) from a place called Brambles. If you’re ever in Merritt you’ll have to check it out. I hear they make a mean scone too…I have a soft spot for a good scone. I sat at a table with Chief Dave Tomkinson, who invited me to speak, and his lovely and witty wife, Shelley. After my presentation I watched firefighters receive handshakes, good-natured ribbing, and awarded for their brave and selfless work through the year. As Scott and I got our photo taken in a Fire Truck from 1929 and cranked the fire alarm to a loud wail, as we mingled and gathered our things for the drive home we were stopped by a firefighter who told us it’s good to hear the end of the story. Scott replied, “It’s because of what you guys do that we have a family, that there are kids and there’ll be grandkids.”

It’s true. Because of what they do I’m here, Scott is here, and Annie and Benjamin are here. There is life; there is more because of what they do.

Swept up

Go Canucks Go!

whole

I’ve been retooling a speech, putting together old and new material into one super speech for this weekend. I’m speaking in Merritt, BC and while I’m talking story I’m also explaining lessons I’ve learned through the story.

One of the topics I cover is ‘wholeness’. How physically I’m altered and logically I’m not whole, but I feel whole. If the state of my mind and heart are whole then I am, in fact, whole. Even though my crazy stitched-up body will always be my crazy stitched-up body I’ve made peace with it. Until summer comes around.

It’s far better than it used to be. I don’t intensely dislike girls who can pull off a tank top anymore and what I mean by ‘pull off’ is really anyone that doesn’t have scars running up and down their arms stopping and starting in neat lines making sleeves. I was envious of something I no longer had and I was a girl that wanted to feel pretty.

Everyone is allowed parts of the body they hate. I just hated almost all of my body. Except for my boobs. Miraculously, they escaped the fire. So, I had that. For the most part, I didn’t judge people’s nitpicking about themselves. Once in a while, though, I got uptight. When people would complain about the nick they have on their otherwise smooth tanned leg or the small scar on their arm from when they were poked with a fork or something equally as offensive I thought, oh yeah? I’ll show you. I wanted to rip off my clothes to show them what scars were all about, which was quickly rebuffed by sanity and my polite side returning to me. I’d murmur my agreement. “That sucks.” And shake my head knowingly. They knew I could sympathize. Years ago Someone-I-Knew said, “I sprained my toe and I thought of you right away. It is so painful. I knew you could relate.” I tried to stop my jaw from unhinging and said, “Oh?” What I should have added was uh, no, spraining your toe is not the same as having someone cut them off.

As I got distance from the crash I was less jealous of people with normal skin and more tolerant of the stupid things people say (also, people stopped saying stupid things). I grew comfortable in my new skin, in who I am. It’s just that summer is a trigger for what I lost.

As I’m reading the lessons I wrote down two years ago for one particular speech I’m reminded again of not just how horrific it all was, but what has happened since, what I’ve made of my life. All of the good that’s come, the joy I found, and I’m filled with gratitude.

The speech is called A Life Worth Living and this weekend on June 12th it will have been 13 years since the car crash and I think it’s kinda cool that I’m speaking on June 11th, the day before everything changed in the blink of an eye about love, hope and being whole.