Friday, May 31, 2013

A “Dog and Pony” is Born

Shelly came down to my office one chilly January afternoon after work to discuss her involvement with a No R Word presentation that was brewing in the creative hopper as planning began for the 2013 Spread the Word to End the R Word campaign.  This meeting would become the first of many over the next three months as we hammered out our plan to educate elementary students about not using the R word in a mean or joking way.

My interactions with Shelly up until this point had been mostly in passing so I was excited to actually sit down with her and really get to know her.  Shelly was wonderfully open, and touching as she shared very personal life experiences with cerebral palsy, heartache, fears and anxieties, as well as her goals in making a difference in our community.  We laughed a lot, and she made me feel comfortable to ask even more questions from the point of view of an elementary student to see how she’d respond to unfiltered, even awkwardly asked questions youngsters can ask.  I learned a lot about Shelly in this hour-long conversation, and from it, our presentation was easily born.
Together, Shelly and I agreed that while she needed to share her personal story of life with cerebral palsy, we needed to help the young students understand what cerebral palsy (CP) was, why it happens, and what it looks like.  Because Shelly had no previous speaking experience before groups, I decided to create a scripted outline for our presentation that would serve as our starting point.  Most of the content within ended up being Shelly’s very own words from our conversation.  I learned when and how she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and what living life with cerebral palsy meant, what she could and couldn’t do, and how she managed that.  I learned about all the things she liked and didn’t like, such as TV shows, foods, UK, sports, etc. I learned more about how CP affected her physically and what that meant to her and her abilities.  I learned that she preferred people ask her about her disabilities than make assumptions about what she can and can’t do; and finally, I learned how she felt about the R words and being called a “retard”, and what she thought about people who use them, jokingly or not.  Everything we discussed became a part of our presentation, added into the mix a few opportunities to interact directly with the children so they may connect with her, and small bites of information that help them understand cerebral palsy, how it happens, and what is happening when they see people with excessive oral secretions or heads drooping. 

Together we looked at the first draft, and Shelly really liked it, recognizing her own voice within it.  Over several weeks of meeting two, three and four times a week, Shelly and I read the presentation outline aloud dozens of times and then some, an exercise that allowed us to make tweaks, reword some things, and fine-tune it to where both she and I were comfortable with the words flowing from our mouths.  Shelly brought simplicity to the CP explanations, and further found her voice through edit suggestions of her part.  With some encouragement, Shelly began to take co-ownership of this presentation, and full ownership of her message she wanted to share.
We discussed “memorizing” the half-hour presentation, so that we could present it without needing to read from our outline.  Shelly physically wasn’t able to hold the outline, so she understood the importance of knowing the presentation cold.  I held myself to memorizing it, but reassured her I’d have the outline in hand so if she got in a memory pinch, I’d help bail her out; but Shelly was fully committed to learning her part, and knowing it better than me!  There were practice sessions in which I struggled with my part and she nailed it, which became very important in boosting Shelly’s confidence in this process.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Show Time! - "Shelly admitted to being nervous because she was unsure about the school environment, how the kids would take to her, and how they’d respond to her message. . . . nervous or not, Shelly hit the presentation out of the ballpark!"

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