Things you shouldn’t say to someone who stutters

Photo credit: the International Stuttering Association, which launched ISAD together with the International Fluency Association and the European League of Stuttering Associations in 1998.

Photo credit: the International Stuttering Association, which launched ISAD together with the International Fluency Association and the European League of Stuttering Associations in 1998.

Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD), recognized annually on October 22 to raise awareness of stuttering. In previous years, I blogged about my feelings of stuttering and how I’m actually proud to be part of the stuttering community.

This year, however, I wanted to do something different. Why write a blog post when you can shoot a video? And I wanted to come up with something humorous – just a little bit of fun to raise a little a bit of awareness. So voila!

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Five highlights of the 2014 NSA conference

No, not the National Security Agency – I’m not a spy. It wasn’t the National Speakers Association either, although, funnily enough, it did hold its conference during the same time.

NSA 2014

“Even the service dog has a name tag!” says Daniele Rossi, a conference attendee and one of my NSA friends who inspire me. Photo credit: Rossi.

Last week, I attended the 2014 National Stuttering Association (NSA) conference in Washington, D. C.

Almost 1,000 folks worldwide – including people who stutter (PWS), their loved ones and speech-language pathologists – gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown D.C., making it the NSA’s largest conference.

For me, it was my fourth consecutive conference. What brings me back? Simple. Every year, I continue to be inspired by the enlightening workshops and courageous people who attend; I build meaningful friendships and connections with them; it feels like a dream – if you walked into Renaissance last week, you would’ve walked into a world where stuttering was the norm, while fluent speech was a rare find. It’s an interesting reversal as only one per cent of the global population stutters – but in this case, PWS were the majority.

However, this year’s conference was different. Here are my top five highlights:

  1. For the first time, as part of a workshop on advertising my stuttering, I approached complete strangers, told them about the conference and educated them about stuttering. To my surprise, one of them even told me his sister stutters.
  2. I met even more amazing people, especially first timers (which actually made up a third of the attendees this year), hearing their stories and what brought them to the conference.
  3. I led a workshop on the struggles PWS often face on the phone and how we can master it instead of avoid it. After the workshop, a woman in the audience even approached me to tell me I inspired her to overcome her fear of the phone. I was so happy to help!
  4. I visited a range of beautiful landmarks and museums, such as the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. We even went on a private tour of Capitol Hill organized by a friend!
  5. Last but not least, I can’t forget being in the heart of D.C. for the Fourth of July. The Washington Monument lit up with fireworks, and, as expected, the National Mall was filled with millions and millions of people.
We're united by stuttering at the U.S. Capitol.

We’re united by stuttering at the U.S. Capitol.

While stuttering has certainly been a challenge for me, it comes with its fair share of benefits too – something I’ve embraced after attending these conferences. I feel like it makes me more compassionate and unique, and it motivates me to become the best possible of version of myself.

And yes, without stuttering, I wouldn’t be able to attend the NSA conference year after year and connect with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known.

See you next year in Chicago!

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It’s National Volunteer Week and here’s why I volunteer

This week is National Volunteer Week. It’s a time to honour the outstanding work that volunteers across Canada have done in our communities. With more than 13 million volunteers across the country, according to Volunteer Canada, their work doesn’t go unnoticed.

PodCamp team

PodCamp Toronto’s volunteer organizing team, including yours truly, gathered for a quick photo after a meeting. It’s a great event for the digital media community.

What are the benefits to volunteering? People may volunteer for a range of reasons: to make a difference in people’s lives, to support a cause that is personally relevant to them, to meet cool people and learn cool things, or to gain valuable experience.

As one of the 13 million folks who dedicate their time to make a difference, I thought I’d share how I volunteer and why.

Canadian Cancer Society (CCS)

For starters, I’ve served on the organizing committee as Marketing and Communications Chair for the CCS’s Relay For Life in Richmond Hill, not to mention I was a Relay participant as well. Why? I’ve lost several family members, including my grandmother, to cancer. The sad truth is that, nowadays, there probably isn’t a family that hasn’t been touched by the disease in some way. And Relay For Life is a terrific fundraising event aimed at fighting cancer, celebrating survivors and remembering loved ones lost to the disease.

Canadian Stuttering Association (CSA)

As someone who stutters, stuttering is another issue that is personally relevant to me, which is why I’m a board member of the CSA. According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, about 68 million people worldwide stutter (which is one per cent of the global population) and I’m proud to be one of them. I used to be embarrassed about it; but now, I think having a speech impediment is something that makes me unique or interesting.

Stutter Social

Dare I need to explain why I’m involved with another stuttering group? Stutter Social is an international online support group that uses Google+ Hangouts to connect folks who stutter worldwide. In addition to my work with the CSA, I also serve as Volunteer Communications Director and Host for Stutter Social. Besides being part of a cause that’s personally relevant to me, it’s also great to connect with others who stutter and share my experiences worldwide. Through Stutter Social, I’ve met people who stutter from the U.S., India, Australia, Croatia, England – you name it.

PodCamp Toronto

Believe it or not, the list goes on. I also serve as co-organizer and volunteer coordinator for PodCamp Toronto, Canada’s largest gathering of digital media professionals. Why? Simple. I love meeting people who share my digital interests. PodCamp, which is an unconference (meaning it’s a participant-driven event, unlike a regular conference), is a great opportunity to learn, to share and to be part of an amazing community.

IABC/Toronto

Finally, as a member of the Toronto chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC/Toronto), I’ve volunteered for its annual awards ceremony, and written for the newsletter and blog. Again, I love connecting with fellow PR professionals in Toronto and being involved in an industry in which I love to work.

Some may ask me how I find the time to do all of this and how I balance it with my professional work. First of all, I work in communications and digital media, and do quite a fair share of writing. So, I bring the skills I’ve gained into my volunteering endeavours. Prioritizing and time management is key. Plus, I’m passionate for every organization and cause for which I volunteer. It’s all about finding time to do the things you love.

Do you volunteer? If so, where and what are your motivations? Please share your thoughts!

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Movember 2013: Wrap-up

We’re into the last few hours of Movember 2013 now. I have to admit something: while having a ‘stache is little annoying (especially for someone who isn’t used to having one), I’m kind of sad about parting ways with it.

End of week four

End of week four

It really was exciting to grow a ‘stache over the last few weeks and be part of such a great community. As I’ve said, beyond the fundraising aspect, it’s a great conversation starter to raise awareness about issues affecting men’s health. I previously mentioned how a family member was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and that I’ve seen friends and family struggle with mental health issues. It really brought the issue to men’s health to the forefront for me.

In addition to raising funds, I wanted to open up conversations about these issues and encourage other men (including myself) to look after their health. And thanks to all of your donations, likes, shares and comments (both online and offline), I feel like I’ve accomplished that.

If you still want to support my Movember campaign and help me make a difference in men’s health, this is the final day to do so. Simply visit my mo space.

Once again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all for your support!

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Movember 2013: Week three mo-gress

And with that, there’s only about one week left of Movember 2013. Once again, I would like to thank you all for your donations, likes, shares and comments. Without further ado, here’s my week three mo-gress. Might I add that I’ve been compared to Groucho Marx again and, this time, Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther).

End of week two

End of week two

End of week three

End of week three

With about a week left, if you’re feeling generous and would like to support my Movember campaign, here’s how you can do so:

  • You can make a donation via my mo space. Whether it’s $1 or $10, every bit makes a difference.
  • You can share my page or blog post(s) to spread the word.
  • You can offer your comments. While raising funds for prostate cancer and mental health initiatives is key, it’s also about raising awareness creating conversations surrounding these issues.

Here’s to the power of the mo!

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Movember 2013: Week two mo-gress

We’re already at the halfway point. How time flies! The ‘stache is really starting to come in now. Thank you all for your donations, likes and comments so far. As I’ve said, it isn’t just about raising funds, but increasing awareness of prostate cancer (and PSA testing), testicular cancer and men’s mental health, and creating conversations.

End of week one

End of week one

End of week two

End of week two

As always, if you would like to support my Movember campaign and help me change the face of men’s health, you can do so by making a donation via my mo space (every bit makes a difference), by sharing my page or blog post(s), or by commenting.

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Movember 2013: Week one mo-gress

Well, it’s been a week and the ‘stache is slowly starting to come in. So, without further ado, I bring you my week one mo-gress.

Day one: clean-shaven

Day one: clean-shaven

End of week one

End of week one

If you’re feeling generous and would like to support my Movember campaign, you can do so in several ways:

  • You can pitch in a few bucks by visiting my mo space. Whether it’s $1 or $10, no donation is too small!
  • You can like and/or share my mo space or blog post(s).
  • You can simply comment on either pages. It isn’t just about raising funds; it’s also about creating conversations about prostate cancer and mental health to spread the word. Awareness is key.

Happy Movember!

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Why I’m growing a ‘stache for Movember 2013

Photo credit: Movember Canada

Photo credit: Movember Canada

Today marks the start of Movember 2013, an annual month-long campaign – now in its 10th year – in which folks grow and sustain moustaches throughout November in the name of men’s health (particularly, prostate cancer and mental health). For the second consecutive year, I’m participating. That’s right, I’m doing my part to change the face of men’s health by, literally, changing my face.

Last year, among friends and family, I was compared to Groucho Marx and William Riker from Star Trek. I’ve never been one to try to grow a ‘stache as I never know how it’ll turn out. I usually go for the clean shaven look.

So, how come I’m doing it?

How come I’m embarking on a month-long journey to grow a mo and bracing myself to look ridiculous? Last year, a family member was diagnosed with prostate cancer. And I have friends and family members who have faced mental health issues. Since it’s a cause that has affected a range of people and families worldwide, I feel obliged to do what I can.

It isn’t just about raising funds, but awareness as well – awareness about mental health, awareness about prostate cancer and awareness about the importance of getting tested. When I spoke to Ali Salem, a friend of mine from Montreal about his motivations for participating in Movember last year (it was also his first time), he raised a really good point. “The key factor is that it triggers people around you who aren’t used to seeing you in a moustache,” he says. “They ask you about it and it’s a good opportunity to tell them about the cause.”

Day one: clean-shaven

Day one: clean-shaven

So, check out my mo space. If you can pitch in a few bucks, great. If you can share, or comment on, my page, great too (remember, it’s also about awareness). I’ll be posting updates and photos here and on my mo space at the end of every week.

If you’re growing a mo this year for Movember, what’s your motivation? Please share your story in the comments section below.

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Five takeaways from The Art of Small Business

On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend The Art of Small Business, a conference for small business owners and entrepreneurs organized by the media and events company The Art Of, which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Photo credit: Mira Budd Photography

Photo credit: Mira Budd Photography

It was a great event, filled with speakers from a range of backgrounds. The speakers included Mitch Joel, author of CTRL ALT Delete, Jonathan Fields, founder of the Good Live Project, W. Brett Wilson, a former dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, Stephen Shapiro, an innovation consultant, John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, and Michael E. Gerber, founder of a business skills training company.

I thought I’d share a few ideas that stuck with me:

1. Create something that people will believe in and to which they can belong.

Don’t have customers buy into your product – instead, have them buy into your community, suggested Fields. In a session called The Business of Belonging, he shared insights on how entrepreneurs can bring ideas associated with starting a revolution — and creating a community — into their business practices. In other words, create a sense of belonging. He says the key is to tell a resonant story, one that you and your customers have in common, that “unites us in a common cause.”

2. Success is what you think it is – not what other people tell you it is.

Wilson gave an inspiring session, Partners, Principles and Priorities: The Real Secrets of Success, which focused on the importance of managing priorities and redefining success. “Success for me has become the size of the smile, not the size of the wallet,” he said. In other words, it means having his health, family and friends. The key is to set priorities and determine your own definition of success.

3. The way you frame a question will impact how you find a solution.

Photo credit: Mira Budd Photography

Photo credit: Mira Budd Photography

Innovation is about asking the right question at the right time to the right people, Shapiro said. In a presentation on instilling a pervasive culture of innovation, he shared insights on how we can innovate the way we innovate. If you aren’t getting the solutions you require, consider how you’re framing the questions. “Expertise is the enemy of innovation,” he added. In other words, the more knowledgeable you are in a certain area, the less likely you may be to expand your thinking to generate new ideas.

4. Small businesses and brands are increasingly becoming publishers and content creators.

Do you have a blog? Are you creating original content for your brand? You should be. Jantsch gave an insightful presentation about building a top-notch marketing system for small businesses. One thing he mentioned was the need for small businesses to publish educational content. As he says, it generates SEO, and provides fodder for social media and email marketing. “It’s not just about Facebook, Twitter or one social network,” he added. It’s about integration to be in many different places. Marketing is also ongoing. That’s why editorial calendars are key. Businesses need to take the time to develop marketing strategies as opposed to jumping in.

5. Be here now.  

In other words, be present or in the moment. In Gerber’s session on the art involved with owning and managing a business, which was appropriately the last session of the day, he shared the five essential skills for life, the most critical one being the ability to concentrate:

i) Concentration
ii) Discrimination (not prejudice, but the ability to divide your attention – or discriminate -based on what’s important to you)
iii) Organization
iv) Innovation
v) Communication

This was my first time attending this conference. The speakers shared some great insights and stories, covering a range of topics. And it was tremendous to see the Metro Convention Centre’s John Bassett Theatre packed with so many people from different backgrounds uniting for the same purpose: to meet, to learn and to share.

For those who attended The Art of Small Business, what were your takeaways? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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International Stuttering Awareness Day 2013

I’ve always been someone who stutters. That will never change. However, what has changed are my perceptions surrounding my stuttering. While I considered it a source of embarrassment when I was younger, I’m now more open about my stuttering and, in some ways, I’m proud of it.

Yes, you heard me correctly. According to the National Stuttering Association based in New York, one per cent of the global population stutters and I’m proud to be a member of that minority.

Photo credit: the International Stuttering Association, which launched ISAD together with the International Fluency Association and the European League of Stuttering Associations in 1998.

Photo credit: the International Stuttering Association, which launched ISAD together with the International Fluency Association and the European League of Stuttering Associations in 1998.

Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD), recognized annually on October 22 to raise global awareness of stuttering.

Last year, for ISAD, I published a blog post about the benefits of stuttering. And for National Stuttering Awareness Week, which is celebrated in May in the U.S., I blogged about the misconceptions surrounding stuttering.  This year, keeping in line with my optimistic views on stuttering, I’m taking another approach: despite the struggles, it really is a good time to be someone who stutters. Here are my reasons.

1. The King Speech was released in 2010.

The film brought stuttering to the forefront. While the film – and stuttering overall – gained media attention across Canada and the U.S. during the weeks surrounding its release, it also created an opportunity to start conversations about stuttering. If I had a nickel for every time someone mentioned how great the film is when I brought up my stuttering…well, you know. However, while the film opened the doors to conversations about stuttering, it’s up to us stuttering folks to keep the doors open and maintain that momentum.

2. We live in an age of social media.

Stuttering can be isolating for us as we live in a fast-talking world with people who are fluent. However, thanks to technology and social media, that one per cent of people worldwide who do stutter now have the opportunity to connect. For instance, because of my involvement with Stutter Social, an international online support group for people who stutter, I have connected with others who stutter from countries such as the U.S., India and Croatia via Google+ Hangouts.

3. There is a flurry of resources out there to support people who stutter.

In 2011, I attended the NSA’s annual conference, which was held that year in Fort Worth, Texas. It was my first conference for folks who stutter and even my first time meeting others who share the same trait. Yes, to my surprise, there are conferences catered to people who stutter. From the Canadian Stuttering Association to the British Stammering Association, there are associations and support groups worldwide. In fact, meeting and building friendships with other stutterers is what put me on the path towards acceptance.

4. We live in a more accepting society.

I also believe that, overall, we live in a society where people seem to more accepting of individual differences. When I was a child, I used to agonize over the thought of what people may be thinking upon hearing me stutter. Recently though, I’ve realized that most people honestly don’t care. They look past my stutter and listen to what I have to say.

5. Stuttering really is a cool trait to have.

As I previously said, as someone who stutters, I’m part of a minority. It gives me something interesting to talk about. To be honest, I don’t consider my stuttering to be a disability or a crutch. Instead, it’s something I simply happen to do. It’s a trait or a characteristic, and an unusual one at that. Besides, for those of us who stutter, we’re in good company. In addition to everyone’s favourite Looney Tune, Porky Pig, who stutters, other not-so-fictional known stutterers include U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and James Earl Jones (yes, the voice of Darth Vader).

In short, being someone who stutters as well, it keeps life exciting. And it makes me memorable. Instead of simply being Samuel, I’m Samuel, the guy with the cool stutter.

For those like me who stutter, I encourage you to try to see the benefits and to be open about it. And for those who don’t stutter, I encourage you to learn more about an issue that affects people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life. Feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences as someone who stutters.

In the words of Porky Pig, “th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

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