Category Archives: Talks

SMA Conference 2015: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Share Button

Recently, I got to attend the annual Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Conference. This was my first time being able to go (because it was held at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City about 20 minutes from my apartment), and while I feared that I was overly excited and had created far too lofty expectations, it turns out that I had no reason to worry. The conference, which was the second most attended conference ever for “Cure SMA,” not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them in every way. I had a phenomenal time, met some amazing people, and learned a lot about how to live with this horrible disease. In addition, I got the opportunity to share some of my own experiences about creating a successful life with SMA, as a member of a panel discussion that was held on the final day of the conference. After spending the first few days of the conference getting to meet and talk with some of the inspiring individuals trying to figure out how to give their disabled children and families a fulfilling life (much like my parents did many years ago), I felt extremely honored to get to pass on what I have learned from battling this disease for almost 30 years. This event touched me and impacted my life in so many ways that there is no way that I could fit everything I want to share with you in one post. So, in order to make sure that I adequately discuss all of the important things I learned, I will be writing several articles about the conference over the next week or two. Today you get the second of these posts (here is the first), which focuses on a very important life lesson that was brought to my attention after the conference, as I was looking back at the amazing experience I had.

Scott Drotar Panel Members
Here are some of the amazing people who participated as panel members with me the last day of the conference.

As I mentioned above, on the final day of the conference I was given the honor of participating as a member of a panel discussion. The panel consisted of about a dozen adults with SMA, all of whom had managed to overcome their physical limitations to lead successful lives. During the session, which was entitled “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the audience was given the opportunity to ask anything they liked about how we were able to rise above the obstacles presented by our disability. They could inquire about anything from moving away from home, to how to arrange around the clock home nursing care, to how to travel internationally with a power wheelchair (yes, there are individuals much braver than me who do this). Not only could the audience ask anything they wanted, but they could receive honest answers straight from people who have actually experienced these parts of life with SMA. In addition to being a way to pass on some of the experiences we have had and the things we have learned to the next generation of individuals with SMA, this question and answer session was also designed to show the parents of young, disabled children that you can still lead a happy, successful, fulfilling life despite the obstacles presented by this disease. This was the first year that they had concluded the conference this way, and not only was it a huge success, but it was also the most attended session of the entire weekend. It was a great source of valuable information for others facing this disease, and by sharing all of our success stories and giving young families effected by SMA some hope for the future, this panel discussion ended the conference on an uplifting, positive note.

Scott Drotar SMA It Forward
Sharing my experiences at the conference gave me an opportunity to “SMA It Forward” all of the kindness others have shown me.

Participating in this panel made me really reflect upon my life. Listening to others with SMA tell their success stories, as well as sharing a few of my own adventures with overcoming this disease, caused me to look back over the last 28 years and think about everything I have experienced. More importantly though, it helped me remember some of the most influential people in my life, who helped me create this wonderful life I lead. As I thought about all of the young parents in the audience that were doing everything they could to help give their disabled child a full, happy life, I was reminded of my own mom and dad. I realized how fortunate I am to have two amazing parents, who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to give me every opportunity at a “normal” life, the life I have always dreamed of having. As I watched all of the able-bodied siblings of people with SMA work as volunteers throughout the conference, I was reminded of my brother and sister. Despite the fact that they missed out on certain activities growing up due to my physical limitations and had to mature at a young age to help take care of me, they never made me feel “different,” and I know that they would give anything for me to be healthy. As I saw all of the relatives, friends, and caregivers, who gave up almost a week to allow their disabled loved ones to attend the conference, I was reminded of all of the people close to me that have shaped my life. These incredible individuals have willingly and openly given their time, their energy, and their love, just so that I can chase my dreams and be happy. Each and every one of these people, my parents, siblings, friends, played a major role in my life, and their selfless, generous acts of kindness have allowed me to be as successful as I am.

In thinking about all of the influential individuals who have given me the ability to achieve so many of my goals, I gained a new perspective on some things. Seeing all of the other families at the conference and thinking about how my family was in that exact same situation 25 years ago helped me to see my life in a different way. It helped me to realize just how lucky I am. My parents were told that I would not make it to my third birthday, and for many of the young families at the conference, this is the unfortunate reality that they will face. For whatever reason though, I have beaten the odds and overcome my physical limitations to lead a long, fulfilling life (as did everyone else on the panel). I am almost 29 years old, living on my own, paying my own bills, and enjoying a successful, happy life. And while I certainly worked hard to get where I am, and I also know that there was some luck involved, the most important factor in my success was the people around me. My phenomenal family, my amazing friends, and everyone else who has touched my life over the years are the ones who deserve credit for my success. Without these incredible individuals and everything they did for me, I would not have been on that stage the last day of the conference, and in all likelihood I would not be around at all. These are the people who should be looked up to and applauded for their achievements, as they are the real inspiration.

The title of the panel discussion, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was chosen to illustrate how you can still lead a happy life with SMA, and every member of the panel definitely embodied that in numerous ways, but it goes even deeper than that. Even for those of us that have managed to beat this disease and be successful, it is important to remember how “wonderful” life is and just how fortunate you are. While we may be disabled and have to deal with more than most, when you consider the fact that most of the children born with SMA never make it to adulthood, let alone lead independent, fulfilling lives, you see how lucky you have been. Gaining this perspective makes you truly appreciate your life, and it makes you think about all of the people who gave you the ability to beat this horrible disease, because without even one of these individuals, you may not have accomplished everything you have. In some cases, you may not have made it at all. It is so crucial to keep this idea in focus and appreciate the influential people in your life, not only because they are the ones who paved the way for your success, but also because they are the people who can show you how to live the “right” way and make the world a better place. These are the people who know how to make life “wonderful.”

Scott Drotar It's A Wonderful Life
I may be no George Bailey, but I do have a wonderful life.

While the real goal of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” panel discussion was to inspire young families with SMA and pass on real-world experiences of what life is like with this disease, it accomplished so much more than that. It helped me (and I am guessing everyone on that panel) to realize how fortunate we are, and how fortunate we have been to have so many awesome individuals in our lives. This is something that we all need to reflect upon, because we all have had people touch our lives in incredible ways. These amazing people are the ones who gave you the ability to find success and happiness, and while they may not have wings or a halo (just like Clarence when he helped George Bailey in the movie), that does not make them any less miraculous. Be sure to remember the “angels” in your life and take the time to really appreciate the incredible impact that they have had on you. Keep in mind that while you are the one who built your life and achieved your goals, these are the people that gave you the tools and skills to do so. And most of all, if you want to be happy never forget that even when you are down on your luck and everything seems to be going wrong, that “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

Share Button

SMA Conference 2015: Understanding

Share Button

Over the weekend, I got to attend the annual Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Conference. This was my first time being able to go (because it was held at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City about 20 minutes from my apartment), and while I feared that I was overly excited and had created far too lofty expectations, it turns out that I had no reason to worry. The conference, which was the second most attended conference ever for “Cure SMA,” not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them in every way. I had a phenomenal time, met some amazing people, and learned a lot about how to live with this horrible disease. In addition, I got the opportunity to share some of my own experiences about creating a successful life with SMA, as a member of a panel discussion that was held on the final day of the conference. After spending the first few days of the conference getting to meet and talk with some of the inspiring individuals trying to figure out how to give their disabled children and families a fulfilling life (much like my parents did many years ago), I felt extremely honored to get to pass on what I have learned from battling this disease for almost 30 years. This event touched me and impacted my life in so many ways that there is no way that I could fit everything I want to share with you in one post. So, in order to make sure that I adequately discuss all of the important things I learned, I will be writing several articles about the conference over the next week or two. Today you get the first of these posts, which discusses the first lesson that was passed on to me, and it was given to me before I had even made it into the hotel.

Scott Drotar Cure SMA Staff
The Cure SMA staff made this conference an amazing experience for everyone attending.

Before I get into the first part of my experience at the conference and the lessons I learned, I have to first tell you a bit about how well-run and efficient this event was. I cannot say enough about how great of a job “Cure SMA” did in making this weekend a success. If you have ever organized, worked at, or even just attended a large, multi-day conference, you know that events like this are incredibly difficult to run and often seem a little chaotic. There are just a lot of moving parts to keep track of both before and during an event of this magnitude, and no matter how much you plan and prepare for potential obstacles, there are always going to be unexpected issues that come up along the way. While I am sure that the SMA conference was no different, and it certainly had its own share of problems that popped up, from the outside as an attendee you would never have known. Everything, from the parking accommodations to the audio/video equipment to the scheduling of the various workshops, was carried out masterfully. The “Cure SMA” employees and the volunteers at the conference did an amazing job of keeping things running smoothly (and even more impressively, on time), and I believe I speak for everyone who attended when I say “thank you” to these awesome individuals. It is only through their abilities to prepare for everything they could and overcome the unexpected obstacles that arose (two skills that all of us with SMA have had to master and appreciate), that this year was such a success.

All of the time and energy that the “Cure SMA” staff put into organizing the conference is what made this event such an incredible experience. Like I said, while I have been to academic conferences and such over the years, this was my first SMA Conference. In fact, this was my first conference of any kind that focused on disabilities, so I was not sure what to expect before I arrived. It had been several years since I had been around lots of other people in wheelchairs, and I had never been around this many other physically disabled individuals, so I knew that this would be different from any event I had ever been to. During the days leading up to the conference I kept wondering what it would be like at the hotel. I kept thinking about silly, little things like how long the wait for an elevator would be at a hotel completely booked by people in wheelchairs. Or how loud a room filled with hundreds of ventilators and suction machines would be. These are obviously trivial things that would have no impact on how good the conference was, but for whatever reason these are the things I thought about (the elevator line was long, but no one was in a hurry). Thinking about these logistical challenges and such only fueled my intrigue and anticipation for the conference, and even though I had no idea what to expect, I was excited and ready for this adventure, which I knew would be full of surprises and new experiences.

Scott Drotar SMA Community
This year the SMA community came out in droves, making this conference the second most attended conference ever.

The first sign that this was going to be different from anything I had ever experienced occurred before I had even entered the hotel. As we drove up to the Westin and turned into the circle drive by the front entrance to unload me and valet my car, all you could see was this caravan of conversion vans with wheelchair lifts. They were lined up on either side of the driveway in two long lines about 10 cars deep, and everywhere you looked you saw families packing up medical equipment, suitcases, and wheelchairs into their vehicles. You would think that this sort of controlled chaos and slow-moving progress, especially when you are trying to get on the road, would have made everyone involved irritated and grumpy, but despite the mayhem everyone I saw had a smile on their face. No one was blaring their car horn because they could not get out, complaining to the parking attendants about the accommodations, or arguing with other drivers for being slow. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Everyone was smiling, patiently waiting their turn, and even helping other families pack up their belongings. This was an unexpected, but heartwarming, sight to behold, and it illustrated one of the many important things I took away from the conference.

It took me a while to fully appreciate what this scene had to teach me, but after giving it some thought, I realized the powerful lesson that was being presented to me that day in the circle drive. On any other day, at any other event, a parent holding up a whole line of traffic to take care of their disabled child, who needs you to drop everything to give them a suction, would be met with car horns, foul language, and any number of colorful hand gestures. On this day, at this event though, this same action was met with nothing but patience, smiles, and understanding. No one was upset, and the reason for this is understanding. They were not upset, because two weeks, two months, or a year ago they were in the same situation. They know the frustration and embarrassment that comes with inconveniencing a whole group of people, because this awful disease has erupted yet again to make your life difficult. They know what it is like to have to burden others close to you, or even strangers, to make sure your disabled child has the best life possible. They know the struggle that comes with having a family that is affected by SMA. They understood.

This knowing that everyone around you understands what you have to go through can be a very powerful thing. In addition to witnessing this idea outside of the hotel, I also got to feel its effects first-hand throughout the conference. It was so refreshing to be able to introduce myself to someone and not have to explain who my nurse was, why I carry around a suction machine, or anything else about my disability, because they already understood. Inside that hotel, for the first time ever in my life, I was “normal.” It is difficult to put into words, and I do not know if this will make sense, but experiencing what it feels like to be the “normal” one was an extremely refreshing and empowering thing. While I did not feel abnormal or misunderstood in general, nor did I think about how nice it would be to be “normal” very often, getting to know what it is like to just be Scott had a major impact on me. I was the exact same person at the conference that I was the weekend before, but the way I felt about who I was completely changed as a result of being in this environment of understanding. It helped me to better recognize and appreciate the fact that even though my SMA is a part of my identity, it does not define me any more than my gender, ethnicity, or religion do. It is only the way that others (as well as myself) view and understand my disability that it impacts my life. Getting to experience what “normal” feels like and gaining this insight into who I am is something that I will always remember, and I am certain that I will lead a happier life because of it.

Witnessing the controlled chaos outside the hotel and experiencing what it is like to be “normal” for a brief time illustrated the powerful effects that understanding can have on our lives. Watching an entire driveway full of vehicles patiently wait for someone to move without any signs of anger or frustration shows you how much your own understanding of what others are going through can influence your thoughts and actions. Not only that, but having a strong sense that others understand you, and the obstacles you face, can also have an enormous impact on your life. The common experience of battling a disease like SMA changed a situation that would typically be filled with misunderstanding, awkwardness, and frustration into one filled with nothing but empathy and compassion. You will be surprised at how often this phenomenon occurs throughout your life, if you really think about it. Keep this story in mind the next time you angrily flip someone “the bird” for holding up traffic or get upset when someone inconveniences you. Remember that you cannot always see or understand the struggle that others go through, and that the lens through which you view a situation makes a big impact on your feelings. Try to be more understanding of those around you, and you will eventually find that you have a better understanding of yourself as well. If we can all just be a little more understanding of one another, just imagine how much happier the world could be.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

Share Button

SMA Conference 2015

Share Button
Scott Drotar SMA Conference
Every year, “Cure SMA” holds a national conference devoted to curing and living with spinal muscular atrophy.

As you may remember, over a year ago I wrote an article that was featured in the newsletter for the organization, “Cure SMA.” This non-profit is devoted entirely to creating a world that is free of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). They do this through funding research to find a cure for this disease, as well as by providing support and education for families that are effected by it. Every year, they hold a multi-day, national conference where individuals with SMA, their families, and researchers studying the disease can come together to discuss all of the latest medical breakthroughs, technology, and other news pertaining to the disease. In addition to getting to hear all of the latest information on SMA, this conference also provides a venue for individuals who have the disease to come together and share their stories about overcoming the obstacles that SMA presents. By providing both the latest medical breakthroughs and a platform to share ideas about living with the disease, this conference is without a doubt one of the best ways for individuals with SMA to gather information to combat the disease and live happy lives. The conference is held in a different city every year, and this year it is being held right here in Kansas City from June 18th to June 21st. This means that for the very first time, I am excited to announce that I will be in attendance. Not only will I be able to go, but I have been asked to participate as a member of a panel that will be discussing how to build and enjoy a successful, fulfilling life with SMA.

I am extremely excited to be going this year, which is a little surprising because I had not planned on attending until a few weeks ago. It was not that I did not want to go prior to that, but I just did not think that logistically it would work out. In order to attend the conference, you have to register and pay a registration fee. This fee is well worth it if you are able to make it to even 75% of the events, but with my body and life obligations, I knew that I would only be able to attend half of the conference, at most (my body could not handle four, 10-hour days in a row). I could not see paying the full registration fee to only get half of the information and enjoyment out of it. There are scholarships to help lessen the financial strain of attending the conference, but I felt guilty trying to get a scholarship that someone else (who could make it to all of the events and get a lot out of it) could use. Due to all of this, I had basically decided not to attend the conference, but after reading all of the comments on Facebook and Twitter from other people with SMA about how excited they were for the conference, I changed my mind. I decided that this was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for me to meet hundreds of other people with SMA, hear about the latest drug trials, and learn more about my disability, so I needed to take advantage of it.

To try to register to attend so close to the date of the conference, as well as work out some of the logistical challenges discussed above, I decided to contact “Cure SMA.” After I explained my situation and discussed things with them, I was delighted to find that they were more than happy to work with me so that I could attend the portion of the conference that my body allows at a reduced rate. This was more than enough to make me happy, but I got even more exciting news from them a couple days later. I was given the honor of being invited to participate in a panel discussion the last day of the conference, which I gratefully accepted. To close out the conference on an uplifting and positive note, they are having a panel discussion called, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” as the final event. This panel will be composed of several individuals with SMA who have created successful, happy lives despite their disability, and the audience will be able to ask questions about how we achieved our goals and found success. It will be an opportunity for parents with disabled children and younger individuals with SMA to see that you can be happy and successful with this disease, as well as get answers to questions they have about living with SMA from people who have experienced the same problems first-hand. I cannot wait to participate, share my story, and here how others have built fulfilling lives with my diagnosis.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

Share Button

“Beyond Bedside Manner” Talk For Symposium

Share Button

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) and asked to speak at their “Caring for the Long-term Caregiver Symposium.” This all-day event was sponsored by the NPF, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Johnson County Community College, and it was designed to address and discuss the difficulties and obstacles presented by long-term disabilities, not only for the patient, but for their caregivers as well. This is a topic that I have a bit of experience with and is near and dear to my heart, so I was honored and excited that they wanted me to speak for their audience. And not only did they want me to speak, but they wanted me to close the event as their final speaker of the day. Other than the keynote speaker, the final speaker is the most important part of any event, since it is what the audience will have fresh in their minds as they are leaving and is what they will remember most vividly afterwards. After speaking with the event coordinator and getting a good idea of what they were looking for, I was extremely excited to prepare a new Roll Models talk to close their symposium. After a few weeks of careful brainstorming, writing, and revising of my material, I eventually put together a brand new Roll Models talk called, “Beyond Bedside Manner: The Complex Relationships of Long-Term Care.”

Scott Drotar Beyond Bedside Manner
Last weekend I delivered my newest Roll Models talk, “Beyond Bedside Manner,” at the “Caring For The Long-Term Caregiver” symposium.

“Beyond Bedside Manner” is my newest Roll Models talk, and it is probably my most well-written piece to date. The main message that I am trying to get across to my audience in this talk is that physical disabilities impact more people than just the person being diagnosed with the disease. While the patient definitely has their life effected in nearly every way imaginable, and I do not want to at all minimize that fact, the loved ones who serve as the primary caregivers for the patient have their lives forever changed as well. As the patient is trying to learn to live with a physical disability and having every aspect of their life altered by the disease, their caregivers/family members are going through their own process of having their lives changed too. With building healthy relationships between family members being extremely complicated to begin with, you can imagine how throwing everyone’s life into a state of flux, like what happens after being diagnosed with a severe disability, could make maintaining strong family relationships quite difficult. Throughout “Beyond Bedside Manner,” I discuss how this happens using some examples from my own life, and I also try to give some tools for getting over these obstacles and forging even stronger familial bonds. I believe that this is an often overlooked aspect of living with a long-term disability, and I hope that this talk can do some good and bring this important issue more into view.

The talk itself went extremely well, and the symposium was without a doubt one of the best run and most well organized events that I have ever been a part of. The event coordinator was really on top of things, all of the event staff were happy and helpful, and everyone in the audience was kind and gracious. They even managed to stay on schedule the entire day while running presentations back-to-back without any dead time, and if you have ever worked at any type of event with this many people, you know that that is nearly impossible. I felt like it took me a few minutes to get into rhythm with my talk, but once I found my groove my delivery felt very natural and smooth. They were a great audience too. They actively listened and gave me some silent feedback as we went, which means that we truly connected and makes my job so much easier. I even got to meet a few members of my audience afterwards, and the individuals I spoke with were all caring and interesting people. To sum things up, this was a great event to be a part of, and I only hope that my audience enjoyed themselves and got as much out of it as I did.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

Share Button

Validation (Part 2)

Share Button

In the first part of this article we discussed my parents visit, and how great it felt to get some recognition and approval on my life from my family. Watching my folks and uncle enjoy and comment on the wonderful meal that I had worked hard to prepare for them gave me a wonderful sense of validation that had an enormous impact on me. Even though I already knew that my parents were proud of me and was not looking for their praise, this powerful feeling of accomplishment was a pleasant surprise that nearly overwhelmed me with its warm, comforting glow of euphoria. I would have been more than happy if that was the end of this energizing, emotional experience, but life was being very generous to me, and it turns out that my feelings of bliss were only beginning to fill my life with happiness. Because while my parent’s visiting gave me validation in my personal life, after they left and I got back to work, I was given another great sense of achievement in my professional life.

Scott Drotar Business Logo
We all want to feel like we made good career choices and are good at what we do.

I am fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world and get to pay my bills doing something that I love, but up until about a year ago, I had spent my entire, adult life learning to be a statistical analyst. Even though I would never stop speaking through Roll Models and have found my calling in life, I do sometimes feel like I am wasting my knowledge and experience with statistics by not putting my numerical skills to use somehow (especially when those student loan bills come in). This is why I still do a minimal amount of advertising myself as a freelance statistical consultant to try to share my array of mathematical knowledge with the world. With the economy being the way it is though, there are not a lot of companies out there looking to spend money on statistical consulting, so I have not gotten many opportunities to use my skills. At least until recently that is, as last week I received inquiries about statistical help from two different organizations. Even though neither of these requests resulted in a consulting contract, by meeting with these companies to discuss their projects I received something much more valuable than any partnership would have paid me.

As I was reading about these companies’ projects, going over their data, and speaking with them about their statistical needs, I felt a great sense of accomplishment wash over me. Even though I had not done hardly any statistical work in over a year, it felt really good knowing that I could still easily and effectively understand their questions and knew how to respond to them. It was so reassuring to know that all of the time and energy I had put into my eight years of college education was not a complete waste, and that I still had at least most of the knowledge that I had worked so hard to attain. Having these initial meetings with both of these companies gave me a sense of validation about my career choices, as I was able to utilize my academic training while still developing Roll Models and pursuing my mission to help others with my story. This gave me a feeling of validation that has given me a renewed sense of drive and focus in my work. One of those feelings that makes you feel confident and knowledgeable and gives you this intensity towards your work, while at the same time relaxing you, slowing your thought process, and helping you concentrate on the most minute details. You are in “the zone,” or a flow state, and this makes you both more efficient and productive, as well as filling you with a wonderful, “on top of the world” feeling.

In addition to getting this sense of approval with respect to my career choices, I got yet another powerful dose of validation in my professional life through Roll Models. Last week, I received an email about a possible speaking engagement from the National Parkinson Foundation. They are working with the Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute and Johnson County Community College to hold a symposium called “Caring for the Long-Term Caregiver” on April 25th. Someone on the board of directors for their organization had heard me speak last Spring, thought that I would be a good fit as a speaker for their event, and gave them my contact information. After exchanging a few emails and speaking with them about the symposium and Roll Models, I am happy to announce that we were able to work everything out, and I will be the closing speaker for their event. This will be a great opportunity for me to help others, a terrific chance for me to network and market Roll Models, and a huge honor to wrap up their symposium that I am really excited to experience. On top of all of these benefits to my career though, getting this speaking engagement also gave me another valuable gift that has improved my life.

Scott Drotar National Parkinson Foundation
I am going to be the closing speaker for a symposium sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation.

Having no prior experience as a professional speaker or writer until I started Roll Models, I have a difficult time feeling confident about my articles and talks that I write. I went to school for mathematics and statistics, and throughout my eight year academic career I did my best to avoid any classes that involved a lot of writing, so I have not had any official training to prepare me for this line of work. Now, I have worked extremely hard, read dozens of books on writing and speaking, and spent countless hours studying many great speakers on my own to develop my craft, but while I have definitely come a long way, I still do not feel comfortable calling myself a writer or professional speaker. I sometimes feel like I am just fooling people into thinking I am this gifted writer, and it is only a matter of time until everyone realizes that my talks are boring and my posts are terrible. That is why getting this request to speak for the symposium was so special to me. Knowing that I had made a big enough impression on someone with my words that they still remembered me over a year later gave me a sense of reassurance about my abilities as a storyteller. And not only had they remembered me, but they also thought highly enough of my message and performance that they recommended my services to someone else. This incredible honor has helped me to realize that I do know what I am doing and have at least a moderate amount of skill as a writer, which has filled me with a sense of validation, a renewed confidence about my craft, and a lot of happiness.

Getting the opportunity to put my statistical knowledge to good use and being bestowed the honor of being the final speaker for the symposium, each gave me an immense feeling of validation about my professional life. These separate, unexpected events all improved my life by providing me with reassurance that my career choices were good ones, and that I belong in this field. No matter how long or how well you do something, you always want to feel like others think that you are good at what you do. We all want to get the sense that our clients and others in our field are impressed by our work, to reassure us that we were wise in choosing the career we have. While this does not in any way change your abilities or skill in your work objectively, it does improve your confidence, which in turn positively impacts your job, as well as your life in general. It is important to be open to and aware of these moments of validation that emerge out of the blue every now and then, in order to take advantage of their power. Be open to compliments and graciously receive them, no matter where they come from or what form they are in. The enormous amount of confidence and reassurance that they will bring you will penetrate and improve nearly every part of your world. With your renewed sense of validation and accomplishment, you will not only feel better about your life choices and do better work, but you will also experience a new level of happiness that will greatly improve your life.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

Share Button

A New Roll Models Service

Share Button

While this is not exactly a new post, I do have an exciting announcement to make about a new service I am offering through Roll Models.

Scott Drotar KU PPT Club
The students in the University of Kansas Pre-Physical Therapy Club were a great audience, and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking for them.

Whether it is a toast at a wedding, a presentation to your superiors at work, or giving a speech for a volunteer group to raise funds, we all have to speak in front of people at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is one of the most common fears people have, with nearly 75% of people reporting having some anxiety/nervousness before taking the microphone. Surveys even show that the majority of people fear speaking in public more than death! It does not have to be this way however, since studies have also consistently shown that receiving some training or advice on how to deliver a great speech can drastically reduce your anxiety.

After reading this information and letting it percolate for a few days, I saw both an opportunity to help others and create a new service I could offer through Roll Models. Over the last year, between reading every book on speaking I could find, watching countless hours of great speeches online, and of course delivering numerous Roll Models talks of my own, I have accumulated an enormous amount of knowledge about how to give a great speech and feel comfortable while doing it. Everything from where to stand, what to wear, how to position your hands, and a thousand other things need to be addressed before getting on stage in order to speak effectively. By sharing my knowledge of public speaking with others, I can help them to overcome their pre-talk nerves and give a speech they can be proud of.

Thanks to some fantastic advice from my brother, I also had access to an efficient, yet effective, tool to offer this service quite quickly. This amazing tool is the website, www.fiverr.com. This website is an online marketplace with a twist, you have to offer your service for $5. You are free to offer pretty much any service you like, just as long as you charge a “fiverr.” I highly recommend that you check it out, and while you are there, stop by my profile at www.fiverr.com/sdrotar. I currently only offer two services, statistical analysis help and speech preparation advice, but I have many more coming soon.

I hope you will check it out and consider my services for your own public speaking anxiety issues should they arise. Also, if you know of anyone with an upcoming toast, speech, or presentation coming up, please let them know about my new service.

Share Button

KU PPT Club Talk

Share Button

This week I had the privilege of giving a Roll Models talk to the University of Kansas Pre-Physical Therapy Club. I had contacted them last Spring about the possibility of coming out to speak, but their schedule for speakers was already full for the semester. However, they were very interested in having a Roll Models talk, and they said they would touch base with me early this Fall to set something up. Not only did they actually follow up with me, but they invited me to speak at their first meeting of the year. I felt honored that they wanted me to kick off their club’s activities for the year, and I was also excited to get a chance to give back to my alma mater (Rock Chalk!). After exchanging emails with the club president and getting a good idea of what their club hopes to accomplish, I began putting together a brand new, Roll Models talk that would be a good fit for this audience. This talk eventually was entitled “Tough Love.”

Scott Drotar KU PPT Club
The students in the University of Kansas Pre-Physical Therapy Club were a great audience, and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking for them.

In “Tough Love” I share some of my experiences with physical therapists throughout my life. My primary goal in this talk was to show them how physical therapy has changed my life in ways that go far beyond things like range of motion and muscle tone. While these physiological aspects of therapy are important, it is the long-term effects that these things have on the lives of their patients that are the real goal. For example, helping a mother rehab from an injury and getting her to the point that she can lift 30 pounds off the ground is great, but giving her back the ability to pick up her toddler to comfort him when he is scared is what she will remember forever. It is these types of things that you have to keep in mind in order to be a great physical therapist and make profound changes in the lives of your patients. Additionally, I wanted to share with them the one lesson that I wish all of my therapists over the years would have known. This incredibly important, but often overlooked, skill is remembering to listen to your patients. Even though the physical therapist is the expert on the human body and physiology, it is critical to keep in mind that the patient is the expert on their body. What works for one patient may not work for another. It is important to be open to the suggestions of your patients and make your session a team effort.

I am excited to say that the time and effort I put into crafting this talk was well spent. The students were very attentive throughout my entire time on stage, and they had a great energy. They laughed, they cried (well maybe not cried, but misty-eyed for sure), and they clapped when I was done, so I consider it a success. They also asked good questions afterwards that showed me that they not only had paid attention and enjoyed my talk, but that they had taken the time to really think about my message. It felt great to be able to pass on my knowledge and experiences with the next generation of physical therapists, who will without a doubt make an enormous impact on the lives of their patients. This is why I do what I do through Roll Models, to improve lives in any way I can. It was a true privilege to get this opportunity, and I hope that my words will be something they remember down the road as they complete their physical therapy program and start working with patients.

In addition to the wonderful feeling I got from this amazing audience, I also got the chance to reminisce about my days as a graduate student at KU. I did not realize this until I arrived at the building in which I was speaking, but the venue was located across the street from the first apartment I lived in when my brother and I moved to Lawrence five years ago. It felt like decades ago that I had lived there, but I was so happy to find that the memories I have of my time in the Jayhawk Towers Apartments were positive, happy times. I thought about meeting my nurses and signing up with CareStaf, the times my brother and I would go downtown to window shop and eat at new restaurants, and the great people I met who became close friends. It was fun to get nostalgic and think about my past, and it made me feel even more proud to be able to give back to this university that gave me so many good memories.

Scott Drotar Tough Love
It was so fulfilling to deliver my Roll Models talk, “Tough Love,” and give back to my alma mater.

I hope that the students who heard me speak got as much out of this experience as I did. If “Tough Love” makes a difference with even one of them in the future with their patients, I will consider this Roll Models talk a huge success. I also feel so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to look back on where I have been, and how my year living on campus shaped my life. It is important and insightful to remember the people, places, and things that have molded your life, so that you can appropriately value and appreciate the guides you have had on your journey. By remembering how much your guides have affected you, it also allows you to repay some of the help and support they have shown you. Bringing things full circle in this way will create a powerful feeling of happiness in the lives of both you and your guides.

Share Button

Help Them Grow

Share Button

Even though I was unable to take my show on the road and give both of my scheduled Roll Models talks in Indiana, I was fortunate enough that one of the clients opted to have me give the talk via webcam instead of canceling it altogether. This meant a lot to me because this presentation was for an audience that has played a major role in my life in multiple ways. First, the organization I was speaking to was the joint educational services in special education corporation (JESSE), which provides services to all students with disabilities in the area where I grew up. Throughout my 13 years of public school JESSE provided services like physical therapy, nursing care, and adaptive technology that helped me achieve academic success. As honored as I was to be able to share my message with an audience that had helped me so much, this talk was even more special to me on a more personal level because of the person who hired me and is now in charge of this organization. This incredible woman, Linda Holland, not only played a huge role in my academic success through JESSE, but also in my life in general. It just so happens that in addition to running JESSE, she was also the mother of my childhood best friend, Andrew, and she ended up being my “second mom” for my entire childhood.

Scott Drotar Andrew Holland
My childhood best friend, Andrew, and I at our senior prom.

When I was 5 years old I met a happy, sandy-haired boy named Andrew at the daycare we both went to after morning kindergarten, and we quickly became very close friends. As we grew close, we began wanting to spend time together at each other’s houses, like any other boys our age. This was not a problem if Andrew wanted to come over to my house, but we also wanted to play with his toys at his house, which was a different story due to my physical needs and limitations. Up to this point in my life, outside of school and daycare I had never spent time away from my parents. And naturally, they were a little hesitant to send their severely disabled son on a play date to a home where chances are no one had even heard of spinal muscular atrophy, let alone know how to care for me. Fortunately for me though, Andrew’s mom worked with disabled students through JESSE, which meant she was familiar with helping children like myself. This opened the door for me to spend time in their home and greatly impacted my life. After my parents had gotten to know Linda and felt comfortable with her ability to care for me, I was finally able to have my first play date outside of my home. This not only allowed me to have a more typical, healthy social life that opened me up to countless new experiences, but it also began the process of breaking away from my dependence on my folks and creating an independent life for myself.

Over the next 10 years or so, Andrew and I were nearly inseparable, and I spent numerous weekends with the Holland family. What made this even more special to me was that the Holland’s never treated me like a disabled person. I always felt like I was just another member of the family. I went to their family reunions, went mushroom hunting with them in the fields behind their house, and they even built a ramp up to the front door of their home to accommodate my wheelchair. In fact, the location where I was supposed to speak last week was actually a lake house of the Holland’s where I had attended several sleepovers as a kid. These experiences helped me learn how to have a life away from my family in a safe environment, and I am confident that without the way the whole Holland family accepted me my life would look very different. It was this enormous impact that Linda had on my life that made giving my Roll Models talk to JESSE so near and dear to my heart, as it gave me the opportunity to repay not only JESSE, but Linda and the whole Holland family as well.

Scott Drotar Help Them Grow
In my Roll Models talk, “Help Them Grow,” I use planting a maple tree as an analogy for how our efforts can have a huge positive impact on others.

The talk was titled “Help Them Grow,” and it focused on how seemingly small, insignificant actions now can sometimes have an enormous and profound impact on people’s lives in the future. I use the analogy of planting a maple tree sapling and watering, pruning, and caring for it, knowing full well that you will not be around 50 or 100 years later to see the fruits of your labor in the form of a massive, gorgeous tree that shades the entire block. Just like you go through the mundane tasks to care for that tree with the hopes of future rewards you will likely never see, the seemingly simple, meaningless things you do for others (like the work seemingly done by JESSE at times) can have a huge, long-term impact on their lives. I use examples from my own experiences with JESSE about learning life skills, like the power of humor and the negative effects that excuses can have on your life, through the services they provided for me to illustrate this idea. It is important to keep in mind that even though you may not realize it at the moment, that does not mean that you are not making an impact on someone’s life in ways you would never imagine. They really enjoyed my message, and I hope that as they enter the new school year that they will use my words as motivation to touch the lives of their students the way they did mine.

Getting to give this talk to an audience that was so special to me was an incredible opportunity that I am so thankful for. Being able to repay some of the kindness and support that both JESSE and Linda had shown me as a child through this Roll Models talk was an experience I will never forget. It is always so inspiring when life gives you the chance to pay back the people who were so instrumental in making your life a success. In giving this talk I hope that Linda, the Holland’s, and JESSE know how big of a role they played in creating the happy, independent life that I love so much. I also hope that in some small way that my message can motivate these incredible individuals to continue changing lives, because I am living, breathing proof that with their help even the smallest, sickly sapling like me can grow into a beautiful tree.

Share Button

Gasvoda Talk

Share Button

Take a moment to think about a time in your life when you failed at something. Not something small, like spilling your coffee on your morning commute, but something more meaningful. As you play through this event in your mind, focus on the emotions you feel about your failure. If you are like most people, you probably feel something like regret, shame, guilt, or some other negative emotion. What if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if you could look back on this event and, instead of regretting that it happened, feel fortunate that you had this learning opportunity? Furthermore, what if you could turn your failures into stepping stones on your path to success? 

 

Scott Drotar Gasvoda
I delivered my brand new, Roll Models talk, “Keep Failing,” to the staff of Gasvoda and Associates.

This is the opening to my newest, Roll Models talk, “Keep Failing,” that I gave today to the staff of Gasvoda and Associates. First, I have to say that they were a great audience, and I had a great time speaking for them. I felt like they connected with me, and that they enjoyed my message. I hope that they were inspired and motivated to achieve the great things they are capable of, and that they remember my words when they fail along the way, because they now have all the tools they need to become a “successful failure.” At the very least, I hope they enjoyed hearing my talk as much as I enjoyed giving it.

Share Button

Book Review: “Story Theater Method” by Doug Stevenson

Share Button
Scott Drotar Story Theater Method
Doug Stevenson’s “Story Theater Method” is a great introduction to developing your storytelling skills.

Up to this point I have not reviewed any works about writing or delivering a speech or presentation, because I felt it was too specific a topic that would only interest a handful of readers. However, after reading this week’s edition of the “Scott Drotar Literary Review,” and thanks to a conversation with my father, I have decided that some, if not most, of the skills I use to get ready for a Roll Models talk are applicable to numerous professions and life in general. Whether it be telling a funny anecdote at a party or giving a board room presentation, you will benefit from having a basic understanding of how to tell a captivating story. To help you along, this week I have reviewed one of the best books I have read on how to become a better storyteller. This week I present Doug Stevenson’s, “Story Theater Method.”

In this handbook on improving your presentation skills through storytelling, Doug covers every aspect of crafting, preparing, and delivering a story that will capture the attention of your audience. He walks you through the entire process from picking a message, coming up with the right story for that message, developing that story with humor, dialogue, and such, and then cultivating your presentation skills to best deliver your story. He teaches you all of these skills from the perspective of an actor on a stage, which I found to be very effective and different from most books on this topic. I also really liked that he focuses on short, simple stories with a single message, instead of developing these long, complicated talks with lots of fancy rhetorical components. You will be able to develop and deliver a memorable story with a message that sticks once you learn to apply the techniques in this book. He also tries to give a diverse set of examples of different professions that have used his method with success.

I found the author’s writing style to be very accessible and effective in conveying his point. The examples he uses are very informative, and he doesn’t reuse them throughout the book, so you end up with lots of good examples to refer to. The only thing that would have improved it, and I read the ebook version, would have been supplemental links to audio or video of him presenting his stories. It’s one thing to read about it, but quite another to see or hear it. At that point it is not just a book any more though, so I can hardly hold that against the quality of this work.

I learned a great deal from Stevenson’s “Story Theater Method.” If you have a job where getting in front of a group of people and speaking is a large or important component, then you need to read this book. When surveyed, Fortune 500 CEOs rated communication and presentation skills as hands down the most important thing they look for in promoting and hiring employees. Growing your abilities as a presenter is fast becoming a necessary part of climbing the corporate ladder. Don’t wait until you have to give a big presentation to the board to learn these critical skills, when you could learn them now and get a leg up on your competition by reading this book. The results you will receive are what gets this work a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.

Roll Models 5 Chair Rating

Share Button