First NSA Workshop

Before getting into the first conference workshop, let me just say that while I’ve written about my stuttering travel experiences before (checking in, ordering Starbucks, hailing cabs) I really didn’t think about it that much this time. I just feel better about everything, and I know more and more that stuttering isn’t going to end my travels or cause any major headaches. I also know that I can just say hello and hand a passport to the counter agent. And that I’ve been through most of these airports before, so I don’t have to ask for directions. And that well, I’ll still get coffee even if it takes me an extra few seconds to say “mocha.”

I was excited to go to the first workshop – a conference icebreaker. I had worried before about how I was going to meet new people at this, my second conference. At your first conference, you can just go to the First Timer’s Workshop and BAM! All sorts of great contacts.

There was a very brief introduction to the workshop, and then we counted off to get into groups. This was funny of course, because all of us probably dreaded counting off in school at some point. I even stuttered on my number, as did a few others. And see this is what makes the NSA Conference great – right off the bat they show you that stuttering is fine. Even if it’s in front of 100 other people who you don’t know. There’s nobody to say your number for you, to laugh at you, to look at you funny. Just patience. After counting off, we separated into groups and were handed … rolls of toilet paper.

I think there were about a dozen people in our circle, and we were asked to pick off a few squares of toilet paper. I pulled off about nine, I think. Others took more and less. Then we were told that we had to provide one thing about ourselves for each square that we had. Oh my. So around we went. What was nice was listening to everybody try to come up with something about themselves – you could sort of tell that nobody was expecting this – and had anything prepared. I certainly didn’t.

I was slightly distracted by what stuttering has done to me, though. That is, prepare (and check for potential words I might stutter on) while others are going around the room sharing. Eventually it was my turn, and I was relaxed. I stuttered through my facts and didn’t mind. I said something like how it’s my second conference, I’m an engineer working in Saudi, I’ve been at my company for 11 years, I have three kids … other stuff that was pretty basic. Once that was done, we mingled, talking to each other about what we had heard during the toilet paper time.

When I was talking to a friend of mine after the conference, I mentioned this icebreaker exercise. And she said, “yeah, haven’t you ever done that before?” I guess the thing about stuttering (or maybe my career path, I suppose) is that no, I haven’t really been to a lot of conferences or workshops, period. And generally speaking at work we’re on a client site or project team, so we just get on with it. No time for office bonding per se.

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