Moving Mountains

. . . Continued From The Previous Post . . .

New Lisbon Developmental Center
New Lisbon, NJ
Having added the March 23 meeting to my calendar, I began to prepare. The Go Team and I were to meet at the New Lisbon Developmental Center. In the days immediately before the first session, however, I learned that members of the Go Team had been invited to testify before the New Jersey Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers (Task Force).

New challenges accompanied this new circumstance. The Task Force, I soon found out, had been formed to evaluate and provide recommendations for closing the Developmental Centers. But I did not know what the Task Force actually hoped to gain from the testimony of these adults. Internet research, a few phone calls, and persistence provided clarity. Based on this, each advocate worked with me to prepare for the hearing during the March 23 meeting.

Naturally, the apprehensive adults wondered whether I, a complete stranger, was going to tell them how to testify. Making certain immediately to dispel this concern, I explained the Task Force needed to know their personal experiences. I proceeded to described my two-fold purpose.

First, I intended to help each adult organize their personal ideas for the Task Force. And second, I intended to assist each advocate with techniques for delivering these ideas at the forthcoming Task Force hearing. Each team member easily came to understand my goal was to help prepare the team to testify both honestly and credibly.

To prepare for the testimony, each adult engaged me in one-on-one interviews. Aware of their anxieties, I knew a formal question-and-answer session would not have yielded authentic answers. Instead, the interviews took the shape of a casual conversation.

Each advocate's comfort progressively increased. I observed each adult move from a protective and guarded posture where they wondered about what I may have expected them to say, to comfort characterized by openness and a desire to share. As we spoke, I noted the comments and thoughts each advocate expressed.

After completing each interview, I read my notes aloud. This reinforced my objective—to help each advocate testify as to their personal experiences and opinions. Similarly, it mitigated any concern whether I might dictate the content of their testimony.

As with any speech, the advocates needed structure for the purpose of effective communication. Therefore, I organized the notes into sentences, grouped the sentences into paragraphs, and formed the paragraphs into an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Additionally, when an advocate struggled to find the right word for an idea, I made recommendations. As before, each advocate reviewed the testimony with me for accuracy. Finally, each advocate had an opportunity to review the structure.

After reducing the testimony to writing, I coached each team member with speaking skills. Knowing each adult was to testify before a Task Force, I assisted the advocates with articulation, vocal projection, pace, eye contact, and the placement of pauses. Most significantly, each advocate practiced smiling. After all, this was to be a landmark occasion. To reinforce the importance of smiling, each advocate repeated exercises that involved relaxing and smiling.

At the end of the session, each advocate grinned. I later learned each advocate testified persuasively before the Task Force. This made me feel both proud and honored, as though I had helped these adults move mountains.

Concluded Here . . .

Go Team, March 23, 2012
New Lisbon Developmental Center
New Lisbon, NJ