Friday, August 26, 2016

That Time Of Year

What time is that? It's time for the Veteran Speakers Retreat. The VSR, as we call it for short, is an annual “retreat” for veteran (typically senior) professional speakers.

A professional speaker, if you're not aware, is someone who is paid a fee to present a keynote speech, conduct a seminar or workshop that may be as short as a couple hours or as long as a week or so. They may also speak, not for a fee, but to promote their other businesses, products, books and courses. These speakers expound on topics as diverse as the dictionary.

I was, a member of the National Speakers Association, the primary professional organization for the speaking profession, for a quarter of a century. While the NSA represents only a portion of the people who speak professionally, it's certainly an influential organization providing education, business building and standards for the profession.

And, yes, I was a professional speaker as another element of my multi-faceted professional life. However, I was never a full-time speaker, as so many of my friends in the profession are. It was actually something I did more as an avocation. While I did collect fees for some of my speaking, I mainly spoke to promote my other businesses.


The VSR is an independent, informal group of professional speakers and their significant others. It spun off about 29 years ago as a group for some of the original founders of the National Speakers Association to gather as a small, intimate group of professional speakers to share camaraderie as they were in the latter years of their life and career.

The gathering seldom exceeds 60 individuals including veteran speakers (nothing to do with being military veterans, although several are, myself included) and their significant others (spouses, companions, partners). It's held in a smaller hotel or rural resort setting, typically. There are NO speeches allowed – PERIOD! There are sessions, they are co-moderated by two people typically, but the sessions are all interactive. That means everyone participates in the topic and contributes. The topics are not about the speaking business. They may have the common tie of the participants being directly or indirectly involved in the speaking profession. The topics are typically more about how we can use our past life experience in this latter stage of our lives.

Many of the people in attendance are retired and no longer actively pursue new speaking engagements. Of course, if someone offers a speaker a gig, they'll almost always take it. Some of the participants are still active in their speaking careers and set the time aside from any speaking gigs to join with their friends at this annual retreat.

Legends of the Speaking Profession

In 2000, we launched a new designation program for professional speakers over the age of 60 with at least 20 years of full-time speaking career experience. There are also other qualifiers, but these are the most basic. To date, over 16 years, we've inducted approximately 100 speakers as Legends including some posthumous awards each year.

The Legends Award Dinner and Induction Program is held on Saturday evening of the retreat and is the highlight of the retreat. It's treated almost like a mini-Academy Awards program. By the way, the retreat begins on Thursday as people gather from all over the U.S. and, occasionally, overseas. It continues through Friday, Saturday and adjourns after a final lunch on Sunday. There is plenty of designated free time and group activity time allowing for a lot of personal interaction between the participants. This year, one of the Legend candidates has traveled all the way from Buenos Aires for the event.

Past VSR Coordinator

There have been a total of three people in the past who coordinated the event since it was launched in 1987. My long time friend and client and one of the original founding members of the National Speakers Association, Dave Yoho from Fairfax, Virginia, was the first. Dave created the retreat on the inspiration and, perhaps, some instigation, of some of the other founding members of the NSA. Dave coordinated the retreat for the first 14 years.

My long time friend and colleague, the late John Jay Daly of Washington, DC and I became the second and third co-coordinators. John was my co-coordinator until his untimely death on the morning of the first day of the 2009 retreat. I carried on the retreat until the end of the 2013 retreat for a total of 12 years. Then I retired and handed over the reins to a new team.

The current team of three co-coordinators, Annette Dubrouillet and the husband/wife team of Ray and Sally Strackbein began in 2014. Under their capable leadership, the retreat has continued for the past three years, including this year's retreat that began yesterday, August 25th. I'm arriving a day late this year due to some appointments I could only get scheduled for today.

While the retreat is very informal and only has a basic outline of times and events, the coordinators' job is basically that a of a meeting planner. It involves securing an appropriate, comfortable venue for the gathering, promoting the event, handling registration, planning the agenda, setting up all the nine meals including the more formal award dinner on Saturday evening and a myriad of other details to make sure everything flows so all in attendance have a great experience. Of course, the final responsibility each year is to pay all the bills for the event and that means being a good negotiator to get everything at the best price for the quality of service, facility and food and then making sure the billing is correct before paying it.

Off I go!

I've only been back in the east about two weeks. I hadn't planned to be back until this time to attend the retreat. However, due to the tragic loss of my friend's adult son a about three weeks ago, I cut a beeline back east from the Portland, Oregon area, eliminating a lot of planned stops and visits along the way.

Leaving today for the appointments and the retreat is the first time back on the road since I got back. I'll be at the retreat until Sunday, then to Falls Church, Virginia to visit with and stay at my Air Force buddy's home. Monday I'll be at my friend and client's office in Fairfax, Virginia doing some repairs and upgrades to a portable audio and video conference system I built and maintain for him. I'll probably be back to my West Virginia base camp on Tuesday and be here for the month of September, then I have a short trip through Pennsylvania including the Philadelphia area, a visit with a couple friends at the Jersey Shore, another informal gathering of professional colleagues from the voice-over facet of my professional life – and some visits with friends in and around my hometown area of Clifton, New Jersey.

I know I've been quiet on the blog for a while. I actually have plenty to say and I'm working on several articles on several topics. The stress, exhaustion and fatigue I've experienced through the heat in some of the areas I was this summer took a toll. Then, the was rapid return across the country, some 2,800 miles with only a few stops plus, a major breakdown, possibly caused by over stressing My McVansion's drive train. And, finally, I think I simply needed to allow my brain to slow down and catch up. Standby, lots of new content is in the works and will appear very shortly.

Live free & be happy. EH 

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