Speak Sobriety

Brendan Conniff, Senior School News/ Features Editor

On October 29, 2020, Manhasset CASA and Manhasset Public Schools hosted a virtual event featuring Stephen Hill, a speaker, author, advocate and founder of Speak Sobriety.  Despite the presentation’s virtual setting, Mr. Hill’s message still resonated and his authenticity came through.

 The presentation, running about an hour and half, gave the audience a glimpse into Mr. Hill’s past where he had a positive, normal childhood and loved sports.  Mr. Hill brought the audience along his journey from trying drugs and alcohol in 8th grade to opioid addiction to recovery and sobriety. Along the way, he focused in great detail on the progression of drug use, the loss of athletic opportunities, his criminal convictions, and finally the long, difficult road to recovery.  He culminated with a message of inspiration and motivation to those struggling.  Despite his struggles, Mr. Hill graduated college, went to law school and now presents to students and parents in over 100 schools.  In addition to speaking, Mr. Hill published his memoir A Journey to Recovery in 2018 that became the #1 new release in drug dependency on Amazon.   

Clearly an effective public speaker with much to offer, he participated in the following Q & A offering insights and an in-depth look at what it takes to be successful as a motivational speaker.

Q: Now that you are forced to present in a virtual setting, how do you ensure you remain captivating and authentic to the audience?

A: The switch from in-person events to virtual has been extremely challenging to say the least. Not only did I have to learn how to utilize the Zoom Webinar platform, but I also had to wait until other people became familiar enough with Zoom before coalitions and school districts were even willing to use my program in a virtual setting. How could I speak to people who don’t even know how to sign on? 

Remaining authentic has never been a struggle for me as a speaker, in-person or virtually. I tell my story exactly how it happened, and I do not take a zero tolerance approach when discussing issues related to drugs and alcohol. I pride myself on keeping my presentation authentic to maintain credibility as a speaker. However, remaining captivating in a virtual setting is much more difficult than in-person. 

There is nothing like the power of giving a heartfelt presentation in a packed auditorium or gym, and no virtual platform will ever replace that. When speaking virtually, I try to envision myself speaking in front of a large audience like I have done so many times before. I look at the number of attendees to remind myself of all the people that I am speaking too. I also make sure I have the proper equipment, lighting, audio, video and background to keep the audience engaged. A professional setting is very important for virtual presentations, and I have had great success thus far speaking to schools and communities all over the country for the past three months. 

Q: What is the most difficult part of being a motivational speaker? 

A: The most difficult part of being a motivational speaker, for me, is taking my work too personally because it means so much to me. 

Q: Can you give an example of a time when you feel like you particularly connected to an audience as a whole or a specific audience member? 

A: The most powerful and emotional event I ever spoke at was a fundraising event for a memorial foundation, Matty D’s Rubber Ducky Organization. The organization was started by a family that lost their son/brother to an opioid overdose. I was asked to be the keynote speaker in a Grand Ballroom of about 400 people. The family was sitting in the front row as I spoke, and I was given a standing ovation. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about working and speaking to students? 

A: What I love most about speaking to, and working with students is being in a position to mentor young people. When I was younger and making destructive decisions on a daily basis, I never thought I would be in a position to help other people. I am very grateful for the experiences I have had through Speak Sobriety. 

Q: Who is your role model? 

A: Chris Herren. 

Q: What would you say are the top four qualities of a motivational speaker?

 

A: Passionate, Confident, Relatable, Ability to Tell a Story

Q: You address the role of a team captain on and off the field in some of your presentations – why are those qualities important for all student-athletes, even those who may not be captain? 

A.
 Although captains naturally carry the role as leader and mentor on and off the field, you do not need that title to have a major impact—either positive or negative—on those around you. This is particularly true for younger teammates that look up to you. 
The decisions you make today can, and will, affect you for the rest of your life. To make it even bigger than that, your decisions affect more than just yourself. Although you may not be the one who ends up with a substance use disorder, you might be influencing someone who will become addicted or make a harmful decision under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 


Q:If you could sum up your message to students in one or two sentences, what would it be? 


A. Addiction does not discriminate, and the decision to pick up a drink or drug today can affect you for the rest of your life. But although one harmful decision can change your life forever, it is never too late to make the choice to fight for a real second chance.