Since adolescence, speaking in public (or in fact, in any situation where I could be overheard) was nerve-wracking and often humiliating experience. Suffering from silent blocks meant I was simply unable to utter any sound, when, for example, I was asked to read out loud in class. Even today, although a fully accomplished adult, I still shiver recalling past “speaking incidents” and the avalanche of cortisol-fuelled emotions overwhelming me, my mind going completely blank every time my name had been called out to present. It felt like a public execution!
And, of course, those tormenting “aftermaths” as I re-played and re-lived the situations in my head many times over.
Every person who has ever stuttered is too familiar with such moments. We all know how it feels. There were moments I wanted to scream, but felt gagged by unexplainable speaking difficulties, my sudden muteness and anxiety that held me captive from around the age of 13.
My failing confidence endured countless destructive blows during the adolescence forcing me to play an unfortunate role of a detached, tongue-tied, not very bright and socially clumsy young person. The person I never really was. This was my way to escape, my safety mechanism. It was easy at the time to just resign, blame the whole world and people from their callousness and lack of understanding as to what I, as a person with situational stutter, have been going through. It was easy to just withdraw, turn meek and invisible.
Invisible to the whole big wide world out there and simply watch life passing me by.
Some say keeping quite is the best option for stutterers as at least you avoid being humiliated and ridiculed. Even speech therapist sometime advice – “stay away from conflict situations at all costs, keep you head down, do what you are told, be nice and pleasant towards people” (read Ivan’s story HERE)….
All this just to avoid “being found out“??
So, yes! Shutting myself down, turning away from life seemed like the only “safe” option, and it was easy. Easy to just give up, and then envy others enjoying their lives.
“Bastards! Fluent bastards! They don’t know nothing of my stifled, muffled suffering. How dare they ???”
But what to do if you have so much to say, what do to do with all the feelings that you want to express so much you can hardly contain yourself? I reached the pivotal point at 26, finally resolving to do anything to overcome my fears and claim back the control over my life. By hook or by crook.
Somehow I sensed there would be countless occasions for me to deliver speeches on various topics so MY VOICE was the instrument I absolutely must restore to be heard. And, soon it followed: university presentations, Speakers’ Club talks, Toastmasters, work presentations, job interviews, promotional talks, facilitations of workshops for fluent speakers etc.
One cannot live by avoiding life. Communication is the major part of our interaction with the external world, and if speaking was unavoidable, I decided, I might as well learn to do it well. This was the attitude with which I started my “zero to hero” journey from someone who could hardly say her own name, to the person who was no longer afraid of being in the sport light, speaking, enjoying herself, having fun speaking.
Speaking in public is not scary, our attitudes to it make it so.
Since I resolved to eliminate my stuttering and stepped on the journey of self-development, I have been a member of two speaking club for 7 years in total and run my own workshops for (!) fluent speakers. The experience of delivering speeches as well as watching other speakers, seasoned and not so much, delivering theirs taught me a great deal. It wasn’t all just about poise and eloquence…..it was about facing my biggest monster, irrational fears and insecurities, and watching others facing and conquering theirs.
My vast empirical experience speaks louder than any theorising or speculations. Here is the summary of the quite surprising things I learned whilst on my journey.
Being fluent doesn’t automatically equate to possessing confidence nor warrants absence of anxiety/fear. Fluent speakers can be, and often are just as nervous, tongue-tied and self-conscious as PWS’s.
I was a regular member of the two speaking clubs (Liverpool Speakers Club and Warrington Toastmasters) and led workshops on public speaking for fluent, very anxious speakers. I have seen it all when it comes to public speaking done by fluent speakers: awkwardness, timidity, lack of confidence, quietness, hesitation, loosing thoughts halfway thru a speech, speech errors, filler words, even occasional disfluencies, although they simply call it “bobulations” [i.e. state of confusion].
Here are the couple of my most memorable real-live examples.
I met this experienced speaker, a professional man in his 50’s. He was about to compete in a speaking competition and anxiously awaited for his turn. So, he went to the bar for “only one drink” to ease his nerves. He was visibly trembling. One drink, then another, third…slowly he got tipsy, then drunk. He admitted he was too nervous to speak, even though he was an experienced (a very experience, I presume) speaker. Sadly, he was sent home and didn’t complete. What a Faux pas!
Here is another one, are you ready?
A youth at this army recruitment event was asked to introduce himself in front of the group of other recruits. Watching him was simply, well, hilarious as he performed rather bizarre arm movements whilst trying to tell his story. He wasn’t recruited, of course!. Oops!
Both fluent speakers, and both freaked out and were too unable to talk.
Now a question? Does being fluent warrant never being embarrassed whilst speaking, interacting with others? NO! NO! NO!
Perfection is a myth. Nobody is always 100% confident, eloquent, quick-witted etc. It is merely impossible to maintain that high energy, that bravado for too long!
In fact, disfluencies happens with us all fluent or not. The important thing is how we react to it – you either punish and bully yourself for days for using filler words, pausing, stumbling, looking away etc….obsessive about it, or see a situation as “no big deal” and just forget, forgive and move on.
This makes huge difference in how you will eventually perceive yourself and speaking situations in future. You see, fluent speakers are more forgiving of themselves whereas stutters “lash” themselves over any minor imperfection. Fluent speakers just laugh it off – “oh, well. I will do better next time”. Stutters catastrophe their disfluencies.
I urge you to remember this!
We are all PEOPLE with our feelings, fears, phobias, insecurities, something we wish to hide or improve on. Just because some of us don’t stutter, doesn’t mean there is total unshakable 100% confidence every time and in every situation.
Now try this! Turn your attention away from the inner dialog and feelings over to what goes on in the external world, and believe me, you will soon notice how flustered and nervous people around you can be, just observe and you are no different from others.
Here is the video I wanted to show you. It shows me struggling to speak back in 2010, and my speaking today. See it for yourself.
What do I think of public or any type of speaking today? To be honest, I no longer think about it, speaking just happens, as naturally as it was always measnt to. Speech is a river, speech is like breathing to me.
I wish I could say, that now when my speech preoccupations are over, I have no problems to worry about, but that would be a lie. Sometime I ask myself why do I create so much unnecessary, purely imaginary worries for myself, why do I create them in my mind?
Guys, I often worry when there is nothing to worry about, do I have a new problem now? 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the article and I am grateful for you support,
Much love, light and effortless fluency,