Public Speaking: An ace in the hand

Yesterday my stutter was at its best. Maybe it was the news of Osama, or my hormones, whatever it was my stutter felt gorged and ready for action. Yesterday I also taught my first class on public speaking. To total strangers. In New York City.

I prepared fiendishly and I knew my material but I had no idea how my stutter would play out. I mentioned the class to someone and she looked flabbergasted, was I terrified? What if it all went horribly wrong? It was one of those really uplifting conversations. But she was right. I was afraid, afraid of forgetting everything I had planned to say and afraid that I would block on every single word. I had been having one of those busy weeks when conversations felt like verbal workouts and my jaw and lungs felt bruised at the end of the day. It was one of those weeks when a cold beer at 7pm every night felt imperative.

TED public speaking commandmentsThe class was about addressing the fear that many people feel when in comes to public speaking and it was about learning to speak like ‘TED’. In my mind TED is the apex of public speaking nirvana and this was the first class that I was teaching outside of the New York stuttering world. So, luckily, there was no pressure.

My students had given up an hour and a half of their Tuesday evening and they deserved their time and money’s worth so I created the best workshop I could. I knew that I would stutter and I brought that into the speech. I saw it as a chance to be really honest with them, and vulnerable. If I was telling them to do the same then I could at least embody what I was preaching.

And, despite or perhaps because of all of that, the workshop went really well. It took on its own energy, that momentary collective emotion that happens when people start laughing and having fun. I spoke for a third of the class and the film I had planned suffered from complete technical failure, and I’m sure I forgot lots of what I had planned to say, but I told them stories and gave them some tips and then I handed it over to them. They chatted with each other and then we played a game, a spontaneous speaking game, and they aced it.

I realized something else. I know that when I stutter I smile. I learnt at a young age that smiling worked, it was a way to decrease the mounting awkwardness. A silent way of telling everyone, and myself, not to worry. These days my smile tends to follow the block, it races behind my stutter, a wing man ready to help me out when my chat takes on a life of its own.

I realized that smiling is the ace in the hand for all of us. If you’re nervous it might be a roll of the dice, but if you can lay it on the table, and genuinely enjoy yourself, the game is made that little bit easier.

3 thoughts on “Public Speaking: An ace in the hand

  1. Really like this! I have often been told to “smile more”. I think I am smiling, but many times, after recording and looking, I realize I am not. You are so right – smiling serves to put everyone at ease, but it also makes the speaker just easier to listen to and look at.
    I wish it came as naturally to me as it does for you.

  2. Thanks Pam. I don’t always smile and sometimes I’m sure I look positively furious, but I feel a million times better if I can relax and laugh or throw in a cheeky grin. You’re a joy to chat with…smile or not you have a great voice.

  3. Thank you for being so transparent in this post. Because you were I learned a lot. I especially like your observation in this sentence:

    “It took on its own energy, that momentary collective emotion that happens when people start laughing and having fun.”

    Those are magical moments!

    FYI, here’s an example of a breakout session I did on The Creative Leader. Toward the end I have participants do a co-creating exercise. See what you think:

    Keep creating…lessons worth sharing,

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