I haven’t shared this with many people, but I’ve decided to put it out there.
I grew up with a speech impediment.
Despite creating a speaking business and having spoken on the same stage as Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, expressing myself has been a struggle for most of my life.
In kindergarten, I was bullied on the bus because of my stutter. “F-f-f-f-frank,” I’d say, telling others my name. The sixth graders pounced on it immediately, and it was a bit of a shocking introduction to school. I still remember their names to this day.
I was sent to speech therapy during elementary school, and I became so frustrated a few years later that I just stopped talking. Great solution, right? I don’t remember this of course, but my mother claims it’s what happened.
Did I just outgrow it? I wish it was that simple, but it’s not.
During the difficult period of time that was my early twenties, I once took a job as an insurance salesman. I needed something after turning down law school, and it was the only option after hundreds of applications and more than six months out of work. It was entirely commission-based, of course, and that meant I had to do a lot of cold-calling.
I sat down with a list one day and dialed the number of someone I hadn’t spoken to in years. When they answered the phone, the words I’d intended to say wouldn’t even come out of my mouth.
It’s hard to explain exactly how this works, but imagine your words as the flow of a river. Now place an enormous dam in the middle of that river. A small amount of water flows through, but the rest of it backs up. For me, I always felt like my thoughts moved a million miles a second and were completely clear, but they didn’t directly translate to speech. In this situation, I couldn’t even say the first word.
I tried to say “hello”, but only the first consonant leaked through. The rest just…stopped. Once that happened, a shot of anxiety coursed through my system and wrecked my ability to go further.
Shit, I thought. Why the hell is this happening?!
I hung up.
Even today, I struggle sometimes with sentences if the first word begins with certain letters and combinations of sounds. Not always. Just sometimes. If I’m nervous–and especially if I’ve eaten a lot of sugar–I have to be extra careful to avoid issues. Oddly enough, caffeine is a tremendous help. (thank you, sugar-free Rockstar!) Exercise makes it better too.
The best solution I’ve found? Practice, practice, and practice. If you see me at a stoplight or intersection, I’m probably not singing along to music. I’m talking aloud to myself. Saying something I plan to talk about over, and over, and over again.
“Did you memorize that entire speech?” asked someone I know, at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Summit. She remarked that it sounded great–so great that it might’ve been memorized.
I nodded my head.
I can talk freely and on-the-fly, of course. I enjoy doing radio shows perhaps more than anything else. But memorization and internalization are some of the best tools at my disposal for formal presentations. It allows me to focus my attention on the finer details. Pitch, flow, humor, the way I present things, and how I connect with the audience. Do I stick to the script? Not always. Good speakers know when to veer off course and inject humor, anecdotes, and do what it takes to better connect with the audience. I usually do this. But no matter what happens, I’m prepared with a speech that works.
The point of mentioning this? Life’s funny, and sometimes it takes a direction you never imagined.
I was nervous as I prepared to give a speech in Anaheim at the beginning of this year; but the moment I began speaking, I became calm, collected, and entirely relaxed.
This is exactly what I need to be doing with my life, I remember thinking. I love everything about speaking.
Don’t sell yourself short. I’m one of least-likely people to get paid to speak.
And yet, here I am.
Want to listen to an interview? Here’s a radio interview I did recently with WHO Radio about GasBuddy, the “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment, the Partnership for a Healthier America, and how to stay healthy during summer road trips. (it starts at the 3:45 mark)