Even though it was over 20 years ago, I remember the moment just like it was yesterday.
It was a nightmare. I was presenting at my company’s sales conference. There was a disconnect between my brain and my mouth. My brain was telling me the words I needed to say, but my mouth couldn’t say them.
What? Where did that come from? I’ve never had this problem before.
OK, let me try again. No! Still the disconnect between my brain and my mouth.
The harder I tried to speak coherently, the worse it got.
I was stuttering for the first time in my life.
My nightmare wasn’t over with that presentation. I had seven more presentations to give that fateful Saturday 20 years ago. I started out each presentation alright, but I started deteriorating about five minutes into the presentation.
That's when the stuttering began, and it kept getting worse.
Audience members were laughing. Inside, I was dying.
My own body was betraying me.
It was easily the most embarrassing moment of my professional career.
Worse yet, I had eight more presentations to give Sunday.
Needless to say, I was not looking forward to it.
I gutted my way through Sunday. I was still stuttering, but thankfully, not as bad as Saturday. No one laughed in the audience, so that was progress.
I have no idea to this day what caused my stuttering, but it was now part of my life. And stuttering would remain part of my life for the next 10 years. It would never be as bad as the total meltdown I had at that sales conference, but stuttering would always be there, lurking, waiting in the background.
I went on a quest to end my stuttering.
I started with examining the events that brought it on.
The stuttering was unpredictable. Business meetings, 1:1’s at work, and interviewing people sometimes brought the stuttering on and sometimes didn’t. Dating never brought on stuttering. The crazy thing was that sometimes, when I was really stressed, I would be fine. Other times, I would be calm as could be, and I would start stuttering.
It was crazy.
I thought a lot about why that particular sales conference brought the stuttering on. After all, I had presented at plenty of previous sales conferences. Why that sales conference?
I remember the moment the stuttering started. Someone in the audience asked me a question. I literally felt my brain become discombobulated because I didn’t have an answer.
I was unprepared.
I didn’t realize how much preparation was truly necessary in becoming an excellent public speaker. I was determined to be ultra-prepared going forward. Here’s what I did, and I still do to this day:
A. Bullet point notes.
I hate word-for-word written speeches. I think they are too confining, and they make my stuttering worse. I prefer talking extemporaneously.
I also need to stay on-point. The solution is simply writing on a sheet of paper my key talking points.
B. Tape myself.
I practice my presentations a lot. I like running through my presentations over and over again.
I make a simple recording of myself, and I replay it. I am looking for areas of my talk that aren’t smooth, and areas where I am stumbling over words.
I correct these points, and repeat, again and again. I might run through a talk five or six times before presenting for real.
C. Time myself.
You have a 30-minute time slot, a 10-minute time slot, or whatever. You need to respect the audience and their time.
You want to get your points across succinctly, and you want to leave time for questions and answers. I might want my 30-minute talk to take 20 minutes without questions – you get the idea.
Nothing is worse than some annoying speaker, droning on and on.
D. Present in front of a friendly audience.
I would present to my girlfriend (now my wife :-)) when I feel ready. This is the final run-through.
It’s always different when you present in front of people – even the one who loves you and supports you the most. I want that final bit of reassurance, and I want critical feedback.
Now, I am ready to go. I am prepared and ready for anything.
Usually, the result is very good. Not all the time, but most of the time.
Back to the stuttering. I still lived in fear of another episode. I tried a lot of different things to end the stuttering.
Could what I drink help? Alcohol almost always worked, but I didn’t want to be a drunk, so that was out. Coffee worked sometimes, and sometimes it didn’t work.
Could exercise help? Go for a run before an important presentation. Maybe that would work?
Could sex help? Well, it couldn’t hurt. At least that was my excuse….
Could breathing exercises help? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
Nothing really solved the stuttering problem.
It looked like I was going to have to live with stuttering for the rest of my life.
One of the people I worked with went on a high protein, reduced carbohydrate diet. It was the exact opposite of my existing, high complex carbohydrate diet. Many people at work joined in, and so did I.
I began almost immediately noticing that my stuttering went away instantly after I had protein.
Thank goodness. I had my elixir.
I have no doubt that stuttering arises for many different reasons, and there's no one means of eliminating that will work for everyone. For me, ingesting protein at regular intervals during the day seems to keep my stuttering at bay.
You can’t imagine the relief unless you suffer from the horrible problem of stuttering. Finally, I could again feel confident with my public speaking.
I am now, for the past 10-plus years, relatively stutter-free. I am also a much better public speaker. I have spoken in front of thousands of people. I’ve been interviewed by various publications and news media. I’ve given speeches where the future of my company was at stake. I’ve pitched countless venture capitalists and other investors.
Most of the time the results are very good.
You always live in fear that the stuttering will return.
I know the stuttering is always lurking, waiting to rear its ugly head.
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