Friday, December 12, 2008
I lost my public speaking virgnity and I'm not sorry!
They say you never forget your first time. No, get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean that kind of first time....I mean, in terms of public speaking. Being a person who stutters, it's no secret that at one time for me, having to perform thing action resulted in anxiety levels that were off the charts. Just imagine having to give that oral presentation in your high school Spanish class, or reaching out to an audience to give an address. The thought of your mouth opening and the chord locking severely, failing to get the words out, is enough to make you want to be anywhere else...like in the dentist's chair having root canal. Last year, that all changed for me. It all started when I was asked by the executive director of the NSA if I would be interested in speaking to a graduate-level class of speech pathology students. I jumped at the chance to do so. One part of me knew this would be a major step. Another had a whole other viewpoint, and it wasn't flattering. Fear has many variables to it. Some will tell you it can be an excellent motivator for some. Others will say it can unleash paralyzing power over you, so much to the point where you don't want to live. Or say what you want. Well, I spoke at that appearance. Did I block a couple of times? Sure. There were times my tongue was stuck on a consonant and all I could think of was that dreaded "wheel spinning in the snow" image. But snow be damned, I spoke what was on my mind...and I could have floated home on the adrenaline high I experienced. Fast forward to one year later, and I returned the scene where I took a major step forward. I was contacted once again by this same professor and on Tuesday, I made a trip up to Mercy College. Mercy College is a private school located in the bedroom community of Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County, about half an hour from the Bronx County-Westchester County line, which officially divides the city limits from the suburbs. I still consider Westchester the unofficial sixth borough of New York, but that's semantics. I made it up there at 3:15, and waited about two hours to speak, this time to a much bigger class and a bigger room. But I can say this with pride, for the first time in my life, my stuttering took a backseat. I was an engaging, interactive speaker, even one who jazzed it up with a little game and humming a few karaoke lines. The day after I went to my weekly speech therapy appointment, and my speech therapist was beaming with great pride. He told me that I will never ever go back to the way I used to speak. Yes, I'll have good days. And I'll have bad days. But I embrace public speaking, and so should you. You don't have to give an oral address if you don't want to. But every step you take, is one step closer to fully accepting that public speaking is fun. It does not have to be scary. Talk to a passerby on the street. Go into a local cafe and start chatting about organic products. Anything you want. When I gave my "A is for Attitude" seminar, I made a reference to the NBC series "Fear Factor." Every time in the opening sequence, the host, Joe Rogan, would gather six contestants in a remote location stating that "All of you have been gathered here to do one thing: look fear straight in the eye." As a person who stutters, I faced my "Fear Factor" and won....four years ago, I could never have seen myself presenting to my fellow colleagues and peers. Now, I want to do more public speaking. You never have to be frightened of public speaking. The NSA's teammates will be there to stand up with you. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted, and make your voice heard.