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A few weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation on “Entrepreneurship and iOS Development” for a college class on Swift at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. I didn’t want to turn down this opportunity to mold some minds so I said “yes” without really thinking too much.
As I thought about it some more, I realized I was starting to regret my decision. My insecurities about my stutter started to show and I instantly wanted to back down. Speaking isn’t my thing. Public speaking really isn’t my thing. A lot of my worst experiences as a stutterer have come from public speaking. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass myself in a front of a group of college students by not being able to talk about the thing I am supposedly an “expert” in.
What was I to do?!
Duh. It’s pretty obvious that “playing to your strengths” is usually in one’s own best interest. I was, however, starting off a pretty big disadvantage being that I have a stutter and I signed myself up to do a public speaking gig.
My stutter usually comes out the worst in a few types scenarios. The worst type of scenario being ones where I have something rehearsed I have to say — and a presentations falls exactly in the category. As a stutterer, I have words that I “know” that I usually fail on. Those words are automatically thrown out of my vocabulary. After rehearsing what I’m about to say, I start to think about other words that I could fail which means I also have to throw those words out of my vocabulary. At the end I’m pretty much left with a vocabulary of zero words with a vision of me just standing up in the front of a crowd with nothing to say.
This is of course almost never the case for me but this is what constantly plays through my head. The amount of anxiety this causes is unreal.
I like to think that one of my strengths is the ability to find “fun” in any situation. While needing to make the presentation fun, I also needed a way to get out of the mindset of the “rehearsed” presentation. So how could I combine these two? After a little bit of thinking I had an idea…
I am giving this presentation to a bunch of college students: I want them to be engaged, I don’t want them falling asleep on me, and I needed to not have a “rehearsed” presentation. I decided on making the presentation a “Choose your own adventure” presentation — similar to the books that I read when I was a kid
I started off the presentation with the two normal introduction slides and then BAM, hit them with the choices that my presentation all offered. Each path was linked to a point in my presentation for that section. After each section, there was slide that said “Your adventure has ended — click here to start over”.
As soon as these slides appear, the students sat up straighter in their chairs and my presentation had their undivided attention. I heard a few conversations of people trying to decided what they wanted to hear first. I also like to think I may have gained their respect because they realized I made this presentation for them.
Bonus: By breaking the presentation down into six sections, the students actually asked me questions at the end of each section. It turned the presentation into more of a discussion than a lecture which the students seemed to enjoy ☺
My plan definitely worked for me. This instantly calmed my nervous because the students were liking my presentation. This entail upped my confidence of my “speaking without stuttering” abilities. I also had to no idea what the students were going to choose and therefore couldn’t plan my stuttering failures.
As I wrote above, one of my other strengths is to try and turn any situation into a “fun” one. The more fun there is, the more relaxed I am. The more relaxed I am, the less I tend to stutter. So no better way than to load your presentation with dank memes, cat, and Drake pictures/quotes.
Luckily the students all got my jokes ☺ Them laughing at some of my slides also gave me some time to relax and breathe and to make sure I was ready to keep speaking like a pro.
I regret ever regretting taking the speaking gig. It actually ended up being a fun experience and I got some really good feedback from the students. I found a way to make the presentation fun for me and my listeners all while developing the presentation in a way the best fit me and my stutter.
So what should you take away from this? Hopefully some sort of inspiration that its possible to use your strengths to turn a hard speaking situation around (or any kind of situation for that matter). All it takes is a little bit of creativity and some fun.
If it wasn’t for my stutter, I probably would have gone at this presentation without anything special— just slide after slide after slide. Some students probably wouldn’t have been engaged. Some students would have probably fallen asleep. I probably wouldn’t have made an impact.
Thankfully, I have a stutter! ☺
Thanks for reading all of this! Or at least for scrolling down this far… Follow me at @joshdholtz for even more of my awesomeness.