Make Room For The Stuttering

Seize The Moment!

Posted on: May 17, 2009

When I was asked to be a judge at a youth public speaking contest, I didn’t give it much thought. How hard could that be? It would be fun, and it was a worthy event. Kids under 16 were competing for scholarship money. It was a competition sponsored by an Optimist Club chapter, which is a civic organization that emphasizes service and working with youth. So I agreed to volunteer on a Saturday.

When I was asked to give the key address at that same event, I did have to ponder that.  One of my Toastmaster colleagues heard me speak a couple of weeks ago, and he thought it would be inspirational to share my “stuttering story” and promote Toastmasters at this competition. There would be the young participants, their parents and family and club members. I did not know any of these people, and wondered how talking about stuttering while promoting Toastmasters would go over in a fluent crowd.

I decided to do it – it would be a good challenge for me, and would offer another opportunity to de-mystify stuttering.

I didn’t prepare much, as I know “my story” well and have been a Toastmaster for  3 years, so I can enthusiastically talk up Toastmasters easily. I arrived at the hotel early Saturday morning, got my judge briefing and went to work. I was not going to be on until after all the kids had given their presentations. We wanted to have my spiel come before the winners were announced, so everybody would listen and no one would leave! Bribery always works, huh?!

I quickly became engrossed in the kids speeches. They were really amazing. These kids were  good! Each had won at their club and zone levels (similar to Toastmaster contests), so these kids were prepared and polished. They ranged in age from 9-16. There were eight girls and five boys, separated into one division for girls and one for the boys. The winners would receive a $1500 scholarship for college, a plaque, pride, yada yada.

Each young person had to speak for 4-5 minutes on the theme, “For Me, Optimism Is . . . . ”  They nailed it –  each youngster talked about significant things in their lives – family illness, sacrifice, death – or world issues, and how to stay optimistic and positive in challenging times. It was so hard to judge one better than another, because they were all winners in my book.

Then it was my turn. I was nervous and actually thought, “how can I possibly follow these amazingly bright, fluent youngsters?”

Well, I began with “Don’t Be Like Me” and wove that line throughout my 11 minute speech. (I went over – I always do. I Stutter!)  My message to the audience: I wasted a lot of time hiding and being ashamed of who I am because of stuttering. I didn’t want anyone else to do that. Whatever our “thing” is, (because we all have a “thing” we wish we could  wish away) we are all unique and talented beings that need to let our light shine. I told my stuttering story, how I let fear hold me back and how I knew I arrived at the place when I decided I didn’t want to do that any more. Then I launched into talking about how Toastmasters helped me become even better at the person I was always meant to be, and that we all need to tell our story.

I had notes, but barely used them. I found I was speaking from my authentic place, from my heart, and twice felt like I was going to choke up. But I was in control and my voice was strong and clear, and my stuttering was very natural. When I was done, I felt a strange feeling. My heart was fluttery and I felt warm inside – I felt like I had done right by telling this version of my story.

The audience applauded. Then I saw everyone rise to their feet and give me a standing ovation. I was overwhelmed in that moment. I felt embraced by the whole room – honestly, I felt embraced and held and awash with peace. It was a stunning moment.

Then I quickly re-joined the other judges and we went about our business of judging. When we had reached a decision, the competition chairperson joked that maybe we didn’t want to come in,that some parents attack the judges if their kid doesn’t win. But he said that if we could stick around afterwards, the contestants and parents would really like Toastmaster feedback as to what their kids could work on for next time. I liked that: next time. Because win or not, each of these kids were going to have a whole lot of  “next times”  in their lives.

The winners were announced, photos were taken, and we Toastmasters were formally thanked. Then it was like a receiving line. Kids and parents came up to us, thanked us, and asked for feedback. My Toastmaster buddy said to me, “Pam, they’re all going to want to talk to you. Your speech was amazing.”

People didn’t really want to talk to me – people came and hugged me. They said thanks for sharing. One woman had tears in her eyes and said. “Your story is my story. Our story. Don’t be like me? We should all be like you!” I cried then.

What a special day. We definitely have to seize those moments. There is a reason for everything.

Has anyone ever had a similiar moving experience? I swear, I still have goosebumps, and still feel the warm embrace of that room.

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10 Responses to "Seize The Moment!"

Pam,

why is it that I’ve tears in my eyes every time I read one of your posts? We REALLY should be like you. So open, so giving and loving. Hope I find some time to write some more via mail to you! Thanks for everything.
Stefan

Thank you for the heartfelt reply. Maybe we share good tears, because we feel connected, yes? To me, that is special.

Somehow it is meant to be that I share this stuff, with you, with others.

Hope we get to chat soon!

They all sounded like winners… it’s a shame y’all had to even choose one!
A standing ovation!! WOW, Sister!! Talk about being rejuvenated after getting that response! I am sure you are fired up and ready to conquer the world!

Jill,

Fired up? Not sure – it was so completely stunning and overwhelming.
It just felt good . . . . really good. I worry sometimes that my sharing takes away from the meaning of such moments, because its like I am making personal moments public, but I think they need to be shared.

We can all benefit when someone has a really good stuttering experience.

As I wrote in Facebook, that was a really well done speech; I think you’ve got a gift 🙂

I have never thought of my stuttering as a gift – maybe I am coming around to that after all. I know it felt good and right to give my talk the other day. The inner feelings matched what was heard onthe outside, and that almost never happens with me.

The universe is aligning over me, it seems.

Maybe the stuttering is the wrapping on a gift.

cricketB’s reponse below, which is worth re-tweeting as they say,

“Maybe the stuttering is the wrapping on a gift.” That really struck a chord with me.

Pam,

I have to admit, I could not hold back my emotions when reading your blog post. What a great story! Keep ’em coming.

Thanks Marc – I think thats one ofht emost important things about sharing like this – universal emotions are being shared.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2017.