This King's Speech

Amanda insisted for weeks that we see The King's Speech. I combated her with my need to see the new Harry Potter. Alas, she prevailed, reasoning that she could not see the latest Potter movie before reading the book or seeing the previous movies. I'm still looking for the rock Amanda hid under for the last 10 years to avoid that chunk of culture. We saw the movie with J. Ruckle last weekend. It was delightful. Anyone who has every had a stutter or a paralyzingly reaction to public speaking, like myself, may have an especially warm feeling for the movie.

These past few years, I've gained a good reputation for leading a crowd but that wasn't always the case. In the movie, there's a painful scene when the not-yet king addresses the British Empire Exhibition atΒ Wembley. This was representative of my early high school years.

I blame private school.

I was an over-confident reader through elementary and junior high school. That was because I had the same audience of 40ish peers during those school years. My teachers were the only rotating listeners. When I transferred to public high school, my freshman class was 10x larger, and of the 400+ students I only previously knew two. When I was first asked by my English teacher, Mrs. Thomas, to begin reading a paragraph out of some classic literature book, my voice, and subsequently my confidence, shook.

That episode repeated over and over, book after book, for the next couple years. The curriculum was that each student would take a turn reading a paragraph. When it came to my turn, a good friend like Wesley would be ready to voluntarily takeover reading when my voice shook uncontrollably, usually by the second sentence. I could talk just fine in class discussions, but when there was a book in my hand and only the sound of my voice in the room, ugh.

I don't know what broke my nerves. I didn't have a speech therapist like George VI in the movie. I just got over it eventually. My confidence rose in other aspects of school life, so that helped. I also had the support of Wesley or Mrs. Thomas (who thankfully taught freshman and sophomore English) whenever I fell into a stutter or shake in my voice.

By college, I had other avenues to get comfortable with public speaking. I started DJing at the college radio station - there was no alternative but dead air if I didn't deliver the ad messages between songs. I also took on editor roles for the student publications, providing more opportunities to speak in front of peer groups in person. With each opportunity, my voice shook less. It never quite stopped - it still happens occasionally - but I at least know I can get through it.

The big payoff (George VI's war announcement equivalent) was my ability to speak through a best man's speech at Scott's wedding. It was the first time I felt completely confident about speaking since junior high. That was one of my proudest moments and still is for many reasons. More special occasions have followed, including my own wedding and speaking at Gramps' funeral this past weekend. Of course, grad school and work have provided me good, consistent practice to get in front of people and talk as well.

Public speaking always ranks highly on "most feared" activity lists. I wonder what percentage of people get over that fear. For me, my desire to lead overcame my tendency to cower. In a position of leadership, whether king or mid-career manager, people need to listen. So I needed to learn again how to speak.