I was beyond relieved. I was the only stutterer in my 7th grade English class. Maybe in my whole school. After the class was given the assignment of an oral book report, my empathetic teacher pulled me aside to tell me that I could deliver my book report in written form. I thanked her profusely as I was eager to avoid the humiliating experience of struggling to express myself in front of the whole class.
I went home that afternoon happy and relaxed and told my dad the good news. He did not share in my joy. “No Larry, that’s not how we do things.” he said. He told me to go into class the next day and tell my teacher I would give the oral book report, just like everyone else. He wanted me to get used to speaking in front of a group. He knew it would be unpleasant, and he also knew this was a necessary part of my becoming the person he wanted me to be. I told him I would. I never did. I turned in the written book report.
I think back to that 7th grade experience with shame and regret. Today, I enjoy public speaking, and I do it quite often. I am still a stutterer, and I still get nervous, but I find the benefits of public speaking far outweigh the fear and trepidation.
After giving a speech, people often tell me I am brave. I don’t feel that way. I only want to be successful and grow in my career, just as anyone else would want to do. I work very hard to be fluent in my speech, but even more than that, I want my message to be clear and succinct. If appropriate to the situation, I like to be funny. There are few things quite as wonderful as making a group of people laugh.
I think I am a pretty good public speaker. I work hard at it, and I have done my best to learn techniques that will help me be effective. I have learned how to be a good speaker from the people in my life. My father Ron Glickman (also a stutterer), has spent his life as a business owner, consultant and a volunteer community leader. He leads boards, speaks to large groups and has even been interviewed on television. My brother Rabbi Mark Glickman (also a stutterer), teaches and sermonizes to groups on almost a weekly basis with passion and humor. My younger brother Jim Glickman, though not a stutterer (yes, we do hold it against him) is a successful, charismatic business leader who communicates clearly and effectively. My wife Dr. Lynn Glickman is one of the most poised and powerful public speakers I have ever seen.
Then there are my friends Eliot Shapiro and Eric Schor, co-founders of EMS Communications which, as their tag line states, works to “rid the world of boring presentations, one speaker at a time.” Several years ago, I came to them asking to please help me become a better public speaker. Though this may have seemed like an impossible task, they dove right in as the good friends and consummate professionals they are. Their training was challenging, enlightening and fun. I learned a lot.
Much of what they taught me, and all the people they work with, is perfectly summed up in their blog post “The Fundamentals of Public Speaking.” The list below is theirs. The commentary is mine.
- Practice: Practice a lot. Practice excessively. Practice, practice, practice. Know your speech inside and out. Depending on its length, maybe even try to memorize your speech. The more you practice, the more you know, the more comfortable you will be.
- Fluctuate Voice: Don’t be the monotone speaker. Don’t be the speaker with a cadence that repeats over and over again like the lines of a song. Keep people engaged and awake. Be the speaker you would want to hear.
- Move around the room: Though you don’t want to be constantly darting around the stage from side to side, you also don’t want to be standing firmly in one place. It can often depend on the nature of the presentation you are giving, but I like to spend time one side of the room, then on the other side of the room. I also like to walk from the front into the middle of the room. I get closer to people that way, and they are more engaged in my talk as a result.
- Eye contact: As you move around the room, connect with people by looking at them. In the eye. Not at their feet, not at the back of the room. People will connect more with what you have to say when you look directly at them.
- Breathe: You are going to rush through your talk, I promise you. But fight the urge. Take pauses. Breathe. That space you provide will bring people in. Slow down. I was once advised to speak along with the newscaster on TV. I was amazed at how slowly they speak. Take your time. Breathe.
- Laugh: Have fun during your talk. If you are having fun, your audience will have fun. Be serious when you need to be serious, but otherwise feel free to bring in some humor. Tell some jokes. Encourage your audience to laugh with you. The levity will create community and trust.
- Be confident: You are not in front of these people by mistake. You have important information to share, but if you don’t convey a sense of confidence and knowledge, nobody will connect with what you have to say.
- Be nervous: I’m always nervous before I give a public speech. I’m not nervous because I’m afraid I might stutter. I’m pretty sure I will. I’m nervous because I have most likely worked hard to prepare for the speech I am about to give. It’s important and I want to do well. It’s OK to be a little nervous, but work through it, and let your nervousness be outshined by your confidence.
In April 2018, I gave a speech in front of 2,000 people. Watching the speech now, I cringe every time I get stuck on a word. Notice how I try to stick my hands in my pocket at one point? Clunky. I tried to fit too much into the five minute time frame, and I am speaking too fast. Overall though, I’m pretty happy with the results. Do I look confident? Good…because I was pretty nervous, and I would desperately love to give this speech just one more try.
It wasn’t until decades later that I confessed to my father I never gave the speech I promised him I would give in the 7th grade. He was disappointed in my revelation. I don’t blame him.
I don’t embrace public speaking today out of a sense of guilt, or to make up to my dad for lying to him 40 years ago. I embrace public speaking because I have learned to enjoy public speaking. The reward is not getting to the end of the speech, it’s not even the applause afterwards. The reward is how, through learning to be an effective public speaker, I have become a better networker, a better leader and more successful in my work.
I am sorry for lying about my book report, Dad. I promise, I won’t let it happen again.