Winston Churchill as a child had a slightly cleft palate and spoke with a lisp. There is some debate about whether he also developed a stutter, but in the 1920s and 1930s, before audio reports were common, reporters often wrote about his stutter as “severe,” even “agonizing.” A speech specialist told him there was nothing physically wrong with him and he could overcome the stutter with practice. He began practicing and eventually found he could deliver a speech that audiences could understand, and his resulting confidence helped him overcome the stutter. But he took no chances and had special dentures that made speaking more comfortable. He also composed his speeches to avoid the kinds of speaking he found difficult and rehearsed responses to all possible objections to anything he said. With such perseverance, he delivered some of the most famous speeches in English. As far as presentation skills go, he used such original and powerful language that he never needed PowerPoint.

James Earl Jones stammered so badly that as a child, he gave up speaking at all except to close family members and the animals on the farm where he grew up. He managed to overcome his stutter with the help of a teacher, who challenged his authorship of a poem and required him to read one of his poems every day in front of the class as proof he’d written them. Eventually he developed one of the most recognizable and most highly compensated voices in the English-speaking world. There isn’t much information out there about his presentation skills, but he has two Tony Awards for stage acting, and I am certain he could deliver even the most high-stakes presentation perfectly.

The Stuttering Foundation promotes the stories of so many famous people who stutter you might almost think stuttering is an asset for those who aspire to public speaking. It is, in the way hardship is often an asset – by causing a person to work harder than everyone else in order to overcome it. What the stories of Winston Churchill and James Earl Jones have in common, besides the obstacles, is the desire to overcome a problem and a willingness to practice relentlessly. Rather than surrender and simply vanish into the crowd, these speakers took every opportunity to develop their talent. Each had the help of a wise coach, but each did the work for himself. Their stories show the value of practice in developing and honing a skill.

We don’t treat speech impediments or stuttering at Communispond, but we can teach you how to make the most of a public speaking opportunity, through planning and physical skills. That is what our Executive Presentation Skills® program is about. Speaking well is largely a combination of motor skills. Like any physical activity, it gets better with practice. If practice can turn a stutterer into a celebrated public speaker like James Earl Jones or Winston Churchill, think what it could do for you.

The more opportunities you give yourself to speak in public, the better you will become. Never refuse an opportunity to kick off a meeting, introduce a speaker, make your point at a seminar, or make use of your presentation skills in other ways. These opportunities build your confidence and your career. If you haven’t yet done so, consider participating in an Executive Presentation Skills® class, so you’ll be ready when a speaking opportunity arises.


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