How to be a Confident Speaker with a Speech Disorder
Having a speech disorder—whether it’s a stutter, a slur, or a lisp—can make a presentation extremely frightening.
I should know. I’ve had a lisp for my entire life.
Though I’ve gone through years of therapy to correct it, I still have difficulties with the letters S and Z. I have always been very self-conscious of it. When speaking in public, I’m afraid of how it will affect my message.
I understand that my lisp isn’t going to magically disappear. I’ve accepted that. I’ve also decided that it won’t hold me back. I didn’t want to miss out on a wonderful opportunity just because I sound a little weird on certain sounds. Because of this decision, I’ve given speeches which include the classic best man speech, award acceptance speeches, and persuasive presentations helping people to change their lives.
In this article, I’ll share five tips for gaining confidence as a speaker when you have a speech disorder.
Famous People with Speech Disorders
I don’t want my speech disorder to prevent me from being successful, and neither should you! There are many famous people with speech disorders:
- Politicians with speech disorders:
- Winston Churchill
- Joe Biden
- King George VI
- Frank Wolf
- Actors with speech disorders:
- James Earl Jones
- Rowan Atkinson
- Samuel L Jackson
- Marilyn Monroe
- Emily Blunt
- Athletes with speech disorders:
- Ronda Rousey
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Bob Love
- Ken Venturi
Have you turned down great opportunities because you felt uncomfortable speaking in public? How many times have you missed out on being a part of a big event? Stop letting your speech disorder control your life.
Learning how to give great speeches can help with many facets of your life. You will be more comfortable pitching new ideas at work, giving important presentations, thriving in leadership roles, and interacting in social situations. Take the first step to a better life by learning to control your speech disorder and not let it affect your public speaking abilities.
5 Tips for gaining confidence when you have a speech disorder
Tip 1: Avoid difficult words.
When planning out my presentations, I purposely avoid words like “So” and “Simply” because of my lisp. People that stutter often will avoid words starting with M or W because they are difficult to not stutter on. Plan to avoid difficult words during the writing process; you will find practicing your speech much easier and help your speech have a natural flow.
There will be times when you must go head-to-head with a difficult word. The best approach is to practice that word several times—in the context of your speech. Practice will make proper pronounciation of that word part of your flow and help you focus on saying it correctly.
Tip 2: Make a joke.
Being comfortable with your speech disorder is only half the battle. Your audience will pick up on it very quickly too. If they see you are nervous about it, they will feel uncomfortable about it.
To overcome this, make your audience laugh (with appropriate humor). Don’t be self-critical, but self-deprecating. In my presentations, I tell about how I was once asked what country I was from and told I have a unique accent. This stimulates a laugh, and it demonstrates to the audience that I am comfortable with my lisp and they should be too.
An example of somebody who is successful at poking fun at his personal speech disorder is America’s Got Talent finalist Drew Lynch. He won over America’s heart by being confident of his stutter and making it part of his act.
Don’t attack your own disorder. If you talk about how you hate your stutter, or how your lisp makes you sound, even if you are trying to joke about it, it only makes your audience feels even more awkward. If you plan to use a joke, it needs to funny, but also show that you have accepted your speech disorder. If in doubt, tell the joke to a loved one and ask for their opinion.
Tip 3: Practice pushing through mistakes.
Making a mistake in a speech can throw any speaker off their groove, but for a person with a speech disorder, it can be crippling. Many speakers will repeat the word to prove they can say it correctly. This causes the entire rhythm of the presentation to fall apart and forces you into an awkward situation.
Once, while giving a speech about the effects of classical music, I said the word “symphonies”, but it sounded more like a snake saying the word “phonies.” I faltered, going back to correctly pronounce it, and lost my groove.
If you make a mistake, push through it! Your audience will understand what you meant to say and will be forced to keep up, quickly forgetting about the mistake. Don’t ever apologize for it as this draws undue attention and your audience will remember that instead of your message.
Tip 4: Plan a break.
The longer I speak, the heavier my lisp becomes. When possible, I plan a relevant video or audio clip to give my tongue the chance to rest. Along with giving you a moment to catch up mentally and physically, it also adds additional authority to your point. Make sure the clip is highly relevant to your speech and helps build your argument.
If you aren’t able to plan on a clip, have a bottle of water handy. It may feel awkward drinking in front of an audience, but it will give you a chance to rest and refocus. If you plan out when to take a drink, especially after a dramatic moment in your speech, that pause can drive your point home.
Tip 5: Don’t record yourself.
Some great speech givers record themselves so they can look back and critique themselves, yet if you struggle from a speech disorder, this will kill your confidence. Rather, practice in front of others, or record yourself and then send it to a friend for critique. That way, you can get helpful advice while keeping your confidence intact.
For several months, I had to do presentations through private YouTube videos and webinars. At first, I would record my speech and then watch the video for quality. Being extremely picky, I would end up re-recording it several times, wasting entire days until I felt it was perfect and lisp-free. I had a friend offer to watch the videos for me, and give real helpful feedback to improve my lisp and speech.
Delivering That Great Speech
While this article focuses on the delivery of your great speech, don’t forget about writing great content. If you have great points to deliver and have evidence to back it up, that is what people will remember, not your speech disorder. Be passionate about what you have to say, and if you have laid the proper groundwork, you will deliver a remarkable presentation.
What do you think?
Share your stories about speaking with a speech disorder or some other hurdle. How do you overcome your hurdles?