It was the summer of 2008 when I received that first email from Rick Calvert. He was working to put together a Blogging for SEO panel at the second-ever Blogworld. Lee Odden had been tasked with casting it and, somehow, my name came up as a possible speaker. It wasn’t the first time I had ever been asked to speak at an industry conference, but it was the first conference where I wanted to say yes. And that presented a problem.
Or, more accurately, it presented a meltdown. Because at that point in my career no one knew that I stuttered.
My initial reaction was that I wanted to do it. That this was the right opportunity and the right audience. But before I could agree to the panel, I felt it was only right to let both Rick and Lee know about my speech difficulties and to make sure they were comfortable with it. To their credit, neither one of them blinked.
Unfortunately, I did.
I told them I wanted to think it over.
And I really did think it over. I consulted with close friends and colleagues and asked for their advice. Most told me to go for it. That I’d be great. That people could benefit from what I had to share. Two people told me to let it pass. That I wasn’t ready. That I needed to start smaller. That they didn’t think I was ready for the comments that would surely come about the girl who can’t talk.
And because it’s easier to listen to the people who confirm your fears than those who challenge you to break them, I chose not to speak.
Three years later, I still haven’t.
It’s assumed that I haven’t spoken because I’m embarrassed. Or ashamed. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For me, being ashamed of the voice I was given, something that is so a part of me and that has shaped me, would be a waste of my time. It would also be majorly ridiculous.
My “fear” of speaking was and always has been concern for the audience. As I discussed in a podcast interview a few months ago, I’ve chosen not to speak because I’ve never wanted to be the one that takes away from a conference. I recognize that people are there to learn about marketing or SEO or blogging, they’re not there to be educated about stuttering. My fear was that someone would spend thousands of dollars to attend a conference and then feel disappointed if they weren’t able to comprehend the information I was giving or if it took me longer to say it than it would someone else. So I’ve always opted to step aside, to lets others share, and to save my thoughts for the blog.
But that doesn’t feel right anymore. It doesn’t feel right to keep missing opportunities.
And when I say that, I don’t mean opportunities to become an “expert” or a “leader” or whatever the cool kids are trying to become these days. I’m missing opportunities to connect with people and to do what I love to do more than anything – to tell stories. To start conversations. And to do it with the folks that are asking me to on sites like Twitter or Facebook or at the shows I’ve previously always turned down.
So I’ve made the decision to speak.
Do I have panic attacks just thinking about it? Yes.
Do I know that there will be loud voices angry that I’ve been put on that stage? Yes.
But fear is a pretty shitty reason for not becoming what you could be. And it’s hard to be too scared when you have people like Rick Calvert in your corner. Or Ric Dragon. Or Shane Ketterman. Or any of the people who have been monumental in pushing me toward this decision (and there have been many of you).
In a few months things will come full circle when I speak at BlogWorld on the Content Creation track and then come home to immediately take the stage and present at TedxAlbany. I wish I could tell you that when I present at BlogWorld my stutter will be gone and that I will hit it out of the park. That the audience will leave in tears amazed at my strength and true brilliance. That it will be some kind of defining moment for everyone and that Disney will make a movie about my glorious triumph (I’ve always wanted to be a princess!).
But that’s probably not what’s going to happen.
Because unlike what The King’s Speech tried to tell you, in real life stutterers don’t master their speech in time for the war-time speech. They simply choose to take control of it. It’s my hope that when I speak at BlogWorld and TedxAlbany to share the stories that I have prepared that you’ll find value in them, and that you’ll find that my unique struggles make me more qualified to talk about voice, not less. That’ll you’ll see the content, not the struggle. But if you don’t and if you’d prefer to hear from someone who speaks more fluent, that’s fine too and I completely understand. I don’t mind chatting with the people who do want to listen, regardless of how small that number may be.
I’m sure as both BlogWorld and TedxAlbany come closer I’ll have a lot more to say and share on this topic but the above is a start.
I’m speaking now because I want to start telling stories instead of just writing about them. So that’s what I’m going to do.