Stuttering in College Part 7

Today’s story comes from senior year. This is when things had really taken off for me in college — I had made it to editor in chief of the newspaper. So it turns out that despite not having read anything about “setting goals, visualizing success or having a positive outlook,” I managed to set a goal freshman year and attain it. Confidence-wise, this was huge — and something I’ve used a lot since.

At some point during the year, I got a call from the US Department of Education. They were having a conference in downtown Pittsburgh, and wondered if I could sit on a panel and talk about alcohol and college kids. Well, if this was the thing that university paper editors did, well, let’s do it, then!

Since I was pretty busy, I didn’t look into what the conference was all about, and who else would be there. I don’t remember the exact details of what the talk was about, but I remember the logistics of it. Naturally since I was a college student, I put off writing the speech until the last minute. Of course since I didn’t drink, I also didn’t know what to say about alcohol and college kids. So two days before it was due, I started asking my friends at the office. There are only two key things that I remember learning from my friends that I incorporated into this speech. The first is that if your friend drinks himself silly and gets hurt badly, this has no affect on your own drinking. You might pause to consider it, but you’ll still carry on. The other is that if colleges think they can stop underage drinking, they’re mistaken. That has to start way before, during the early years of high school.

Anyway, I typed up the speech at the office, and left it there on the computer. For whatever reason, I thought I’d go in the morning, print it out, and then head downtown. Cruelly, the conference was on a Sunday morning. So of course I got up late. And drove up to the office in a huge hurry, printed it out, and headed downtown. I think I actually woke up about 10 minutes before I was to give the speech. Who makes a college kid go downtown early on a Sunday morning?

I parked up downtown and ran over to the hotel. I found the room, and got up on the little stage at the table. There were three of us, I think. Someone else was already talking. I don’t recall if I had to sit or stand to give the speech. Anyway, soon it was my turn, so I looked at my page and opened my mouth.

If there were 500 words on the page, I stuttered on 600 of them. Seriously, it was a total train wreck. I tried to look up once in a while. I saw a smiling face or two, but otherwise a lot of bored looks. I’m sure the audience members probably just thought that I was super-nervous. I mean, hey, here’s a college-kid giving a speech in front of a bunch of strangers. Everybody is afraid of public speaking, right? It was really, really quiet in there. And here I was, trying to drone on. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t get any kind of rhythm going. I was like a kite dragging along the ground.

I definitely didn’t take the prep work seriously enough. I also severely underestimated my stutter. I hadn’t given a speech or done any public speaking like that while in college. I probably thought I’d be ok since I had been doing the undergraduate teaching assistant thing. But that was more spontaneous. Reading from a script was awful.

What I should have done is written the speech a few weeks before and practiced the hell out of it in front of friends. Gained some confidence. Gained some insight. And really get some ownership of the material. But no. I just winged it, and it was disastrous.

After the speech was over, I just sort of sat there, trying to disappear. There was the rest of the conference to check out, but I sheepishly had a little snack and then got back in the car and went home. I never mentioned it to any of my friends.


  1. Geraint Isitt says:

    Been there, although this even sounds much worse than mine. At least in your college years, most people are not going to snicker at you like in high school. That is tough.

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