Famous Public Speakers Who Overcame Their Stuttering
“People laughed at me,” says Bishop TD Jakes, reflecting on his early days as a travelling preacher, “I looked like a fool, I wore my clothes out and my suit was falling off me. I couldn’t send it to the dry cleaners so I had to wash it in the washing machine. I had holes in my shoes so I couldn’t kneel down and pray. I looked like an old raggedy country preacher. They said that boy has lost his mind he’ll never be anything, he stutters and he has a lisp, he’ll never be a preacher.”
But he pressed on. Today he commands the attention of tens of millions of people and is one of the foremost religious leaders in the world. Who has heard a more powerful speaker than him? At the time his church had no electricity so all his sermons were conducted during the day, whatever he made on the road he would bring back to the offering to make payroll. He had a terrible stammer and a lisp that can still be heard today.
As Vice President during the Obama Administration’s eight-year tenure it may come as a surprise that Biden actually suffered from a speech impediment as a child. In fact, it was so severe that in a letter to himself he wrote:
“Dear Joe, You’re only 12. Your stutter is debilitating. It embarrasses you and the bullies are vicious.”
The young Biden decided to overcome his speech impediment. Although he would suffer from it well into his 20s, he developed a habitual routine which included reading out loud and reciting poetry in front of a mirror.
In law school, he became friends with another stutterer and the two worked together on their speech. Although he may get stuck on a word or two here and there, no one associates Biden with stuttering today.
Steve Harvey was ridiculed by his 6th grade teacher after he said in class that he wanted to be on TV. So every Christmas, he makes sure to send her a TV just to remind her; “that little boy with the stuttering problem is on TV, seven days a week”.
As an attempt to cure his problem he attended several classes, was given drills and words to stay away from which he said did not help.
A Deli counterman at his local neighbourhood store helped him work on it when he advised him that before he says anything, he should first say it to himself at least three times. He advised him to take his time, and to speak slowly on the exhale. This gradualy helped him overcome his impediment. Today you would never say he ever had a shuttering problem.
“Stuttering is all up here,” he says, pointing at his head. “What makes you stutter is the anticipation that you’re going to stutter. To solve it you should not respond to anybody until you’ve said the answer to yourself at least three times. Secondly you should practice talking in front of the mirror by yourself regularly, then repeat the routine with someone standing behind you, you need to work through the anxiety and focus on yourself.”
Churchill also had to overcome a bad stutter in his career, many journalists often remarked on his impediment, with one going so far as saying;
“Mr. Churchill is more often fighting himself than his enemies.”
He once consulted a speech therapist who advised him that he had no psychological issues but that he had a unique ligament attached to his tongue which prevented him from speaking normally. She advised him that it was possible to train his speech, but it would take alot of work and practice.
She advised him to practice tongue twisters and rehearse his diction by carefully repeating difficult words and phrases, by doing this, he was able to largely overcome the speech impediment, although it did not entirely go away, speaking slowly also helped.
Demosthenes of ancient Greece also had a speech impediment and was known in the ancient world as the “Great Stammering Orator”. He was born into a wealthy family but became orphaned at age seven, the trustees of his inheritance were two relatives and a trusted family friend who were charged with guarding his family wealth until he turned sixteen. They unfortunately squandered it so that by the time he came of age there was nothing left for him.
He thus had to make his own way in the world and turned to self learning, he became a voracious reader, and longed to be an influential figure like the idols he looked up to. He therefore educated himself on the subjects of politics, philosophy and theology and became one of the foremost educated young men of his time. He carefully studied the speeches of great orators and poets, hoping to emulate them.
But when he delivered his first public speech, it was a fiasco. He had a terrible stammer and his words were incoherent, he was booed off the platform and was ridiculed for days. He viewed the criticism as a challenge to his character and decided to fight against these limitations.
He set a strict regimen for himself by first shaving his head — a thing that was frowned upon — for the sole purpose of staying indoors to work on his goal.
His daily routine included putting pebbles in his mouth and a knife between his teeth and reciting his speeches out loud to force himself to speak without stammering. On some occasions he would go to the beach and speak as loudly as he could with one breath of air.
After many seasons of this routine he eventually mastered eloquence and overcame his stammer. His public speeches gained him such popularity that he became renowned in the town and actively participated in the legal and political debates of the day. It is said that his speeches were attended by thousands at a time. Not only did he become a good orator, he also became an excellent writer as well.