About the presenter: Russ Hicks has stuttered significantly all his life. He lives in Dallas, Texas, and joined the National Stuttering Association in 1985 and Toastmasters in 1988. He has had great success in Toastmasters, winning the Southwestern United States Regional Humorous Speech Contest in 1996, and is currently a DTM, a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest rank in Toastmasters International. He founded the Callier Communicators Toastmasters Club in Dallas, the first Toastmasters club in the world devoted exclusively to people who stutter. He is a past president of the Dallas Chapter of the NSA. Russ was the NSA national Member of the Year in 2000 and served as a webmaster for the national NSA website. He has a personal home page at www.russhicks.com.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

What Are You Afraid Of?

by Russ Hicks
from Texas, USA

Snakes. Heights. Public speaking. Spiders. Death. The boogey man. Tight, closed spaces. What scares you the most? If you're like the vast majority of people, your number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Jerry Seinfeld said, "If that's true, it stands to reason that if you're giving a eulogy at a funeral, you're in worse shape than the guy in the box!" Ironic, isn't it?

And that's a shame. We as people in the stuttering community (either as people who stutter, professional SLPs or student SLPs) can provide a VERY valuable service by educating people about stuttering. And while you're doing that, you can do yourself a world of good too! It's a win-win situation.

If I wanted to give a piano concert at Carnegie Hall, the first thing I would have to do is to take piano lessons. "Chopsticks" simply won't do (even though I'm pretty good at that). Likewise if I want to do any form of public speaking, the first thing I have to do is to learn how. And without a doubt Toastmasters, whose membership is over 200,000 people worldwide, is the best organization in the world to learn how to speak in public. See www.toastmasters.org for more details.

Is it scary when you first start out? For most people, yes. I thought I was going to die when I got up in front of the club for the first time. But amazingly enough I didn't. Matter of fact people said they were actually inspired by me facing my worst fear up in front of them. If I could do it, so could they. Inspiring? Me? Ha, ha, ha! Go figure. But that's really what they said. They also told me to loosen my tight grip on the lectern. Ah ha! That's why my fingers were so sore! But no negative comments on my stuttering at all. They were actually interested in what I had to say. I'll never forget that.

I was forced almost at gunpoint to join Toastmasters in 1988 - which is a story for another time. But I learned very quickly that Toastmasters is all about COMMUNICATION, not fluency. And the key word in Toastmasters is FUN! You learn how to communicate effectively while you have FUN. It's full of people who are just as scared of public speaking as you are. And yes, fluent people are scared too. Sometimes even more than you are. That realization came as a real shock to me. Hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true.

Once you get started and begin having fun at a Toastmaster meeting, you'll begin to understand what's happening. It took about six months for that to happen to me. And it happened in three distinct steps...

  1. After my first speech, I learned it wasn't fatal. I was amazed.

  2. From what people told me, they said I was a good speaker, interesting, inspiring, and had a good sense of humor. They enjoyed hearing me speak. I almost refused to believe them at first, but they were insistent and very, very consistent. Hmmm... Maybe they were right... Is that possible?

  3. After about my seventh speech I began to realize I was actually having FUN doing this! This was perhaps my most unexpected realization. Me? Having FUN public speaking? No way! But WAY! It was an amazing realization.

Once I realized it wasn't fatal and that I was fairly decent at it and really enjoyed it, things really began to happen. I talked to my own club about stuttering (among other things), then I talked to other clubs, then different organizations outside of Toastmasters like Lions and Rotary clubs, then schools and university classes of student SLPs. And the more I spoke, the more fun I had. I even got a paid gig to talk to the American Auctioneers Auxiliary once. What a blast! I regularly give workshops at the National Stuttering Association national conferences and was even a keynote speaker there once - along with then Senator Joe Biden who is a beyond-amazing speaker!

I've won (and lost) many Toastmaster speaking contests. I am currently a club coach in my home district and am asked to judge speaking contests every year. I am extremely well known in north Texas, and because of what I've done within both the NSA and Toastmasters, my home district is the most stuttering-literate Toastmaster district in the world. And I count several World Champion Speakers and Past Presidents of Toastmasters International as personal friends of mine. Hard to believe isn't it?

By speaking to university classes of student SLPs (probably among the most valuable groups I talk to), I provide them with an experience they simply can NOT get from textbooks. They NEED to hear a person who really stutters. It's an integral part of their education.

So yes, I've helped educate a boatload of people about stuttering. But there are FLEETS of boats still out there waiting to hear from us.

"But wait! There's more!" Not only do we do good work educating people about stuttering, we do amazing things for OURSELVES as well. I can't begin to tell you how much my own self-confidence has grown since I joined Toastmasters many years ago. It's a real rush to stand up in front of a bunch of people and know that you're good, and know that what you say is valuable and will be very much appreciated by your audience. Self-confidence has powerful effects not only on you, but on other people as well. A lot of people even say that self-confidence adds to your sex appeal! Of course I wouldn't know about that... Ha, ha, ha!

So what are you waiting for? The world needs to hear from you! Join Toastmasters and start one of the most valuable and meaningful journeys of your life. And have FUN doing it! It's the best win-win situation I know of. Try it, you'll like it!

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

DATE SUBMITTED: August 31, 2010
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