Background: For the first time, Auburn High School has a women's soccer (football for our non-American list-members) team. My daughter happens to play on the varsity, and I serve on the advisory board. As this is the inaugural season, we've had to organize everything from scratch. Games are played at the high school football stadium - and announcements, player introductions, and even play-by-play coverage is provided over the loudspeakers, and is also relayed to a local AM radio station for live broadcast. The football announcer also does the men's team soccer duties - but he wasn't willing to also take on the women's team. After much badgering still no one would step forward - so, with much trepidation, I allowed as how I'd give it a try.
Now, to be honest, as a professor in communication disorders and as a clinician, I make my living, at least in part, by speaking to groups, and in knowing how to deal with stuttering. I'm very comfortable, and confident, in my ability to manage my fluency. But even I had some concerns about how I'd deal with the nature of the speaking task of being a stadium announcer, especially when it came to the live, rapid fire play-by-play task ("Auburn throw-in taken by Sasha Musso, deep in Hoover territory. Musso throws to Snyder. Tracy Snyder sends a crossing pass to Andi Renton on the left side - Renton to McCrae Petrey who lofts it across the box to Kristen Molt - header by Molt - Ohhhh! great diving save by the Hoover High Goalkeeper, Jennifer Caitlett-Jones")
We all know about all kinds of communication pressures that affect us, and the "number" that they can do on our fluency. I was facing a formidable number of them, and some of my normal fluency management strategies such as preparing a script for what I was going to say, rehearsing it, writing in cues/notes to keep me on track with fluency, etc., just weren't going to work in this situation. It had to be live and extemporaneous. I was especially concerned that the play-by-play requirements would quickly increase my speaking rate (a natural tendency of mine that can easily get me into trouble) to an inappropriate level. And then there was pressure from my daughter - she didn't want me doing this! No way! - not because of stuttering, but out of fear that I'd say "something corny and/or stupid" in front of her friends and classmates that would forever psychologically scar her (any parent of a teenager knows this concern, often voiced as "Mom, Dad, walk apart from me and act like you don't know me" as the three of you approach a public setting).
Anyway, the first game was yesterday. I had planned, I had strategized, but, I could feel those butterflies starting to do dive bombing runs in my stomach as I drove to the stadium. There was a brief image in my mind that people ought to be calling out "dead man walking" as I climbed the steps. As I stood in the pressbox, arranging my notes, I briefly thought about how a stroke or heart attack, if it would hit at this very instant, might not be too bad. What ever possessed me to think that I could do this?! Breathe deep, Lar - you can do this man, you can do this. I looked out - great turnout for the first game ever - about 2000 fans in the stands - oh good, just what I REALLY needed. The engineer gave me the signal that we were "on air in 15 seconds, in ten, nine, eight, seven . . . (quick flashback to childhood - I want my MOMMY - get me out of here!!!), three, two, and my finger seems to hang forever in midair, poised over the microphone button . . a look of panic seems to cross the engineer's face as he stares at me, my finger remaining hanging just above the button as the pounding beat of "are you ready for this" (mental response: Hell no, I'm not!) that the station uses as intro music dies out and the sound of "dead air" fills my headphones - He's reaching for a tape (I know he's thinking "better go to commercial, this idiot's lost it, he's frozen") . . . one last neural surge, the finger moves, the button goes down, and . . . Ladies and Gentlemen, Auburn High students, and our guests today, welcome to Duck Samford Stadium (hear my own voice echoing back from across the field - cool - kind of like a quadruple DAF- and it sounds good!).
I did it!!! It starts out okay, I'm doing what I know to do with my speech, feel that vibration, open up those pipes, watch your pace. Its now time for player introductions, still going good, feel like I can start to have some fun . . . "wearing jersey number 8, a sophomore, playing midfield . . . (all right Larry, loud, & draw it out, work it baby, work it!) AAAAWWWEEESSSOOOMMMME EEERRRIINN LLOOCCYY!" (oh yeah!!!). I can hear the fans cheering, they love it. I find a good speaking pace for the play by play (you know what you need to do, Larry, don't get stupid), my two spotters (calling out the name of the player with the ball to me so that I can keep my eyes on the field) are more disfluent than I am.
It went great, I'm jazzed! can't wait till next game! One more small step crossed. Never done anything like that before, and most people (i. e., normal speakers) would never dream of doing it - yeah, not too bad for a stutterer. Tell ESPN I'm available!
Larry Molt, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org