In my late teens, I weighed 45kgs (around 100pounds) and felt like I’d get blown away with the slightest gust of wind. My stutter was wreaking havoc on me at that age and my confidence was always broken.
My confidence was so low the thought of speaking to someone would cripple me and I would struggle to look people in the eye; worst still, speaking publicly would make me want to vomit.
When I was 24 I travelled home to Kenya for a holiday and decided to try out the gym. My first few sessions were terrible! I had no idea how any of the machines operated, I felt I didn’t belong, and my body hurt so much I didn’t want to return – but something inside me told me to keep going. 4 weeks later I’d put on weight (weighing a massive 55kgs) and returned to Australia with a new focus – training. For the last 16 years I have fine-tuned my training so much that it’s had an enormous impact on my public speaking ability. Here’s how:
Training consistently for nearly 2 decades has taught me to set habits and routines. You can’t achieve results at the gym without good habits, a clean diet and a solid routine; training made me feel so good that it quickly became a non-negotiable lifestyle item, and because of this, I started applying similar habits to working on my stutter, thinking that “If I could control it, how good would it make me feel?” For example:
If I spend one hour/day, 6 days/week training, I can spend the same time working on my stutter. If I push myself to lift heavier and strengthen my muscles, I can push myself to focus on controlling my words. The key to this is repetition – to achieve results at the gym, you need patience and consistency – and so I applied the same philosophy to my fluency, repeating the process every day. Training and controlling my stutter was (and still is) really difficult so the next challenge was to work on my mindset.
When I’m at the gym and holding 50kg dumbbells on each arm, preparing myself for a chest press – my mind questions whether it’s a good decision. A 50kg dumbbell makes your arm tremble and wrists bend – so I strap these up; I then tell myself that my body can cope with the stress and repeat the message, convincing my mind that I can do it. When my mind feels exhausted, I remind myself my body still has fuel to burn. I have learned to apply the same mindset to speaking – when I think I can’t face an audience or I sense a nasty stutter coming my way, I reframe my thinking from, “I can’t do this” to “I know exactly how to deal with this” and over years of repeating this philosophy, I have become a very determined person.
Having a determined spirit is exactly what I needed to build my reputation in public speaking. Every time I step into the gym my thinking is, “I’ll be stronger, faster and better than last time” and I never make excuses. When I’m there, I focus on my training. Similarly, I knew I had to be aggressive and determined if Chatterbox was going to survive and so, each and every networking event, presentation, keynote and workshop is like a gym session. I know I can be more articulate, speak better and facilitate better. To do this, I focus on myself, not on what others are doing, and by focussing on myself I can better control my fear.
I still feel the fear of public speaking and with the trajectory Chatterbox has been on, this fear is amplified. I feel there is an expectation of me to be a great speaker whenever I’m front of an audience and, similarly, there is an expectation to be stronger and better whenever I step into the gym. To handle this, I remind myself that I train for me – nobody else. Sometimes I have bad days, and I can’t lift as much or run as fast as I’d like to. I also have bad days on stage where my stutter isn’t well controlled – and whilst speaking isn’t about me (it’s about the audience, I tell myself that just like the gym, bad days happen.
The habits I have formed in the gym have been critical to the habits I have formed professionally which, in turn, have enabled me to pursue a unique and unexpected career. Consistency, discipline and focus are essential training characteristics, and through repetition it’s become an integral part of who I am.
Today I weigh 82kgs. My stutter sometimes still wreaks havoc, however now it doesn’t affect my confidence and I don’t feel like I’ll get blown away. Instead, I puff my chest out whenever I do stutter and remember that my body and mind is a fine-tuned machine ready to cope with the stresses of public speaking. If it wasn’t for the gym, I would never have developed this ability to confidently speak in public.