Updated: Mar 18
I was recently the keynote speaker at a gala fundraiser in Tampa, Florida for Pepin Academies, a school for young people with learning differences. I have given speeches before, but until this trip I had never been the “keynote” speaker. I was very nervous. I ended up learning a lot from this speaking engagement, though.
In the weeks leading up to the event, when I was practicing my speech, I didn't feel like there was much to be nervous about. Unfortunately for us dyslexics, we are always going to stumble a little bit when we're reading, even though I also notice that people who aren’t dyslexic stumble, too.
With a few days left before the event, I finally decided to read my speech out loud to my co-worker. I really didn’t want to, but I did it anyway, because I think you learn so much from facing down your demons and doing things you don’t want to.
That went OK. Then he asked me to read my speech out loud in front of two people. I refused to do it. Looking back, I kind of wished I did. But at the same time, I resisted because I didn’t think I needed so much rehearsing.
So instead of reading it in front of two people, I told my co-worker that I would read it in front of a mirror. This helped tremendously. Finally, I read my speech to a person who always has given me more confidence than anyone else: my girlfriend. She loved it.
The day before the gala, I flew to Florida and headed to the venue. I stood onstage to see what it would be like. As I practiced my speech, I knew the one thing I needed to do was to slow down as I was speaking. I tend to speak too fast when I speak in front of an audience, so I knew I had to focus.
On the night of the gala, I watched the other speakers who went first, waiting for it to be my turn. I studied how they delivered their speeches, and watching them made me feel better. However, when the time finally came for me to speak, I could barely swallow.
In a way, this was a good thing. My difficulty swallowing actually made me speak slowly!
I learned something else as I was speaking: when you slow down, people pay attention. I noticed, but didn’t register it right away, that the audience of 300 people were silent as I spoke.
Three hundred people went silent listening to me.
I got a standing ovation.