The Very Successful Salesperson Who Stuttered

The very last career I considered as a young person was sales. From as early as I can remember until one magnificent day when I was 22 years old I stuttered. The only “why some people stutter” theory I’ve found that seems most plausible: at some point usually really in life we received a lot of stern criticism, from a stern intimendating parent about the way we talked — your not pronouncing that correctly — your talking too fast — quit interrupting. The result is that we become so conscious of the sound of our own voice (without realizing it) that something short circuits and we stutter.

My father had one of those jobs that caused our family to move frequently. I attended 10 different schools before I was graduated from high school. I hated that first day in a new school. Knowing I would be called on to either read or answer a question that would put the spotlight of my speech deficiency, producing a choirs of giggles and mimics from the many would be comics in the class.

Compounded by the fact that I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t possess any other compensating virtues like gifted athletic ability, good looks, “A” student status or any other quality I hoped would be viewed as a compensating “in your face, so there” virtue.

I didn’t know of any speech therapist who has achieve acclaim on how to cure stuttering. Yet, I felt there must be an answer as it seemed as if my teeth, tongue and mouth where no different than others who did not stutter. Plus I had more street smarts than the average frog who crawled out of the pond. I was determined to find a cure even after years without success. I tried to mask my insecurity in some of the dumbest ways.

I can laugh at some of the nightmarish moments now, but at the time I felt I was doomed to a life being the brunt of other peoples jokes.

Then the magic moment occurred when everything seemed to change in an instant. I was working as a system analysis for a business equipment company. One evening after work I joined some of my coworkers at a local watering hole where guys who wore suits went after work and girls who wanted to meet guys who wore suits to work showed up.

One of my co-workers called me over to join a small group of people and said, “Michael, tell your Irish story”. I had a great aunt who favored me. She always called me to her side and gave me a wonderful loving embrace. She taught me the most wonderful lessons on Irish Chivalry, Civility and told me some wonderful Irish tales. My great aunt Mary was a second-generation Irish immigrant who preferred to hang on the Irish brogue rather than speak the King’s English. I loved to listen to her.

As I began to share one of my great-aunt Mary’s favorite stories a cute, to the point of beautiful, girl joined the circle. Normally, I wouldn’t have been able to speak in the presence of such an angel, but I went through the entire lengthy story in me best Irish brogue without stuttering or stammering once.

It was then that I had the great epiphany that ended the years of painful experience.

The Irish brogue was not the sound of my own voice in it’s normal tone. The brogue requires a bit of rhythm, sentences are spoken in short soft phrases frequently accenting the last word or syllable. It was especially effective, I believe, because I thought it was fun to mimic the soul of older 1st and 2nd generation Irish characters in my great aunt Mary’s neighborhood.

I spoke in the Irish brogue of the next 3 years — and had fun doing it. In the latter part of my career I have been ask to addressed audiences of +500 people. Every now and then I will feel a word jam forming. No matter, I quickly say, “As they would say in Ireland….” (using my best Irish brogue‚ only takes a few comments using the wonderful rhythm and the word jams disappear)

There are 2 other times that someone who stutters — doesn’t stutter; 1. When they sing, 2. When they whisper. Both are not the sound and / or the same rhythm of your own voice in it’s normal tone

If I might suggest — Brad Bitt stared in a movie called “The Devil’s Own”. Critics acclaimed Brad Pitt’s performance saying no one had mastered the Irish brogue as well as Brad Pitt had in that movie. So watch the movie and if you like Brad Pitt try to mimic him and try to be his character in both speech and swagger — have fun with it. If the Irish brogue or Brad Pitt doesn’t seem like a lot of fun, then pick any accent and a character you like then apply the principle. It’s very important to have fun with it.

My younger brother wanted me to write a book on “How I Beat Stuttering”. I Googled “stuttering” and saw over 50 pages of ads on the subject. That is a lot of noise on the subject, not sure how to have enough voice to be heard above all that noise. So Tommy this will have to do.

The silver lining of so many years as the new kid who stuttered was that I developed a great deal of empathy for others. I believe the empathy helps me consider the needs of potential clients, employees and students and put their needs ahead of mine. The only way a salesperson, manager or teacher can outperform the expectations of others is to fully grasp their needs and provide real solutions that perform on their true merits, without exaggeration.

It’s worked for me.