I remember the day so vividly -- September 6, 1966 -- my first day of third grade. After school, several of us eight year olds were riding our bikes in the neighborhood. All of a sudden, I heard the unmistakable sound of tires screeching on pavement.
I snapped my head to the right, just in time to see the inevitable. There was no way the car could stop in time. It hit me with such force that I was propelled like a small human missile into a nearby tree, where my head collided with a four-inch branch, cleanly snapping it off at its base. I then fell, like a bag of wet laundry, twelve feet to the pavement.
As a crowd gathered around my distorted and contorted body, someone ran to get my father who was off that day. My father, who was a firefighter, and the rescue squad arrived at about the same time. The three men worked quickly to get me stabilized, load me into the truck and rush me off to the hospital. They knew that minutes mattered.
In the emergency room, three doctors worked feverishly to assess my injuries. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with two broken legs, a broken arm, internal bleeding in one knee and severe internal bleeding in my gut. But it was the injuries to my head that worried them most.
Early that evening, my parents were told what they feared most. The doctors informed them about the severity of my injuries. As reality set in, they began to call local relatives who would want to say goodbye. Later that night, a priest quietly entered the room and administered my last rights.
Against all odds, I not only survived through the night but surprisingly progressed fairly rapidly. Even so, I was in the hospital for a while. Once released, I spent nine months in a wheelchair and on crutches. Sleeping on a bed proved to be too painful, so instead, I slept on a piece of lawn furniture. Fortunately, my father was a kind man and, on the cold nights, brought it into the house.
Being so young, it never occurred to me how lucky I was and how precious life is — that I was given a second chance. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I am to be here ... to have experienced life ... to have had the opportunity to be successful at many things, learning valuable lessons all along the way.
About two weeks into the fourth grade, I walked into my classroom and my teacher said "Go to room 101."
"Why?" I asked.
"You'll find out when you get there," she said. Off to room 101 I went.
I knocked on the door, and a woman responded, "Come in." Close the door and stand up straight," she continued. I did as I was told, still wondering why I was there. "Repeat after me," the woman instructed, "Slippery Sammy Serpent."
Stuttering, I tried but failed to get the tongue-twister out.
"Try it again," she encouraged, "Slippery Sammy Serpent."
"Th-th-thlippery Thammy Ther-Therpent," I managed.
"Say it again."
"Th-th-th ... Thlippery Th-thammy Therpent."
"Thlippery Th-th-thammy Th-ther ... Therpent."
"Has seven silly sisters," she added.
"Are you k-k-kidding me?"
"Try," she encouraged me.
"H-h-haths Theven Thilly Th-th-thisthers."
"Now put it all together," she said. "Slippery Sammy serpent has seven silly sisters."
What seemed like an eternity went on for a solid hour. Finally, I was allowed to go back to my classroom. Every Tuesday morning for the rest of the school year, I went to the "communications lab" and repeated, "Slippery Sammy Serpent has seven silly sisters" and other torturous tongue twisters. Oh, how I dreaded Tuesday mornings.
With that said (pardon the pun), my lisp began to be less noticeable. As for my stutter, my parents were told that, with time, it would go away, and to a large degree it did — still creeping up, however, in particular situations.
Having had to deal with these speech impediments, it's ironic that much of my professional life has included public speaking and presentations. From my time at Sony to being self-employed, speaking has been front and center.
Throughout the years, I have had the pleasure of delivering presentations for organizations, events, and companies in the 48 contiguous states, five countries and at sea. I have spoken to more than 40,000 people, with audiences ranging up to 2,000.
After spending so many years learning to avoid speaking in front of others, I had to build the confidence and skill to do so on a consistent basis. Along the way, I learned that there is much more to effective public speaking than just getting up and talking. It is an art, and as it is with most artistic endeavors, with some basic knowledge, dogged determination and repeated practice, just about anyone can become proficient at it. I'm proof.
"Why do you do what you do?" a colleague once asked.
"Because I like to help people," I quickly answered.
"Not good enough," he shot back, knowing that this was a superficial answer. He asked again, "Why do you do what you do?" It took me a while, but eventually I had an answer for him.
"Like many little boys," I started, "I wanted to grow up to be a firefighter. But it was more than just a boyhood infatuation for me. I wanted to be a firefighter because I wanted to be like my dad. You see, my father was a firefighter, and I grew up idolizing him, watching him dedicated his life to helping people — on and off the job."
"Not surprisingly," I continued, "as I grew older things changed. I no longer wanted to be a firefighter. But then again, some things stayed the same — I still wanted to be like my dad. I just had to find another way to help others."
"That's why I do what I do. That's why I have this passion for helping others be more successful in business — this passion that was ignited in me by a firefighter."
I am fortunate to have realized my dream — to be like my dad by helping others. You see, as a public speaking and presentation coach, I show professionals how to be calm, confident and comfortable as they deliver compelling presentations that engage, inspire and persuade. As a result, they turn a weakness into an strength and enjoy the level of success that they’ve envisioned. I am most thrilled to know that when I help them achieve their business goals, then ultimately they may also realize their own personal dreams.
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