by Steve Adubato, PhD
Recently, I saw the movie “The King’s Speech”, which featured the painful and often difficult to watch story of King George VI (when the film opens he is Prince Albert, Duke of York, known as “Bertie” and soon to be the future King) trying to overcome a powerful stammer and stuttering problem and his complex relationship with speech therapist Lionel Logue.
This story takes place mostly in the 1930s with Colin Firth playing King George VI who has an older brother destined for the King’s throne. That’s the way Bertie likes it, because while he may have lots of thoughts and things he wants to say, since childhood he has been stymied by his stammering problem, which has not only his siblings making fun of him, but his father, King at the time, also constantly berating him as the child struggles.
There are countless people with speech impediments—things that get in the way of communicating what they are feeling, which stops them from achieving, connecting and making a meaningful professional contribution to the world.
In the case of King George VI, the stakes were much higher with England on the brink of war and in desperate need of a strong leader. His older brother wound up being thrown off the throne for a variety of reasons, and Bertie was thrust into the top job whether he liked it or not. In the movie, Colin Firth did an amazing job displaying the struggle to get out a simple sentence under intense pressure. But as I listened to the audio tapes of King George VI, his speech impediment was actually much worse.
Historical records indicate that it was only through hard work, constant practice, and the coaching of Lionel Logue that over time the King was able to say and do what he needed to at this critical time in world history. The other part of the story, which is historically accurate, is that the King’s wife Elizabeth consistently encouraged him to seek help and to believe in himself. We all need a strong support system.
But beyond the cinematic significance of this movie, there is a powerful communication message for all of us, particularly those who struggle with speech impediments and insecurities that get in the way of communicating effectively. I work with people in my coaching who tell me “I just can’t do it.” They say; “Even as a kid, I stuttered and I can’t get passed it.” They talk of childhood experiences in which they froze in public and have stayed frozen for decades since. Just like Bertie, they worked constantly to avoid communicating in public and tried to melt into the background.
Here’s my message to all reading this column who have convinced themselves that they “just can’t do it”. You CAN do it. In fact, you HAVE to do it—regardless of your profession. Not because I say so, but because you have things to say. You have a voice and a message, and keeping it to yourself won’t let you reach your potential. However, just wanting or hoping to do it is not a strategy.
I’m not an expert in what causes speech impediments, but I do know that there are top professionals out there who make it their life’s work. You can log on to www.njsha.org, the Web site for the NJ Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and search for a speech-pathologist in your area. Taking this first step will help you find your voice in the New Year so that you can share what you’ve been holding inside for far too long. You owe it to yourself and to those around you both at work and at home.