Written by Gareth
Our voices have the potential to hold conversations, tell a story, and even set the first impression. By using our voice, we become recognized, weaponized, and sometimes criticized.
For many of us, speaking situations are anxiety-provoking, challenging to manage, and unpredictable. For people who stutter, however, this is dramatically intensified.
People with a stutter have a difference. A difference that can make it difficult for them to use their voice in speaking situations. These speaking situations are complex, making it hard to bridge practicing in private to the real thing.
My name’s Gareth Walkom, I stutter, and recently I pitched my startup idea to an online panel of 10 experts.
I have an idea. An idea that I believe can benefit many people. An idea that needs some guidance. While seeking this guidance, I found an accelerator program for startups, where they help you to steer your idea in the right direction. I was one of the 323 startups who applied, and fortunately, one of the 200 selected to pitch their idea.
The pitches were 3 minutes per startup, with 5-7 minutes for questions. Then, they select 65-70 startups to be on their accelerator program, based on that pitch. I knew I needed to make a solid first impression. But how can I do this?
For days, I researched different pitching methods, read articles, and watched videos. Although I knew what I wanted to talk about, I just didn’t quite have that captivating opening.
One day before the pitch, I came across a particular YouTube video on pitches, and they said, “They say it takes about 7 seconds to make a first impression”. And I thought to myself, wow, I’m going to stutter for ALL of those 7 seconds. That was it… That is how I can make the first impression. Highlighting how someone who stutters can sometimes find it challenging to make that first impression. And 7 seconds is a SMALL amount of time to make an impression.
Fast-forwarding to the pitch, I was ready, I knew what I wanted to say, and of course, I was nervous. I really wanted to get onto the accelerator program, and this increased my nerves. But I was okay with this.
They let me into the Zoom, and 10 experts waited to hear what I had to say. I started my pitch by saying, “They say it takes about 7 seconds to make a first impression….. And I just stuttered for all of those”. I could see by their faces that I had their attention. Their ears popped up, I highlighted what first impressions can be like for people who stutter, and I made the first impression that they’ll never forget. I nailed the rest of my pitch and the questions, and they gave me some great feedback.
The next day, they offered me one of the 65-70 places on the accelerator program.
As people who stutter, we do have a difference. For some, it can be more evident than others, but it’s what we do with this difference that can influence our paths. We could be unhappy that we stutter, avoid speaking situations, and even stop using our voice. But is that really what we want?
In a situation like a pitch, you must do something different to stand out from the others. You must show that you have something special that makes you different. But, perhaps this doesn’t always have to be something shiny, expensive, or difficult to learn. Perhaps one of our most remarkable differences lies in something we try to avoid, hide, and disregard.
Perhaps, highlighting this difference could make it one of our greatest assets.
Daniele Rossi created a comic based on my pitch. Check it out!