How would you feel about taking on a job that you were totally ill equipped to perform, where your self confidence was absolutely rock bottom?
A job that entailed making public appearances , being the centre of attention, when you were shy and reserved. A job that involved making speeches in front of thousands, and live broadcasts to millions, when you were inflicted by a terrible stutter.
The Kings Weaknesses
I‘m sure many of you have seen the Academy Award winning film, “The King’s Speech“. This depicts the story of how the future King George VI (who wasn’t “scheduled” to be King until his brother abdicated) received help so he could fulfil his royal duties. Even before he became King his role representing the Crown necessitated public appearances and speeches.
He was plagued from childhood by a series of medical ailments. His early career in the Navy was somewhat hampered by seasickness (again it was a job that he didn’t have much choice about) and constant stomach problems (later diagnosed as an ulcer). In his 8 years of naval service he spent most of the time in hospital or recuperating.
As well as seeing the film I recently read the book of the same name, based on the diaries of Lionel Logue. He effectively became the Royal Speech Therapist. What the book makes clearer than the film is the depth of how physically frail and nervous a person the future George VI was.
Colin Firth, who portrayed him in the film, won an Oscar for his stammering and overall performance as this tortured sole. But couldn’t disguise the fact he is 6″ taller and physically very well built.
Confidence in Public Speaking
Many people fear public speaking, and take whatever steps they can to avoid having to face this fear. One of my first posts on this blog was about a young man giving a speech at his fathers wedding!
The reason I wanted to highlight the Kings Speech was it gives a wonderful example of a person gaining in confidence so he could perform well as a public speaker. This, despite the fact he had major impediments in his way. To do this he:-
1) Worked VERY HARD, to a degree that would put an Olympic athlete to shame. The future King and Logue initially worked together for 7 months, meeting daily when the royal duties permitted. Even when away on tour, George religiously carried out the exercises set by Logue.
2) The second factor in building his confidence, particularly when George became King and had to broadcast live to millions of people, was the meticulous preparation they went through. Logues role was as much to check the speech and mark spaces to pause for breath – and to change any difficult works that may trip the King.
3) He had support – not just from Logue but from his wife. Having strong people around you for encouragement and to share the pain and triumphs, to motivate when you feel in despair, is incredibly important. And their confidence is infectious.
4) What choice did he have? He started from a position of total humiliation (his first major speech in London in 1925) and from having effectively proven unfit for purpose in the Navy. He had no idea when he started working with Logue that he would one day be King, but needed to be sufficiently confident to perform his then job as the Duke of York. Had he not been up to the task when he succeeded his brother, in all likelihood the monarchy would have collapsed.
I‘m not trying to ignore the fact this was a man born into a position of great wealth and privilege, who of course could afford to pay for the intensive services of Logue. But it was only because of this accident of birth that he was compelled to try and overcome these barriers to his public speaking.
I think this story illustrates you can gain confidence – and become confident enough to perform well – even though you remain fearful and are attempting something that ultimately you are not best suited. Whilst George gained in confidence, he never lost his hatred of the dreaded microphone. As is apparent in the video clip, his stutter never totally went away.
But its also fascinating to speculate what would have happened if Logue hadn’t emigrated to England (from Australia) or if Georges wife hadn’t persuaded him to “have a last try” after many previous failures at overcoming his speech impediment. And particularly if Logue hadn’t been so accomplished at what was then an unrecognised profession.
Imagine Great Britain with a President instead of a Queen and Royal Family!!!
photos (in public domain) via wikipedia