Doing the un-thinkable

dhillonAbout the author: Harry Dhillon lives in London, and is a father, a husband, an IT professional, and a real estate investor. He has a stutter but he prefers to call himself a ‘public speaker’ rather than a ‘stutterer’. He has founded, and is the President of, Kings Speakers, an official Toastmasters club for people with a stutter. He now spends more and more energy on doing workshops and speeches and has had the fortune to present in England, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and Holland.Email : mail@kingsspeakers.co.uk
Web-site : www.kingsspeakers.org
Skype : harry_dhillon100

Anais Nin said “The quality of our lives shrinks and expands in direct proportion to our courage”.

For a person who stutters (PWS), having a simple conversation can be an act of courage. Standing on stage and giving a public speech requires courage. Immense courage. And the rewards are equally immense. The beautiful thing is that doing public speaking is one of THE best ways for PWS’s to come to terms with their stutter and to un-leash the enormous potential, which is often lying hidden just beneath the surface.

My own personal and public speaking journey has been documented on ISAD previously (http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad13/papers/dhillon13.html) . My life has been, and continues to be, transformed by Toastmasters. So I wanted to “pay it forward”, and share the benefits with others. With this in mind, I founded Kings Speakers Toastmasters club in London – a public speaking club for people with a stutter. It’s a special place. It’s where first timers
usually walk in hesitant and nervous, unsure if they are doing the right thing. But after attending just a handful of meetings, many have experienced positive changes that surprise them. Within three months, many of them are hooked, and after six, you cannot get some of them off the stage!

There is no magic formula that produces this result. A gardener knows that to create beautiful flowers, you simply have to supply the right soil conditions for the plant, the appropriate amount of sun-shine and feed it regularly. Nature does the rest. Every one of us has the potential to blossom. It’s just a case of creating the right environment – a place where people are supported and understood, where they are helped and mentored, where they can laugh, have fun, and at the same time grow at their own pace and in their own unique way. Human spirit does the rest.

Kings Speakers provides this environment. When people ask me how much work was involved in setting up the club, I respond with the following analogy. Imagine for a second, that you had to open a new store on a high street. This would be difficult enough. Now imagine that your store could only let in 1% of the people who were walking on that high street. A challenge? Definitely. And….. this 1% were the people who did NOT like shopping. Hmmm. Now that really would be a tough project!

Why would someone in their right mind create a public speaking club for people who don’t like speaking at all?! Maybe it was the absurdity of the task which attracted me? Maybe it was the “I’ll prove that it can be done” ego-talk? Maybe I saw the enormous benefit it would have on other PWS’s? In hindsight, I think it was a bit of all three.

The story begins in Feb 2011, when, having seen my BBC interview on the Internet, the PR department of Toastmasters World Head Quarters in California emailed me. They wanted to know how they could help. This is how supportive the organization is. As a result, three months later when the International President, Pat Johnson, was in London, we met up to exchange
ideas. That afternoon, the seeds for Kings Speakers were sown into my psyche.

A few months later, I started the ball rolling. But I knew it wasn’t going to be simple. There would be many problems to overcome. How would I find PWS’s and tell them about the club? How would I get them to attend and do the one thing they are most frightened of? On a regular basis? What venue could we use? Given that the club would have no members initially, how would I fill the agenda with 20 people at every meeting? (Unlike a support group, where a meeting can be held with 3 people or with 30, a Toastmasters meeting has a formal agenda which requires at least 12 people, and preferably about 20, who agree to speak during the evening.) Where would the money for the start-up come from? So many things to address. So many questions.

But, if the passion is strong enough, then problems are replaced by progress. Slowly, and surely, things came together. The British Stammering Association very kindly helped me to promote the idea on their web site and Facebook page. I advertised on Meetup.com. I used every Toastmasters contact I knew to raise awareness. For six months, I used personal money to pay for the venue hire and running costs. I individually answered dozens of emails and phone calls every week. In the first few months, I would spend up to 15 hours a week on this project. It became all-consuming. My stress levels rose noticeably. People around me were telling me “you’re no fun anymore”. I reframed this as a compliment, because it implied that I had been ‘’fun to be with’ previously. At times, I even entertained the thought of giving up. But the darkest hour comes before the dawn, as the saying goes.  After many ups-and-downs we reached a landmark – we achieved ‘chartered’ status – official recognition by Toastmasters International. Yay! All the hard-work had paid off. Setting up the club has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, as it turns out, also one of the best. I was presented the “Toastmaster of the Year” award in London for my efforts. I felt honoured and had a lump in my throat as I gave an acceptance speech in front of a large crowd. But a far bigger reward for me is our meetings. Seeing the glow on people’s faces as they take to the stage, having seen them come so far in just a few short months, is heart-warming. Watching people laugh, cheer and encourage others as they challenge themselves is rewarding. And seeing that lives are literally being changed, is the biggest reward of all.

But we’re not just about public speaking. There is a strong social aspect to the club too. After each meeting, we head downstairs to a glorious wine bar, for well-deserved drinks. Many friendships have been made at the club, many happy memories created, and many touching moments shared. There is a very strong ‘family’ feel to our group and the sense of camaraderie is obvious.

Kings Speakers is now a well-known club in London. We take part in official speech contests, competing with non-PWS’s from other clubs. And we do pretty well! We invite Toastmaster celebrities as guest speakers. There are workshops where we learn how to speak with greater confidence, how to think on our feet, and how to offer feedback in a diplomatic and supportive manner. These are all essential life skills, which are very beneficial in real-world situations like work meetings, interviews, or in personal relationships. In fact, I always feel touched when a member casually reveals that they speak more in work meetings nowadays, or that they’ve had the courage to ask for a salary increase, or that they’ve become more assertive. I saw a member speak in front of 120 people and afterwards he told me that he would never have dreamt of doing that only 3 months previously. Another member, Usman Choudhry, through communication and leadership training at Kings, raised a staggering amount of £45,000 for our national stuttering association. If ever there was a measurable benefit created by the club, this surely is it!

Our members are pushing themselves in all sorts of ways, and exploring un-chartered territories. Their confidence levels have risen, their self-esteem levels have risen, and their belief systems are changing. They are seeing speaking situations in a new light. And they are seeing their wonderful personalities come to the surface. All this by doing the un-thinkable.

So, what next for Kings? By next summer, we aim to be the best Toastmasters club in our area. This is measured by pre-defined goals which
every club tries to achieve. And we are ahead of the target. But there is a greater goal. A far bigger goal. Someone once said “If you tell people your dreams and they’re not laughing at you, then your dreams are not big enough”. The bigger goal is this: there is no reason why every major city in the world, from London to Los Angeles, from Singapore to Seoul, from New York to Nairobi cannot have a club like Kings Speakers. All it takes is for one local person to make a decision. A decision to step forward and take charge. And Kings Speakers would love to help make this possible. We will act as club mentors, and guide and support others, via email, phone, or Skype. So, if there are any PWS’s reading this, who also happen to be experienced Toastmasters, and if they feel passionate about starting a club like Kings in their city, then……lets’ do it!

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Comments

Doing the un-thinkable — 123 Comments

  1. Hello Harry,

    Your passion and determination is truly inspiring. Thank you for all you’ve done to make Kings Speakers possible. You’ve opened doors for PWS that have lead to a real increase in confidence and other positive life changes. Congratulations on your accomplishments! I would definitely be interested in reading a book of yours! 🙂

    I love the idea of Kings Speakers and it would be great to see a chapter develop in the States. As a SLP graduate student, I hope that when I work with PWS I will be able to adopt and implement this idea into therapy. As a college student, I have experienced the demand of public-speaking related assignments as part of coursework. I’d imagine that for PWS, these assignments (presenting projects, speeches, debates, etc) create even more pressure and/or anxiety and pose as an obstacle. I think the idea of Kings Speakers would be great to implement on a college campus. This would provide an opportunity for college students to not only learn strategies for public speaking, but to meet other PWS and create a network of support. Do you think it would be a good idea to allow others to join who also experience anxiety/ high stress in speaking situations, but do not stutter? Also, are any of the members of the Kings Speakers currently in school, and have they benefitted from attending?

    Thank you and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Kaylen Alford
    SLP Graduate Student
    Appalachian State University

    • Hi Kaylen,

      Thank you so much for your very positive comments!

      “Do you think it would be a good idea to allow others to join who also experience anxiety/ high stress in speaking situations, but do not stutter?”
      Totally. In fact, we have a handful of members who have social anxiety (but do not stutter). They have the same fears and phobias as PWS, and they experience the same transformation.

      “Also, are any of the members of the Kings Speakers currently in school, and have they benefitted from attending?”
      No one at present….we have had a couple of young members who have left the club because their universities were a long way away from London and it wasn’t practical for them to attend regularly. And yep, they saw benefits very quickly too.

      Best regards, and if you are ever in London, you must pop over to see us!

      Harry

  2. Harry,

    I am an SLP graduate student and I just wanted to praise you on what you have accomplished within the stuttering community! At first this concept seemed so odd to me, why would you want to place a PWS in such an anxiety provoking situation? But after reading your whole article the method, behind what seemed to be madness was clear. If they could conquer their biggest fears, then what couldn’t they do. I am not a person who stutters but I do have a learning disability, which made reading aloud as a child seem close to impossible. If I had something like Kings Speakers, I believe it would have helped me tremendously growing up.

    Thank you and I look forward to reading more about your journey in the future!

    Brittani Toma
    SLP Graduate Student
    Kean University

    • Hi Brittani,

      Thanks for your excellent comments.

      ” If they could conquer their biggest fears, then what couldn’t they do”.

      Exactly! This is the fundamental belief which our members adapt pretty quickly. I have, personally, been able to handle life’s little challenges in a far more empowering way since I started my Toastmasters journey. Even in non-speaking situations, I fell less anxious and less stressed. My whole outlook has changed in the recent years.

      Take care and all the best for the future.

      Harry

  3. Hi Mr. Dhillon,

    I’m a graduate student beginning my first coursework on stuttering. After reading your paper and several of the other ISAD papers, I was amazed at how many PWS seem to have tremendous success simply confronting the fact that they stutter and purposefully beginning to put themselves in speaking situations that make them uncomfortable. The Kings Speakers is a perfect example. I was wondering, do you employ other strategies to overcome your dysfluency or was practicing public speaking your primary tool? Do you think confronting stuttering in this way is enough for most PWS to have success meeting their goals?

    Thanks!

    -Daniel K.
    Kean University

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for reading the article.

      “The Kings Speakers is a perfect example. I was wondering, do you employ other strategies to overcome your dysfluency or was practicing public speaking your primary tool? ”
      I use NLP and meditation to help me stay calm and relaxed (more), generally in life, and not just to help me with the stutter. Other people in the club use various speech techniques (coastla breathing, easy onset etc). I have found that just overcoming the bulk of my fear in speaking means that at work, if I am asked to explain something in a meeting, I do not feel the same crippling anxiety that I once did, and I can just say what I want to say (sometimes with stuttering, sometimes completely fluently).

      “Do you think confronting stuttering in this way is enough for most PWS to have success meeting their goals?”
      I would say, the key thing is – does the PWS want fluency or increased self-confidence and self-esteem (its worth remembering that fluency in itself does not guarantee increased self-esteem). If fluency, then it’s important to practice a speech technique as well; if the latter, then doing public speaking alone will really boost their self-confidence levels! (And most likely improve fluency too.)

      Hope that helps.

      Harry

  4. Hello Harry,

    I am so impressed with your commitment to founding Kings Speakers! What a fantastic idea! I see that you travel for workshops; I was wondering if you have thought of staring up chapters of Kings Speakers, or something similar, elsewhere? I think a group like Kings Speakers would be helpful even for with other speech or language disabilities. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Gina
    SLP Graduate Student
    Idaho State University

    • Hi Gina!

      ” I was wondering if you have thought of staring up chapters of Kings Speakers, or something similar, elsewhere?”

      Yep! The article finishes with this very idea…..it is not always physically possible for me to travel to different countries, but it just takes one local individual to make a start, and I would love to help through email, phone calls, Skype etc.

      ” I think a group like Kings Speakers would be helpful even for with other speech or language disabilities”.
      I totally agree. People who do not stutter but have shyness issues need something like Kings Speakers to help them break away from the shackles. We have had numerous such individuals and they’ve benefitted enormously.

      All the best!

      Harry

  5. Hello Harry,
    Your willpower to overcome stuttering is inspiring! I am amazed at how a small movement of people can erupt into powerful group of individuals. So many lives have been changed by your story. The idea of Kings Speakers is beautifully inspiring. Thank you for doing what you do! We need more pioneers in this field willing to share their story and dedicate their efforts to helping others like you did!

    Marika R
    ISU SLP Graduate Student

    • Hi Marika,

      ” I am amazed at how a small movement of people can erupt into powerful group of individuals.”

      Beautifully said. We are changing lives. The best part of this organisation is that in a club, no one gets paid. We are all volunteers. And we do what we do for the sheer passion!

      Take care and all the best.

      Harry

  6. Harry,
    First and foremost, congratulations on your success of Kings Speakers! Your story is one of such grit and determination, that it is inspiring to hear about the present benefits of such hard work. The success of Kings Speakers is a testament to your determination, and exhibits just how needed many more organizations or clubs are for not only people who stutter, but for anyone hoping to face their fears, and do what they had always thought to be unthinkable. The idea of Kings Speakers is much needed elsewhere, and I can see the amazing benefits of your vision of having one in every major city! I wish you all the best in your future dreams, and hopefully achieving the unthinkable!

    • Hi there, and thanks so much for the supportive comments.

      “The idea of Kings Speakers is much needed elsewhere, and I can see the amazing benefits of your vision of having one in every major city! ”
      The reason for this article was exactly that….to raise awareness that this sort of club can very much be created in every major city in the world. And indeed, SHOULD be created. It doesn’t need money, just passion.

      Thanks and the very best for the future.

      Harry

  7. Hi Harry,

    You’re story is inspirational! It’s funny how sometimes you come across things at the right moment. I’m not a PWS, but I have a deep fear of public speaking. I get so nervous, almost more nervous the more I practice to the point of tears at times. I’ve been thinking of joining a Toastmasters group and your story just inspires me to go out there and face my fears. If PWS are facing their fears then I can too! I love your passion and hope to find my niche within my passion soon, too! I’m applying to grad school to become an SLP. Wish me luck.

    Lizette

    • Hi Lizette,

      Thanks for reading the article.

      ” If PWS are facing their fears then I can too! ”

      Of course you can! And you shall. And you will see it as one of the best things you have ever done. Once the initial wall of fear crumbles away, you will never look back. And in fact, this will then enourage you to take on greater challenges in life in other fields (be it sports, personal relationships, travelling, career etc).

      And Lizette, I do not think you need luck….you already have the inner strength to go and achieve all that you want…it’s just a case of un-corking the talent! As the book say’s “Feel the fear and do it anyway” 🙂

      Take care

      Harry

  8. Hi Harry,

    Your passion and zeal toward your cause is inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

    Karine Maynard
    Graduate Student, Idaho State University

    • Hi Karine,

      Thanks for your support and wonderful comments!

      Wishing you the very best.

      Harry

  9. Congratulations on being able to set up your club! I enjoyed reading about the process and the analogy of having to open a shop for people who don’t like to shop! Haha. It’s amazing to think of how a club like this can increase the confidence of speakers! Kudos!

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for reading the article and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      All the best.

      Harry

  10. Hi Harry,

    Great paper! Hopefully it will inspire other PWS to follow your example.

    On April, 1, 2000, I witnessed a PWS recounting how he had won several public speaking trophies in formal competition with ‘fluent’ contestants. It was such a defining moment that the date is indelibly imprinted upon my memory. Prior to hearing his story, I was convinced that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. A catalogue of painful experiences fuelled my belief that I could never successfully undertake that task. My whole outlook changed.

    The man that I heard speaking so enthusiastically about how he had successfully embraced public speaking opened my eyes to possibilities that I could never have dared imagine. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to entertain the thought (and hope) that I might be able to do something similar. That fortuitous encounter sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life.

    Harry, we have travelled similar paths during recent times. Today, public speaking is an exciting and integral part of my life.

    I wish you well for the future.

    Kindest regards

    Alan

    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks so much for your supportive post. It’s been a remarkable journey, and you are right – we seem to be travelling the same paths!

      All the best Alan, and hope to bump into you in London sometime.

      Harry

  11. Wow, Harry!
    This is truly an inspiring story! It is so amazing to hear that people out there are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and do something so impactful. Using your own funding and time in order to get this organization off the ground in your area is definitely a commendable act. The domino effect that your efforts have inspired is astounding! It is great to see that you were able to directly and indirectly touch so many lives, and inspire so many people to conquer their fears. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments, and good luck with all of your future endeavors!
    Sincerely,
    Kendre Howland
    ISU Graduate Student

    • Hi Kendre

      Thank you so much for yoru positive and supportive comments!
      Kings has been a wonderful experience for me, and a leadership training ground. It’s now a case of rolling this format out to the wider world.

      All the best!

      Harry