Public Speaking Challenge Accepted - A Step Beyond Stammering

Can someone who has a stammer compete with fluent speakers under pressure? Gene Tavener opens up to his latest success story.

Gene Tavener (right of centre) celebrating victory in the TM London Division Championship at Freemasons Hall, Covent Garden. From here he went on to the UK & Ireland Finals (the final 12) of Public Speaking in Dublin.

My name is Gene Tavener. My first course was June 2000 at Northampton. All my life I have stammered overtly and out of control in every speaking situation.
After many years of disappointing speech therapy, the McGuire Programme changed my life. I became a McGuire Coach in 2001 and passed my Course Instructor Intern written exam one year later.

Three and a half years ago to push out my comfort zones I joined Toastmasters International in London. I felt very apprehensive at first because I was the only person there with a stammer. I was very open to everybody there about my stammer, and was overwhelmed by their support. In 2012, after having won the evening club contests many times, I was persuaded to enter the International Speech Contest (World Championship of Public Speaking). Feeling apprehensive about the whole thing, I eventually sent in my application.
To my surprise I won the Club level contest, then went to the next level – the Area Contest which is competing against all the winners of the other club contests. To my surprise I won the Area Contest aswell !!!!

Then I had to compete against all the winners of the other Area Finals, in the Division B contest which covers London. I spoke very well, but unfortunately suffered from a very dry mouth about half way through and couldn’t finish my speech. Feeling demoralised and extremely disappointed, I didn’t speak much at Toastmasters last year.
This year I decided ‘Gene – get back on that stage and do what you enjoy doing!’ So I took part in the 2014 International Speech Contest (World Championship of Public Speaking). Having written what I consider an excellent speech, I entered at Club level and came first. I then won the Area level contest aswell against very high level competitors who were winners from all over London.

Then I moved up to the ‘Division B Finals’ in the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden. (Seating capacity 1000). I was competing against winners of all the other Area Finals in Division B, several of whom were previous winners at International level, and some were professional speakers and instructors with their own websites.
Remembering the wonderful McGuire Checklist, John Harrison’s teachings, etc. I gave my best ever speech. I also refused using a lapel Mike, (which all the other speakers used. We learn Voice Projection, don’t we?). When the Contest Chair announced the results,……’third place’, ‘second place’….I thought well that’s me out for another year. But then the words ‘and the winner is Gene Tavener’ resounded throughout the room and was followed by deafening applause and cheers, photos, interviews; the shock and delight of winning such a prestigious event has not yet fully registered with me.

The next stage, a few weeks later was to represent the Division in the UK & Ireland Finals in Dublin. I was down to the last 12 in UK and Ireland Championship!!! A Person Who Stammers on the International Stage. (The winner of this goes to Kuala Lumpur for the World Finals in August). Still not believing I had reached this level, I competed last week. There were 12 competitors and I gave my best, but unfortunately was not placed in the first 3. The standard was extremely high and the First, Second and Third were all previous winners /finalists at International level.

I have learned so much from this journey, and there will always be another year, another contest, another speech. I thank Dave McGuire, Matt Wilton, John Harrison, and all my McGuire family for helping me realise my potential.

Gene Tavener May 2014.