(And how Siri helped)

When I got off the stage, I was shaking.

Shaking, and trying not to show it. It was the first time I’d spoken to a crowd of people that big — 500 people — and I couldn’t believe I’d done it.

Delivering a speech at a tech conference would have seemed totally impossible to me just 10 years ago.

Because 10 years ago, nobody could understand a word I was saying to them. I had a pretty major speech impediment, and I was ashamed of it, and embarrassed that I couldn’t communicate, and I used to try and find any excuse not to open my mouth.

The journey from that moment to where I am now — a public speaker, an entrepreneur and a coach — would never have seemed possible when I was younger.

That’s largely because when you’re struggling with an obstacle like that, a blockage to one of the most basic things you feel you should be able to do, everything else feels unattainable.

I credit 3 things with helping me to speak

Looking back, I know how I was able to transform my life and reach the place I’m at today, where I can engage people, speak to them about their business and their life, and have an impact;

1. I didn’t quit speech therapy

No matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was in therapy, I never quit.

My Mum wouldn’t have let me — and I don’t think I would have tried. Because the hardest thing to do when you’re struggling is reach out for help, but it’s also the most essential thing that you absolutely must do.

If you’re experiencing a blockage or an obstacle, you must seek the advice, knowledge, guidance and help of people who know how to handle it, who can give you that help.

My therapist had me doing exercises where I just repeated words, and sounds, and trained myself to execute them properly. She helped me to find where I was tripping up and hone down to smooth out the problems.

2. I pushed myself to become a performer

I sucked as a guitar player and singer.

But I started a punk rock band — and made myself perform as often as I could. And I built up my confidence and skill to the point where I was able to go on to form a band that signed to one of the hottest record labels in the country and work on a platinum album.

And that directly contributed to my ability to speak and communicate today. I pushed myself to perform, through drama classes, and concerts, and theatre sports, and 5 dismally, depressingly bad open mic nights that nobody I know ever saw or heard about.

I pushed myself out of my skin, every single chance that I could. I made myself take on the role of a performer, and relate that back to the role I played in my daily life as a communicator.

3. I used Siri. And still do.

Seriously, this is one of the most important things I’ve ever done to improve my speech. I use my iPhone primarily through Siri. And that forces me to think carefully about the words I use so that they don’t come tumbling out chaotically, and to pronounce those words as clearly and succinctly as I can.

It’s amazing how much you can do with Siri when you try. That’s why Apple are so widely recognised as being great with accessibility features.

It’s forced my habits to change, because it prevents me from being lazy. I can’t be lazy with my speech when I’m trying to get Siri to email a potential client, and I know that if I don’t communicate properly, Siri’s not going to interpret it correctly, and I could lose a contract through a garbled email.

I use Siri for messages, calendars, tasks, navigation and anything else. She’s like a personal, always-on speech therapist in my pocket.

The difference this has all made is palpable.

My business today depends on my ability to speak and communicate; I’d have very little without it. When I think about how far I’ve come, it’s hard to remember back to being a kid who was so ashamed of his speech he’d hide in his room and cry.

It did take over 1o years. That’s a long time. For many people, it’s too long. But if you do commit to making change, and work at it, for a decade — it’s impossible for you not to achieve a transformation, to move the needle, to create an impact.

And you better believe that I know what I’m talking about. Because if it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t be talking at all.

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Originally published at medium.com