Friday, April 20, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Golfer Sophie Gustafson: Stuttering is "part of who I am"

Watch any sport on television, and you'll see the athletes segue from their course or court right over to the mic for the postgame interview. Most athletes, anyway. Sophie Gustafson is a world-class professional golfer with five LPGA wins and 21 international titles to her name, and a five-time member of Europe's Solheim Cup team. But even if you're a fan of the sport, you've probably never heard Gustafson speak. The Swedish golfer has a severe stutter that's kept her from taking any verbal victory laps or dissecting her swing with the media.

And then, nearly 20 years after she joined the professional tour, Gustafson started talking. During the 2011 Solheim Cup, she taped a three-minute interview with the Golf Channel in which she talked about the tournament and the challenges of her stutter. The interview was a tremendous success: golf fans got to hear--finally--from one of their sport's top athletes, and Gustafson was overwhelmed by a tide of personal responses to the interview praising her courage and her determination to make the interview work.

Earlier this month, Gustafson received the Golf Writers Association of America Ben Hogan Award, honoring golfers playing with a physical handicap or serious illness, and taped an acceptance speech for the event. It's an amazing speech, full of humor, candor, and yes, courage. There's a lot to learn from in this one, but here are a few things that stand out:
  • Don't hide who you are. There's plenty of places in this speech where Gustafson jokes about how slowly she speaks--enough of them that I found myself wondering if she should keep drawing attention to the fact. But Gustafson is known on the tour (and Twitter--@sophiegustafson) for her sense of humor, and she seems comfortable delivering all these one-liners. Check out her shoulder shrug and eye roll when she talks about the offer of a radio gig--it's a charming little moment that it clear she's at ease and enjoys being funny.
  • Be prepared, not perfect. This speech is six and a half minutes long. It took her eight hours to record it. Just as with her Golf Channel interview, Gustafson knows that she needs practice and lots of editing to speak in a way that she's happy with. After taping the speech, she tweeted, "I can tell u being a stutterer and a perfectionist doesn't mix AT ALL!!" But she also recognizes that even perfectionists have to give themselves a break. As she told the New York Times, "Finally, I had to give up and say, 'It's not going to be exactly the way I want it to be.'"
  • Embrace your vulnerability. People who can share their vulnerabilities often have a better chance at connecting with others. It's clear that after years of quiet, Gustafson has come to accept her voice and what it can offer. "I've always stuttered," she says early in the speech. "It's part of who I am."
  • Your voice is your power. In the same New York Times interview, Gustafson recalls that her ex-husband often talked for her, and that she now realizes how that kept her from "standing on my own two feet." No one's speaking for Gustafson now. This speech is an incredible reminder that speaking up is a way of taking control, of building confidence and opening up new opportunities.
Ready for your six and a half minutes of inspiration?

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this edition of Famous Speech Friday.)

My post on "How Rush Limbaugh is helping me celebrate Women's History Month" is nominated as one of BlogHer's "Voices of the Year 2012." Follow this link to vote--and thanks for supporting this post.