Joze Piranian, BCom’11, has spent his life contending with a bad stutter. When he began his undergraduate studies in management at McGill, he used to beg professors to let him skip oral presentations. At some point during his time at the University, though, he decided to confront his demons head on.
He joined the McGill Toastmaster’s Club and, in his third year, the McGill Debating Union. While he once tried hard to avoid public speaking, he now earns his living from doing just that.
Today, Piranian is a motivational speaker who has worked with a wide array of organizations and corporations, including Google, IBM and Tesla. He has presented two TEDx talks and can engage with audiences in three languages.
Piranian is also a stand-up comic who has shared a stage with the likes of Hannibal Buress and Whitney Cummings. He recently performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, and appears on CBC Radio shows like The Debaters and Laugh Out Loud.
There are an estimated 70 million stutterers around the world, but Piranian doesn’t think the lessons he has learned in life are only applicable to them. He recently spoke to the McGill News about his work.
What is the source of your comedy?
It comes from pain – more specifically, from insecurity at having a stutter. Every time I go on stage and share with the world, it feels like therapy. I’m affirming who I am, not running away from it, and bringing the audience on my journey. As a public speaker, I am fascinated by two themes: resilience and overcoming adversity, and diversity and inclusion.
Do you think everyone can relate to your story, whether or not they’ve had a speech impediment?
One thing I say in my talks is that everyone stutters; I just do it when I speak. What I mean is that everyone deals with what I’ve coined an “inner stutter” – whether it’s fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear of success. When I put it in those terms, and acknowledge the metaphorical stutter which holds people back, most people have experienced that at one point in their lives.
You use the word fear. Did you come to see that as the real obstacle instead of your stutter?
Yes. More than the actual speech impediment, I was always afraid of being judged for being different. It was that fear that controlled me, and led me to avoid speaking every time that I could. When I joined the Toastmaster’s Club and the Debating Union, those decisions were pivotal, because even people without a speech impediment would find that challenging. I had had enough of letting my fear call the shots, and squandering my potential.
What advice do you have for people dealing with that kind of fear?
When we start experiencing fear, we are in control of what follows. What I have realized is that fear can be a trigger for either action or inaction. Today, I now associate the physiological experience of fear with taking action, because I have done so many times in the past. At some point, you don’t act in spite of fear; you act because of it. Fear becomes a reminder, a compass that will guide you where you need to go.
If someone feels that they are being held back by their fears, how should they try to overcome that?
When people think about change, they often expect it to happen through a singular breakthrough. I have not found that to be the case. For me, it came from millions of micro-moments of bravery, during which I did what I found uncomfortable, again and again and again. It starts with self acceptance, and owning your uniqueness.
In today’s fast paced world, do people tend to be impatient when speaking to someone with a speech impediment? Does that make things more difficult for someone like you?
I have experienced that my whole life. I would get stuck on words, and some people might want to finish my sentences, or get impatient. I developed a habit of finishing my sentences, or words, either way. A conversation with a stutterer forces people to be more present, in the moment. Some people have said that a conversation with me feels like a meditation.
I jokingly say that I don’t do small talk, I do big talk. Instead of asking ‘how’s the weather?’, I’ll ask ‘what is weather?’ While it’s true that people’s attention spans today tend to be short, there is also a countervailing trend: a greater focus on inclusiveness, and being aware of differences.