• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience

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How Stuttering Made Me a Better Human Being – Part I

[This post is dedicated to my awesome “baby brother.” He knows why. He’s also made me a better human being.]

I’m finally going to come out of the closet. Hey, one second. I can actually see you smirking from here. No fair. Hear me out. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Okay, here goes.

I’m a stutterer.

Stutter, stammer, whatever you want to call it, I do that. I’ve stuttered my entire life. No, not just my adult life. My entire flippin life. I’ve stuttered for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why I stutter. I’m not even sure what causes stuttering. I was never sent to speech therapy or anything like that. Surprisingly, I know very little about stuttering other than the fact that King George VI stuttered and stuttering has had a profound impact on my life. It’s made me a better person in some ways but, it hasn’t always been easy.

What? Did I stutter? Actually, yes, I did.

My stuttering isn’t a TOTAL surprise to everyone. I’ve freely confided in people along my adult journey. When I tell people I stutter, I’m always surprised when I hear, “Oh really? I never noticed it.” My first thought is always, you’ve got to be kidding. I notice it all the time. How could you not notice? Maybe they’re just being polite or maybe I do hide it well.

I’m the fourth of six children spanning a nearly twenty-year age gap. My earliest memory is of adults asking the inevitable, “What’s your name little boy?” And then comes my pathetic response, “B-b-b-b-b-b-i-ll L-l-l-l-l-l-ein-w-w-w-w-eb-b-b-b-b-er.” Imagine for a moment what it must feel like not being able to say your own name.

With six kids around it’s beneficial to be expeditious with your speech. If you’ve got something to say, for God’s sake, say it and say it quick. There are five other kids with something to say. So despite the fact that I had a lot to say, I drifted into the background, the stuttering introvert fighting the creative, curious internal extrovert.

“Na, na-na, na, na, na

School was the worst. I’m sure you know how cruel kids can be. Lots of kids can’t draw or toss a ball or kick a field goal but I can’t even freakin’ talk? What a loser. The problem is you look “normal” until you open your mouth and try to speak. The goal every day in elementary school from the moment I got to school until the moment I left school was to NOT get called on to “read aloud.” You know that routine. “Bill Leinweber, please read the next three paragraphs aloud while the rest of the class reads silently.” While the rest of the class laughs at me, is what you mean, teach. Oh God, please no. Don’t make me read aloud. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m going to throw up. I’m ill, I have to leave. Yes, I faked illness just to get out of reading to the class.

For a stutterer, reading the written word is a perilous trap into which you don’t want to step. You can’t ad lib. When speaking in conversation, I can say pail instead of bucket if the b’s trip me up. I can say “rest” rather than “sleep” if s’s give me a hard time. I venture to guess that most stutterers have pretty expansive vocabularies because they’re constantly substituting one word for another difficult-to-say word.

Fat Kids Are My Friends

Not so politically correct but true. Many of the heavy kids in school felt like misfits, sitting on the sidelines, and so did I. That pretty much sucks if you WANT to do things but are too afraid. I understood their plight. I knew how it felt. And I was a small kid so I would sit behind my overweight friends to hide from the teacher. I would do anything to not get called on.

I finally came out of my shell in 12th grade when I was recruited for my high school choir. There was an apparent shortage of baritones but I didn’t care. I love to sing and this was a chance to be part of something where I was accepted. Funny, but I don’t stutter when I sing. Neither does Mel Tillis.

I’m so grateful that my last couple of years in high school were so full of wonderful experiences. Spanish Club, Choir, honors classes – I finally broke free of my imaginary bondage, made scores of new friends and participated in many activities that I otherwise wouldn’t have.  However, when you have a lot to say and can’t speak, inevitably you miss opportunities.

Hey, What Did I Miss?

If I hadn’t stuttered, I would have read morning announcements over the PA system in 3rd grade. Remember those? I would have auditioned for school plays and played a leading role or supporting role or maybe been in the chorus. Truth is I never even tried out. Too scared.

I probably would have been on the Debate Team or some other group out front. Instead, I stayed mostly in the background. I may have discovered and used my leadership skills sooner. But with all the things I didn’t do, with all the things that weren’t happening at that time, I failed to notice then the cool things that WERE happening as a result of my stuttering.

It Wasn’t All Bad

There are actually good things that came out of stuttering. I love making people think, learn, and laugh. What’s better than that? Thinking, learning, laughing – great gifts to give, if you can. I do believe when one sense is diminished, our remaining senses are enhanced. Isn’t that why sight-impaired people can hear really well?  One of the positive results of stuttering is that I listen really, really well. I spent less time talking and a lot more time listening. Seriously, I can literally “name that tune” in 2 or 3 notes. Play the first few notes of a song and I can probably name it.

I notice things that others don’t. Since I never had the confidence to be ON stage, I worked mostly “backstage” on school activities. As a result, I have a unique perspective. When you’re dancing on the stage and under the spotlight, you’re unable to notice that a spotlight is burned out. I do notice the burned out spotlight. Stuttering makes me more aware of the details around me. Over time, you become “detail oriented.” I anticipate “what’s going to happen next” and “what’s needed next” by stepping back and observing.

If one person is trying to get a word in edge-wise (what does edge-wise mean?) in a conversation, I don’t forget that person. In fact, I’m keenly aware of the person trying to jump in and express their thoughts. I understand how they feel. Once there is a break in the discussion, I might say, “Ben, I think you had something to add. What was it?” I don’t want any voice to be excluded in the way that I excluded my own embarrassed, stuttering voice. I want to hear all voices, all opinions, all ideas.

I learned to write. Well, think about it. If you can’t speak, how else can you communicate all that you have to say? You write. I love to write and I love to touch people with the written word.

Tell Me What Hurts

If you remember only one thing, let it be this. The agony for a stutterer isn’t the inability to speak with poise and grace. The real agony for someone who stutters is watching the pain and uncomfortable embarrassment in your eyes as you look and listen, as you squirm in your seat. That’s the most painful part.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I stutter. It made me more aware, sympathetic, understanding and accepting. Stuttering has made me relentless in discovering the strengths in others rather than dwell on the weaknesses. It makes me recognize the misfit, makes me want to offer my hand and hear their voice. Tell me what’s on your mind. I want to hear it.

Today, for me to stand in front of a room full of people and speak or teach or encourage is nothing short of a miracle. Remember, I was the one hiding behind the “fat kid.” The days of “please don’t call on me” are behind me. Frankly, I don’t care if I stutter or not. I want to inspire and build.

Are there unheard voices in your life? Not because you’re not a good listener. But because the other person isn’t comfortable speaking.

What the Heck Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience?

That’s a good question and thanks for wondering. This blog is about customer experience, after all. So stay tuned to my next post. I had to tell you about my stuttering first before I could share how stuttering made me uniquely suited to customer experience and business excellence building.

[Coming Soon: What Stuttering Has To Do With Customer Experience – Part II]

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