Matt Hancock can remember like it was yesterday the feeling of fear invoked by having to read aloud in class.
Palms sweating and heart racing, he would sit at his school desk dreading the moment his teacher pointed at him.
You don’t forget the sniggers and stifled laughs, which knocks the confidence. The odd teacher would say “hurry up” as I was umming and erring, which only made it worse.
As a child he was painfully aware of the sniggers his stammer provoked from his schoolmates.
Now 38, looking back on that shy and scared boy Matt calls those moments of dread at having to speak in public Creeping Death Syndrome.
The stammer he developed aged six blighted his life, stopped him from starting romantic relationships and held him back from starting a career because his job interviews went so badly.
His stammer made people think he was too introverted to fit in.
But that changed when, at 26, he took part in the McGuire Programme, a course that West End star and former Pop Idol runner-up, Gareth Gates, also took to overcome his stammer.
In his role as a sales and marketing manager, he regularly gives presentations to large groups of people and leads negotiations – something he could only dream of doing before.
Matt, a father-of-two from Rowlands Castle, says: ‘My stammer possibly started because I was copying my older brother, who also has a stutter.
‘Although I had a good group of friends at school, there were occasions when I felt embarrassed, ashamed and extremely nervous when I had to speak.
‘French orals, reading out loud in class and presentations were awful.
‘My hands would get sweaty, my legs started twitching, I would dry up. I didn’t want to make a prat of myself. I was so nervous.
‘And you don’t forget the sniggers and stifled laughs, which knocks the confidence.
‘The odd teacher would say “hurry up” as I was umming and erring, which only made it worse.’
Matt says stammering isn’t an inability to speak correctly, it’s the fear of stammering that makes people stammer.
‘I’d become more anxious the more the fear rose.
‘When it came to dating I was really nervous. Starting a conversation was really difficult and I didn’t have the confidence to approach girls.’
Simple things such as getting a haircut was a nightmare.
‘Because I could see myself in the mirror I could see the hairdresser’s reaction as I was trying to get my words out’, recalls Matt.
‘You can’t get your hair cut unless you tell the hairdresser what you want done, so I would be umming and erring and it was very embarrassing.
‘But I tried to be as positive as possible and not avoid too many situations so after graduating from university, I went to China to teach English with a friend who encouraged me not to let my speech stop me.
‘I was to later learn on the McGuire Programme that voice projection helps your speech in terms of being an eloquent, confident speaker so teaching a class was okay, but any one-to-one tuition I found myself stumbling and stumbling.
‘I used to switch many sentences with lots of ums and errs to lead into a word instead of the first letter or sound and, although still not great, it made me just seem nervous or shy rather than that I had a stutter.
‘You can switch or avoid some words but the one thing you can’t avoid saying is your own name.
‘And that is the hardest thing for someone with a stammer to say. You cannot find an easier word.
‘The one thing you cannot avoid saying is your own name. ‘
Back in the UK, and having got through to the interview stage of nine jobs and not been given any of them. The feedback from employers was that he had the skills but was too shy.
Matt decided to take action.
He says completing the intensive four-day McGuire Programme in 2006 transformed his life.
He says: ‘I came across The McGuire Programme after my mum saw Gareth Gates on TV and then I did some research online and it looked the most appealing and relevant to what I was after, although if I was honest, I was very sceptical whether it would work but it was a revelation.’
Within months Matt had landed a job at Cumberland Lodge, a residential conference centre and education charity in Windsor Great Park as sales and marketing manager. Then he met Lorna, a children’s dance teacher.
He said his wedding vows without faltering and the couple now have daughters aged six and four.
‘Before the course I was worried any children I may have would pick up on my stammer’, says Matt.
‘Now I find the simple things in life a real pleasure in terms of speech – speaking to a shop assistant, ordering a takeaway or buying a train ticket.
‘But especially reading a bedtime story to the girls at night.’
n To see a video of Matt, go to portsmouth.co.uk
HOW DOES THE MACGUIRE PROGRAMME WORK
In 1994, after a lifetime of dealing with the debilitating affects of a severe stammer, Dave McGuire developed a method based on breathing done by many opera singers called costal breathing.
He mixed it with a traditional psychological approach known as non-avoidance.
From this more components, such as sports psychology and ways to counteract the freezing, struggle and distortion and accompanying tricks and avoidance, were added. It became the McGuire Programme. It is not a cure – stammerers learn how to control their speech.
The intensive residential four-day courses are led by people who stammer.
Matt Hancock was a volunteer coach for two years. He says: ‘Because the instructors and coaches all have a stammer and have been through the programme themselves, they know how you’re feeling and what could work for you. ‘
The course costs around £1,000 but participants are asked to wait until the end of the second day to pay, to ensure it is the right course for them.
If they do not think they are achieving anything, they can leave without paying a penny.
l For more information call 07838 172768, e-mail email@example.com or call mcguireprogramme.com