The first time I found out I repeated phrases was when I was 19 and tutoring part-time for extra cash in my first year of university.
In the middle of a lesson one day, a student raised her hand and said to me, "Teacher, can you not repeat yourself - it's distracting."
Confused, I asked her what she meant. "Repeat myself? What do you mean?"
She rolled her eyes, and said, "You always do it! Like now! You said, 'The reason for that, the reason for that, the reason for that'. THREE times! You only had to say it once! And earlier, you said 'that's because, that's because, that's because'..."
I was taken aback. I had no memory of myself repeating phrases, no matter how hard I thought about it. I knew I occasionally stuttered, but I had always been aware of when I did.
On my way back from the class, I had a hard think about the incident. Was it a one-off thing? Perhaps I had been too tired, and my concentration had slipped.
I should ask my sister, I thought.
The next day, I told my sister about the incident, hoping to just laugh it off as one of the follies of overwork.
She didn't. Instead, with a completely straight face, she said, "You have always done that!"
"Really? Why didn't you call me out on it? It must have been odd..."
She paused, and thought about it for a moment.
"I just got used to it I guess. You've been doing it for the longest time."
I felt punched in the stomach. I thought about all the public speeches I had made, and wondered if anyone, or everyone in the audience had noticed it but me.
Immediately, I googled to find out if there was a way to make the phrase repeating a little less obvious.
The advice I got from the internet could be summarised into two things:
"Speak slowly, and pause often"
Then onwards, I reminded myself to speak slowly, and pause often whenever I spoke.
It was imperfect, but all I had.
13 years have passed since that day. I'm still bothered by the fact that I speak so slowly, but it's something I've learned to be more accepting about.
The only time I become really self-conscious about it is when I try to record myself, or listen to recordings of myself.
This is one of the reasons I've never accepted interviews where a recording of myself will be available.
So when my friends and family encouraged me to start a YouTube channel as an extension of Entrepreneur Campfire, I hesitated. I wondered if anyone would even watch videos of me speaking so slowly and oddly.
But YouTube had been a channel I had always wanted to explore, so I told myself to give it a go anyway. Even if I get 1 view per video, that's good enough.
Strength in weakness
Sometimes when I edit videos, I catch myself repeating phrases. I'll edit them out so viewers can get more clarity.
There are some days, especially when I'm extra tired, that the entire video is filled with repeating phrases and long, awkward pauses. I edit them out one by one, thinking to myself... if only I could speak like some other YouTubers.
Sometimes, it takes me up to 2 hours for a 20-minute video. When this happens, I get frustrated with myself, enough that I just give up editing and go do something else.
The insecurities around my slow and stuttered speech became magnified with this channel. I started feeling a little vulnerable. Inside, I wondered if viewers noticed this, and what they thought about it.
I constantly wondered about this until one day, I received a message from somebody who had seen my YouTube videos and was interested to hire me to help them with their e-commerce website.
I set up a call with them, thinking that it would be just another sales discovery call.
What started as a discovery call later turned into a 90-minute call with the person on the other line sharing with me her goals with the profits generated from the e-commerce site.
In between sharing her e-commerce goals, she said to me, "Lu Wee, you know, your videos have been the most helpful so far. I've watched so many videos about this topic, and they all speak too quickly. I really like that you take your time and talk slowly. It really helps beginners like me."
This was the first time I received comments about my slow speech since starting my YouTube channel.
I told her, "I'm flattered, but just to let you know, speaking slowly is the only I speak. I'm not doing it for the purpose of the video."
She was quiet for a while, and then said to me, "Then that is a good thing. People like me need this."
In that moment, it dawned on me that what I had seen as a weakness all my life was in fact a gift I was given to gift someone else.
Your weakness is sometimes a hidden strength.