My first memory of stammering is back in primary school. We had a group reading lesson where my teacher would sit us in a circle and ask us to read from a book. The two people before me were stumbling over the words because they didn’t know them too well but they got them out nonetheless. It was my turn. I knew the words. I’d practised them with my mum for the past few days. I just couldn’t get them out. I could feel the whole group staring at me and my cheeks beginning to go red.
I cried from the embarrassment and the feeling of helplessness.
Twenty years on a lot has changed. I am more confident now and whilst I still struggle with my speech on a daily basis, I’ve embraced it. I’m confident to talk to my clients but more importantly, I’m confident enough to tell them (via email) that I have a speech impediment and all they need to do is give me some more time. Being open about having a stammer has brought about nothing but positivity and people are always happy to give me a little extra time.
I think the stigma around it for listeners is just because they don’t know how to react.
Tell them that all they need to do is wait a few more seconds for me to finish completely and it removes the veil of tension. It adds a personal, more human touch as well to the whole corporate industry I operate in, which can only be a good thing.
So how did this change?
Well, I met a senior partner at my first real job at EY. He said ‘hey, let’s make an EY Stammering Network because I stammer too’. So we did. To say the EY Stammering Network has been a revelation may seem an exaggeration to some, but to me it’s true. It is the feeling that my stammer is allowing me to go to places and do things I hadn’t imagined. Being on the front of 6ft posters in our reception, telling the world I have a stammer, helping teenagers who stammer practise their interview skills or giving a speech in the House of Commons to a room of 120 people. These are all things I’ve done as part of the EY Stammering Network.
To me though, I’ve found the biggest support has been the people around me.
Whether that’s the people of the EY Stammering Network or the colleagues I work with on a daily basis. This is no longer a taboo subject and I don’t feel conscious of stammering because my colleagues respect what I have to say. That’s the real key to driving change – respecting the differences of each other.
Whatever people say about “being normal” I can assure you of two things:
1) being normal is boring
2) and being different brings so much more to a group conversation.
Only through different viewpoints can you really find the best solution to daily challenges. I’ve learnt that if I believe in the quality of what I’m saying then, actually, it doesn’t matter if I take 20 seconds longer to say it, or my speech breaks up in between.