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Baby steps to public speaking

This article first appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of the CSA newsletter.

I am active in the podcasting community where everyone is encouraged to give presentations at conferences. I was eager to participate since my early days in the podcasting community, but having stuttered all my life, I automatically wrote that idea off as “I could never be able to do that”.

However, I made new friends in the community after a couple of meet ups and received positive feedback towards my stuttering (for example, no funny looks!). Suddenly, I’m thinking that maybe I could present after all.

Being part of a stutter-positive community was the very core of helping me build that kind of confidence. It also gave me a lot of practice in disclosing my stuttering. After all, I had no choice but to explain what my podcast was about. Also, it’s not like I was told “We’re stutter-friendly!” before I entered the community. I had to find that out for myself by taking a few risks. More about those later.

At the same time, I had begun meeting fellow stutterers both offline and online. Greatest thing I had ever done. I no longer felt that I was the only one in the world who stutters and learned that stuttering wasn’t my fault and, best of all, I can still be an effective communicator in spite of it.

But do I have the presenting skills? Stutter or no stutter, you need to have the skills to do a good job. So I joined Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a great way to build public speaking skills. There are clubs all over the world and luckily for me, there was one in my city dedicated for stutterers! Week after week, I received valuable feedback on my presenting skills and could really notice how much I had improved. I cannot recommend Toastmasters enough.

My baby steps thus far consisted of taking a number of small risks. Namely, networking (also known as, striking up conversations with strangers). Then attending conferences and meet ups by myself. Always meeting new people and disclosing my stuttering. As I grew comfortable, I built up the nerve to start presenting. Though I took it slow.
First I participated in a Q&A session. Stuttered a bit but the sky didn’t fall on my head. The following year, I was part of a panel discussion. Stuttered spectacularly on my name at the beginning (before I disclosed) and again, the sky stayed intact. A few months later, I tried presenting on my own for half an hour. Nothing fell on my head that time either.
I was nervous before each presentation no matter how big or small my role. But each was a little risk. A necessary baby step to let me grow. After all, a turtle can’t make any progress without sticking his neck out. I still get nervous before a presentation so I keep a few items in mind:

  • I can do this
  • I have faith that the content I will present is useful for my audience (at least I think so!)
  • Disclosing my stuttering will be beneficial
  • This is a supportive community

I no longer automatically write off the idea of “I could never be able to do that”. Now I automatically think “What can I present next?”.

Editor’s note: Toronto PWS Toastmasters was started in 2003 by Greg O’Grady. For the past three years it has been run by Lisa Wilder and Mohamed Camara. The group holds informal meetings every second Wednesday evening, Starting Sept. 23. See the Events section for more details.

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