Being vocally proactive at uni with a stammer

The article's author Nilima Akhtar, with friend

With a love of interaction, Nilima Akhtar (pictured above with a friend) talks passionately about becoming a student ambassador and not letting anxieties over public speaking and introductions stop her from realising her ambitions.

Throughout most of my education I have always been one of those students, the ones you see everywhere — that really, really proactive student who gets involved in everything. Needless to say that mentality hasn't changed throughout college and into university. However, being an active, vocal student with a stammer has its trials and tribulations. 

Student ambassador

During my undergraduate degree I was a Student Ambassador, a job role that I absolutely loved and I will forever appreciate the skills and opportunities that came from that. Being an ambassador requires you to engage in public speaking, and in the role I worked at a number of events where I interacted with people. Whether during open days or internal and external events, they all involved having to make some form of introduction. Having a stammer means it is difficult to introduce myself, which evidently had also had an impact on my mental health.

The article's author Nilima Akhtar

I will never forget this one event I worked at during my final year. It was a campus taster day, a school-wide event where a group of ambassadors, myself included, were stood in front of 200+ school kids and of course, as per usual, we had to introduce ourselves. I panicked, then they laughed, and I walked out for some air. I made a beeline for the ladies' bathroom and I cried. That could've broken me, torn me apart but I chose not to let it affect me in any way whatsoever.

The biggest anxiety I had was my stammer - but I knew not to let it overpower me and overtake my ability to do some good public speaking. Yes, I stammered, and it was fine. 

Of course there have been times where I've stumbled and blocked on my name, which resulted in a group of people laughing in my face. That just taught me to not shy away from the fact that I do have a stammer and that it’s a part of me. Acknowledgement and acceptance of your stammer only makes you stronger internally as well as externally. What I know now is my stammer is a part of me; it has made me who I am and that is just never going to change. 

Not an obstacle

Years have gone by and I am still impacted by my stammer. It's become more obvious now, doing my Masters. But I went into that with the mindset that I would refuse to let my stammer be an obstacle to any future achievements or success. The reason I keep going is because of the love for the job and for the people I work with. 

Before the COVID-19 outbreak started, I was working as a Postgraduate Student Ambassador at the University of Birmingham and I played a pivotal role during a postgraduate open day. I found myself becoming more active and involved as ever and I was given the opportunity to do a talk on student experience and wellbeing. Thankfully I wasn't doing it alone and was working alongside another ambassador. We got on so well and delivered an incredible insight into student life. The biggest anxiety I had was my stammer — but I knew not to let it overpower me and overtake my ability to do some good public speaking. Yes, I stammered, and it was fine. Advice from friends and family meant that I did not let it affect me in any way. I kept reminding myself of my long-term goal: that one day I would work in higher education (within the realms of student outreach, recruitment, and widening participation). It worked out so well in the end and I have never been more confident in my capabilities as I am now. 

A young man siting in a pub looking at the camera with the text 'Share your story'

Pride in myself

Overall I’m so proud of myself for being able to achieve something like this. As a person who stammers, it just goes to show that you can do anything you set yourself. My future and ideal career means that there will be a lot of public speaking and interaction happening; it’s what I love to do and I’m ready for it.

I'm so proud of myself for being able to achieve something like this. As a person who stammers, it just goes to show that you can do anything you set yourself.

I have my own story when it comes to my stammer and like thousands of others, I don't want to feel ostracised or isolated in any way due to my stammer. I am blessed with the opportunities I have received to enhance my self-confidence when it comes to public speaking, and I will continue to pursue those. 

I want to end this article with a quote I came across - I just think this is worth reading, and remembering: "I may have stumbled and stammered at your unexpected push, but the breeze anchored me and I learnt the art of survival" ― Vijaya Gowrisankar.

If you're at university, either as a student or a member of staff, see our College & Universities page for information on getting support when you stammer. See also the Stammerers Through University Consultancy (STUC) website.  

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