Being vocally proactive at uni with a stammer

17th July 2020

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.  

Would you like to write something for the site? Tell us how you're getting on at university or in the workplace. Find out how you can Share Your Story.

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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