Ten years ago Lynne Mackie would have laughed in your face if you said she'd be giving weekly presentations. It's all about self-belief, she says here.
I quite enjoy giving presentations. In my job, as a Specialist Librarian for Barts Health NHS Trust, I have to give them weekly as part of an induction. There can be anything from 30 to 150 people in those audiences. If you’d have told me ten years ago that I would be doing this, I would have laughed in your face. Because, like most people who stammer, I grew up with a deathly fear of talking in front of a group. In my mind, stammering during my presentation would just be a frustrating and embarrassing experience, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I would tie myself up in knots, convinced that my presentation was going to be a failure, no matter how well researched and witty it was. (In my mind, it was witty, but the jury’s still out on that one…).
My mindset was all wrong. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy where I was so certain that my presentations were going to be awful, that I stopped trying to make them good and was just trying to get through them. But then someone saw something in me that I didn’t.
Meeting others like me
When I was 15, I joined a youth drama project run by the BSA where – for the first time – I was suddenly surrounded by people who stammered. I could finally let my personality out and act big, in a situation where I knew I was safe and I was surrounded by people who wouldn’t judge me. Speaking in front of a group wasn’t so scary when most of the group knew exactly what I was going through.
But then I was asked to do a presentation at a BSA Open Day. Apparently, in the act of throwing caution to the wind and allowing myself to act the fool, I’d made someone think I was capable. I still didn’t feel capable. There was a huge difference between being willing to be assertive and confident within a group that I knew was safe and friendly, and trying to represent a national charity at a public open day. But… if they had seen something in me and thought I was good enough to do it, then should I trust their judgement over my own fear?
And thus my personal mantra, which I still uphold to this day, was born: If someone else trusts that I can do something, then maybe I can.
Someone is unlikely to ask you to give a presentation unless they think you’re capable of doing it, especially at an important event. By the mere act of asking you to contribute, they’re stating that they think you have something worthwhile to say, and that you’ll present it in an engaging way.
But can you do this if you stammer? Of course you can!
I’ve slowly realised that I’ve been holding myself back when I shouldn’t have been. Even if I stammer, I’m still capable of delivering an engaging and interesting presentation that people respond to. As long as I’m passionate about what I’m talking about, and can convey that enthusiasm, then it doesn’t matter if I stammer sometimes (or a lot – my stammer fluctuates depending on lots of factors and I never know how dysfluent I’m going to be on any given day).
I didn’t reach this realisation overnight, however. As I said, ten years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of giving regular presentations. Eight years ago, I would have given you a nervous smile and changed the subject. Six years ago, I would have shrugged it off and requested a smaller group to practise with. Four years ago, I would have done it but I’d have been studying every face in the room, looking for judgement.
Sometimes you just need to trust that other people believe in you.
It has definitely become easier the more I do. I still get nervous and still stammer, but I don’t allow that to dominate the presentation and I don’t beat myself up about it. Nowadays, I actually tend to disclose, along the lines of: "Just to let you know, I have a stammer so there may be some pauses, but it's fine - I'm just giving you time to take everything in". That takes the tension out of it.
Two years ago I had to give a presentation as part of a job interview. When I was offered the job, my new boss asked if I would be happy to give presentations. “Sure,” I said, “as long as you don’t mind that it won’t always be fluent.” She replied, “As long as you present like you did in the interview, that’s fine”.
So I go out weekly and represent my department at the corporate induction, because my manager trusts me to do so. And sometimes you just need to trust that other people believe in you.
For pointers on giving presentations, visit our Stammering at work page.