16th September 2020
As a child, marketing strategist and consultant Debbie Jollie made several discoveries that helped her grow in confidence. Here, she describes how these led her into a career teaching others that people who stammer can be good communicators.
For as long as I can remember, I have stammered. As a little girl I was embarrassed and ashamed to open my mouth to speak.
I got teased repeatedly, and got a lot of 'NOs' from people. Fortunately, my memory only has a sprinkling of tough stories as I have largely avoided being bullied throughout my teenage years into adult life.
For the first time I realised that my stammer wasn't in control of me, I was in control of it.
The simple things that we take for granted as individuals, like hanging out with friends, playing sports or going to the movies, always gave me moments of anxiety in my younger days because at some point in time I would have to speak.
I never wanted any kind of negative attention growing up, but most of all as time went by, I knew I would rather be more fluent.
Putting myself in front of others
I stammered all through primary and secondary school but got a glimmer of hope at the age of 13 when a teacher asked me one day to read a poem out loud. I was petrified! I usually avoided eye contact with teachers up until that point, so as not to get called upon. But I breezed through each stanza with very little stammering. I felt really good that day, and for the first time I realised that my stammer wasn't in control of me, I was in control of it.
Later that year, I would make another mind-blowing discovery when our English teacher put my class into groups to create and perform plays. Since I stammered all my life, many might assume that a drama class, which requires speaking in front of my peers, would be an activity I would avoid. I mean, part of me did want to. I definitely didn't want to look like a fool. Nor did I want to disappoint my friends. I knew innately, however, despite the doubts in my head, that this would be something I could do and do well.
I knew innately, however, despite the doubts in my head, that this would be something I could do and do well.
Now, I don't remember the whole plot of that first play. I just remembered that someone else in the cast dressed as a chicken and we received a thunderous applause from our classmates when we were finished. But I did it.
As time went by I did more plays. It became quite an experience for someone like me to put myself out there, before a group of students and perform without the fear of stammering over my words.
When I left secondary school, I still wasn't completely comfortable with my stammer. By this time, my fluency had increased tremendously but I was by no means out of the woods. I was no longer actively engaged in doing plays, so I needed something to 'train' my speech. I decided at the age of 24 that I couldn't be a person who loved marketing and the Arts and not be able to command my voice.
Here enters my teaching career.
What started off as a selfish journey to help control my stammer has turned into 10 plus years of passion for helping others through Academia.
It occurred to me that getting into lecturing would function much in the same way as participating in a play, that I would have to stand in front of strangers and speak. So I started doing it part time. But what started off as a selfish journey to help control my stammer has turned into 10 plus years of passion for helping others through Academia.
Now I am a marketing strategist and consultant for companies in my professional career, and I use the tagline 'The Stammering Communicator'. This is my intentional use of a phrase many will say is an oxymoron! I demystify the idea that people who stammer cannot be good at public speaking or communicating with an audience.
My anxiety and stammer are not mutually exclusive. The days when I stammer most is as a direct result of a big project I am working on or something new that I am doing. This is a common myth though, as I later discovered from another person who stammers. While having a stammer for me may have caused me considerable anxiety in social situations, such anxiety itself is not the cause of stammering.
Now, everybody stutters sometimes. But that is quite different to someone who is living with a stutter EVERY DAY.
Stammering is often a confusing and misunderstood disorder of communication. For anyone who stammers, one of the first ways to deal with this speech impairment is to embrace it....not hide from it. That's what I did.
It has not been an easy road but I am driven to be the best and to improve myself every day. Nothing will stand in my way… not even my stammer!