This pandemic has allowed me to focus on self-development
For Shane Zimmerman, the shift to working from home in the pandemic and speaking on video calls has been challenging. But as he explains here, it's helped him face up to his fears around stammering.
I am an ex-pat from the States, living in the UK now for five-plus years. My job relocated me here from Southern California, as I work for the tech company Apple, managing some of its retail locations in the UK.
I have struggled with stammering all my life. I am 49 years old and am only now coming to terms with it. Like many people, I tried to cover up or hide my stammering by putting myself in situations which I knew would lessen my triggers and make my stammer less obvious to others. When I did stammer, I often felt a sense of shame and frustration with myself. In my own way I have come to terms with it over the years, and my other strengths help me connect with people and grow my professional career.
Pandemic & video calls
The past year and a half have been a challenge for everyone and like most people, my job shifted to working from home and spending the majority of my day on video conference calls. This environment presented itself as a new challenge for me, as when I was having face-to-face meetings with people, I was able to talk much slower and cover up my stammering. In physical meetings I can read the room and see how I am connecting with the audience more easily.
In physical meetings I can read the room and see how I am connecting with the audience more easily than.
When doing video conferencing calls, however, I started to notice my speech would speed up, which then triggered my stammering, then the cycle would start. My stammer became more frequent, and I felt more exposed as I wasn't able to cover up my stammer like I had been able to do in the past. Often my role requires me to present to large groups of people. I found myself feeling more nervous in these moments delivering them via video, and I thought this would lessen the impact of the message that I was trying to deliver to the audience. I would often use word replacements when I got stuck, which again would negatively impact what I was trying to communicate.
But I have been working on this. I am getting much better at slowing my speech down when video conferencing, and I feel more confident in this space now.
This pandemic has also allowed me to focus on my personal self-development and face my stammering for the first time in my life. As I already shared, I have been very skilled in covering or hiding my stammer. I also have been able to have a very successful career with a top company regardless of my stammering challenges.
I decided to contact a speech therapist for the first time, which was a huge step for me as it meant I had to finally acknowledge this as something I needed help with and couldn't cover up anymore. As I started this journey of self-awareness via professional help, reading books and listening to podcasts, it has indeed been a transformative experience for me. I have stopped trying to hide my challenges with stammering and have started to share them with others. I have even gone as far as to share that I am working with speech therapies with my boss. I would have never done this before, as I viewed this as a weakness and something too personal or embarrassing to share with someone, let alone my boss.
I have always tried to push through my stammering issues alone... Now I realise how unhealthy that was and wish I'd discovered the support available from the stammering community years ago.
I still have much work to do on slowing down my speech, which will help my stammering. However, I have now discovered a new community that I never knew existed. In the past, I have always felt alone with my stammering, as I did not know anyone who stammers like me or knew anyone to talk to about this. I have always tried to push through my stammering issues alone, tied to being as fluent with my speech as my friends and colleagues were. Now I realise how unhealthy that was and wish I'd discovered the support available from the stammering community years before.
One of the reasons I am sharing my story is because I would like others to know they are not alone, and a challenge like this doesn't have to hold you back in achieving your goals, professionally or personally.