Jordan Hall on being a political animal and what it's like to work at Westminster with a stammer.
On the face of it, politics isn’t the most natural environment for someone with a stammer. It’s competitive, fast paced and there is an emphasis on verbal communication and public speaking. For a time, I would have ruled it out as a career option for that reason. But four years working for an MP has taught me that those assumptions are unhelpful. Anyone with a speech impediment can make it just as well as those without.
I was seventeen when I first got involved with political campaigning. Watching Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and his ‘Yes We Can’ mantra inspired me to get involved with British politics and start campaigning in the run-up to the 2010 general election. My eighteenth birthday was after polling day so I missed out on the chance to vote. In the end my party lost but I had found a new passion and had started a journey that would eventually take me to a job in Westminster.
Accepting that my stammer is just part of me and not a weakness to be ashamed of has made the biggest difference to how I approach speaking situations.
My stammer had started around the age of three but had got progressively worse during my teenage years. At seventeen I was painfully shy, very self-conscious about my speech and rarely spoke to people outside of my friends and family. As you can probably imagine, my first experience of phone canvassing was a challenge and it was some time before I found the confidence to put on a rosette and knock on my first door.
Joining the McGuire Programme was the start of the process of finding my voice and my confidence. At university in Liverpool, there were very few weekends when I wasn’t out campaigning with local activists. There was always a great buzz and my speaking confidence grew. In my final year I joined Liverpool Speakers Club – not with any ambition to stand for elected office, but to get more practice speaking in front of an audience.
After the 2015 general election I started my first full time job as Communications Officer for Anna Turley, the Member of Parliament for Redcar. The feeling of imposter syndrome was strong at the start. I constantly had those nagging doubts and that negative inner voice us stammerers are all too familiar with, telling me I was in the wrong place and it would all fall apart. Yet, with an encouraging boss, supportive colleagues and now almost four years of everyday experience, those doubts have fallen away.
One of the things that often stands out for me is the unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities people experience because they feel held back by their speech.
I now work in Westminster as Anna’s parliamentary assistant – a busy and speech-intensive job ranging from writing speeches to liaising with the media. The phone rings regularly and I often have to speak in meetings. My first big speaking challenge was in a meeting of MPs representing steel communities. My fear level was high and those anxious thoughts about whether my speech would hold up came to the surface. In the event it went well; I took my time and focused on delivering what I needed to say.
I’m open about my stammer and the work I put in to control it. Most of the time, people are patient and supportive. It is easy to be swept along by the pace of a busy day in Westminster, which can be challenging for my speech. But ultimately, having a stammer and speaking differently to many of my colleagues does not impact on my ability to do the job. Accepting that my stammer is just part of me and not a weakness to be ashamed of has made the biggest difference to how I approach speaking situations. Everyone has something to bring to the table and difference is something to be celebrated.
When speaking with other people who stammer, one of the things that often stands out for me is the unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities people experience because they feel held back by their speech. I recently recorded this interview with BBC London to help show that having a stammer doesn’t have to be a barrier to pursuing your dreams. Impatience and misunderstanding are undoubtedly hurdles to be overcome, but often what we as stammerers tell ourselves can have an impact too. Believing in yourself is half the challenge.
For pointers on coping with stammering in the workplace, visit our Stammering at work page.