October 22, 2015
The communications industry can be likened to personal communication. It’s about clarity, content and relationships. As someone who stutters this is something of which I am acutely aware.
As today is International Stuttering Awareness Day I wanted to address lessons that I have learnt with my speech which resonate with the communications industry.
My stutter used to be so bad that I would screw up my face and slap my leg. I would be like a walking thesaurus constantly changing my words. I would avoid people and situations and only say what I could say and not what I wanted to say. Always living in fear of the next potential speaking situation, I would take my watch off when walking down the street just in case someone stopped me to ask for the time.
Now, however, having worked on my speech for several years I am in control. I can say what I want to say and I enjoy speaking. These are the lessons I have learnt from my stutter that I can apply to the real world of communications.
When my stutter was very bad I used to be so focussed on getting my own words out that I would have no idea what the other person was saying. It was a one way conversation. As I have been working not only on my speaking skills but also on my general communication skills I realise now that listening is often the more important part of the communications process. As the famous saying goes, that is why we have two ears and one mouth.
If I have a speech block I need to relax my diaphragm, breathe and start again. But when you’re in that moment and people are looking at you funny the hardest thing in the world to do is relax. It goes against all your instincts. Your knee-jerk reaction is to panic. But, much like in crisis comms, if you have the ability to stay calm under pressure you can survive any crisis. Taking a few seconds before you respond can not only help you choose your words wisely but it also makes you appear more assured and in control.
A stutter is fuelled by fear. The fear of speaking. The fear of stuttering. The fear of being different. But you are what you resist. The more you avoid the more you are afraid. The only way to beat it is to stand up to it, be honest and look it in the eye. Defuse the situation. This can be true of crisis situations or scandals. Sometimes the best strategy is to look people straight in the eye, admit your weaknesses and use that process to become stronger.
I’m not a fluent speaker. If I try to be a perfectly fluent speaker then I put too much pressure on myself and I fall. When I focus I can speak extremely eloquently but if I try to pretend to be something I am not then it’s never going to work. In this day and age you can’t just put out a snake-oil story or pull the wool over people’s eyes. With so many informed readers via the powers of social media we need facts, data and public opinion to back our campaigns.
A popular benefit of PR is to turn a negative story into a positive story. But I’m not talking about spin here. My stutter used to be an incredibly negative obstacle in my life. But now that I have been working on my speech and have completed some big speaking challenges, my process of change has been an incredibly positive one that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. It’s just about looking on your negative situation from a different perspective and finding the positive opportunities that it brings.