Speech is important for Ade Abimbola’s work as a change management professional. After getting help through NHS speech and language therapy, he has learned to be himself and embrace the strengths the stammer gives him.
I have been stuttering for as long as I can remember. Many people who know me may be surprised to learn about this, due to my often reserved demeanour and because I used to thoroughly think through the words in my head before I even let them slip from my mouth. This meant I came across as speaking fluently.
However some very close to me are very much aware of the struggles I’ve had to go through: for example going through speech therapy as a teenager which helped until I stepped out of the building; sometimes staying silent when I have something I’m burning to say but don’t have the right words to use without stuttering; or looking nervous and not confident.
I have gone through many phases in my life. At first I was secretive about my stuttering and would change certain words or even avoid talking to people. Although the sentences would flow perfectly like a river running down a mountain in my head, I just couldn’t utter them out loud.
As I went through university my stuttering fluctuated. I was always concerned about how everyone would perceive me if I stuttered, which made me self-conscious. But I started to push myself to do more speaking, or volunteering to be the first and last to speak at presentations. I found speaking last helpful because I could articulate my words calmly, slowly and clearly without feeling rushed, and also because it helped me clearly articulate key messages from our presentations. I would still struggle to use the words I originally intended, so I would change them at times. However speaking up at university has in turn allowed me to be more confident when, for example, now at work I’m getting my messages across in a room full of managers, or speaking in social functions with friends or people I’d never met before.
Pushing myself to do more speaking at university has in turn helped me to be more confident at work.
Moving into work
As I entered the career stage of my life, things became more daunting. I’m a change management professional for an organisation that owns and manages the infrastructure of the rail network in England, Scotland and Wales. One of the main requirements of this role is to engage with various stakeholders; these can range from train signallers and train operating companies to managing directors at different levels both within and outside the organisation. I found myself having to change words a lot more than usual, the fear of being seen as incompetent or not confident started to take priority. There were days I would go home and spend countless hours replaying meetings/discussions in my head and say to myself “I should have said this” or “I didn’t say what I wanted to say”, “did I say enough to get noticed”. At times it felt as if someone had their hands over my mouth when I spoke. It was especially frustrating when I had difficulty doing things which are simple for most people that don’t stammer, like ordering food or speaking on the phone.
There were days I would go home and spend countless hours replaying meetings/discussions in my head
I knew I had to find a solution. So the next phase in my life was to seek help and advice, by joining a speech group run by an NHS speech and language therapist. It was by doing this that I got to understand that I wasn’t the only person that stuttered and it was nothing for me to ashamed off. Additionally, I was given tips or techniques on how to overcome these fears and insecurities that had plagued the better part of my life, for example remembering to take deep breaths, not rushing sentences, and always staying calm even when I feel the words are not coming or when I feel nervous. I read books, articles and watched videos that taught me and gradually gave me the confidence I needed.
As a result of my battle with speech, I have developed a few significant strategies that have worked for me and ultimately helped me to overcome my issues. These strategies include:
1. Writing down 5 key questions and outcomes I would like answered and achieved from a particular conversation or meeting. For example, what issues do we need to agree at the meeting?
2. Getting clear in my mind the key message that I would like to get across in the situation.
3. Reviewing notes from the speaking situation and what were the challenges and why?
4. Focusing on communicating effectively and putting less focus on how much or little I stuttered.
5. Getting feedback from colleagues I trusted on any presentation I gave.
Rather than do all I can to kill my stutter, I have learnt to be myself and embrace the strengths it gives me.
I am pleased that I have learnt to take on the elephant in the room, I have started to speak openly about my stutter and the challenges I find with some of my colleagues and line manager. Rather than do all I can to kill my stutter, I have learnt to be myself and embrace the strengths it gives me, such as:
- Great listening skills, due to not trying to rush out words when others are speaking
- My ability to remain calm in very stressful situations
- Highly resilience and empathy
- My ability to simplify complex information in my head before summarising it into words
- My ability to clearly understand what stakeholders at my work actually want and not what I presume is good for them
- Focusing on articulating the messages I want to get across and why
- Celebrating people’s individuality, by giving them the opportunity to express themselves.
Thank you for reading.