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They laughed in the right places

Martin Overing | 01.03.2010

Rotary Club talks are an excellent way to raise awareness of stammering as well as gaining confidence in public speaking. Martin Overing talks about the experience.

Martin OveringLast spring I received an email from Leys Geddes (now BSA's Chair) asking if I would like to give a presentation to a Rotary Club in Coventry in the autumn.

This came as a bit of a shock as I had only ever given one presentation, which was at the BSA conference in Telford 2007. I had also applied to give one at the BSA conference in London that summer - but both of these were in front of fellow people who stammer and speech therapists. Either the feedback from my first presentation was better than I had thought, or Leys had not realised that I was not a proficient speaker. However, I did live only 5 miles from Coventry.

Surprisingly I gave it some serious consideration. Until I was 28 I was a chronic stammerer. After analysing my stammer, I came to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that it was based on fear. To cut a long story short, I find I have to face this fear to have some level of fluency. This means placing myself into situations that convert the fear into confidence. The higher the fear factor, the higher the confidence, the less I stammer. (The longer story is in the blue box).

So with plenty of trepidation I agreed to give the presentation, and in November found myself at the Rotary Club dinner. Mr Hands who had first approached the BSA enquiring about a speaker was looking after me, and I confided in him that this was my first presentation so I was bound to be a bit nervous.

After a fantastic four course meal, there was a bit of club business which mostly centered around raising funds for good causes. Then Mr Hands stood up and introduced me, the topic of the presentation, and the fact this was my first ever presentation in public!

This is when the adrenalin hits, oh what a feeling, the adrenalin takes away most of the fear. I had made some notes, well typed, highlighted important areas. I might as well have left them at home.

Launching in

I first warned the audience that there would be a lot of hand waving and foot tapping. Then I launched into what is basically my life story as someone who stammers, accompanied by plenty of stammering and with frequent word avoidance thrown in.

They did laugh in the right places though, which I take as a good sign that I was doing OK. The time my speech therapist had me holding a conversation with the speaking clock, and the time she had me talk like a robot "My name is mar-tin o-ver-ing", and the child psychologist sending me to a special school for assessment in the back of an ambulance for a month and later the teachers there telling mum what a pleasure it was to teach a 'normal' child* - all got a laugh.

The speech was to last 20 minutes and I had a hard time to reduce what I wanted to say to that long. I missed chunks out of my presentation mainly because I got carried away, for example on getting an evening job as a bingo caller.

Then came the questions. At the BSA conference that summer it had been lucky I finished my presentation early because the questions kept coming, and I really look forward to them. If I get asked questions, then the audience has been listening and understood, and feel compelled to find out more. That must be the highlight of any presentation.

The presentation at the Rotary Club was the same, I had questions coming from all quarters, I enjoyed the ad-libbing that comes with answering questions, the humour that can be injected into the answers, and the help that I can give by answering a query on stammering.

After a round of applause normal club business continued, a toast, and then it was all over. People were kind to come to me saying how they enjoyed my presentation and how well I did for my first time. Some days later I received a kind letter from Mr Hands thanking me for the excellent presentation.

Will I do another presentation? Maybe, I may even do one at the next BSA conference. See you there!

*BSA note: Schools and therapists today have far more understanding of childrens' needs, and children now should have a different experience to the writer.

How I deal with stammering

"The higher the fear factor, the higher the confidence, the less I stammer."

That is a little ambiguous isn't it. My 'eureka' moment came when I analysed my stammer and found (rightly or wrongly) it was due to a psychological problem not a physical one, and it was down to fear. I then narrowed it down further to a phobia (again rightly or wrongly)

A stammer, as we know, cannot be cured but phobias can! After 28 years I had something concrete to come to grips with and fight.

There are two ways to beat phobias or a fear of something: the slowly slowly approach were you take small steps to beat the fear, for example the fear of flying - so seminars, then being shown around a plane, plane taxi-ing but not taking off, then the flight - done over time to help the sufferer acclimatise.

Or there is the 'bull in a china shop' approach... face the fear head on and face every challenge whether you mess up or not....I took the second approach!!

The day is full of challenges for people who stammer - talking to work colleagues and family, talking to strangers and girls, asking questions in meetings and so on. Each challenge has a level of fear but also each has a level of's the confidence I'm after..... and the adrenalin rush is fun too!!

I have also tried to remove or not permit negative issues in my life. For example at the last BSA conference I was asked how I viewed this idea of "my stammering iceberg." My answer was I didn't have one - to admit that such a thing or idea existed was too negative for my simplistic and uncomplicated lifestyle.Martin Overing

From the Spring 2010 edition of Speaking Out, page 7