About the presenter: Grant Meredith is a lecturer in multimedia and games design within the School of Science, Information Technology & Engineering at the University of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. He has achieved bachelor degrees in both Computing and IT and is currently working through PhD research looking at the experiences of stuttering students within the Australian higher education system. Grant is also an active and innovative developer and researcher within virtual worlds and is the programme leader for the Technologies for Empowering People for Participation in Society (TEPPS) Programme (http://tinyurl.com/tepps). Grant enjoys the challenge of lecturing and communicating with a stutter.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

Walking into the Coliseum: Another day at the office

by Grant Meredith
from Australia

The gladiator buckles on his armour, unsheathes his sword and grips hard the wooden shield preparing for the onslaught ahead. The arena crowd eagerly awaits the entrance of the enslaved warriors and the bloodshed to come. The gladiator has been trained solidly in the art of combat and is well aware of what is too come. He is acutely aware of both his flaws and his strengths. He has accepted the possible fates that could pan out from this confrontation and his prepared for all of them. He knows that he will face hostility and adversity. He knows that some of the crowd out there beckon his doom. Yet his strides out into the arena ready for what will come.

This passage sounds like a scene from a Hollywood "sandals and swords" epic film but perhaps some readers could associate the passage with an average working day in their lives. Or perhaps some people could liken it to an average working day in my life. I am a person who stutters who works in a verbally communication heavy career. I am an academic, based in the School of Science, Information Technology & Engineering (SITE) at the University of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. As part of my role for SITE I am the first year coordinator and transition coordinator for new starting students. I am there to help freshly enrolled students adjust and survive in what is to most of them a new, strange and exciting world of higher education. In my role as an academic, I also present at conferences, represent the University at meetings and liaise with outside parties. I have to communicate verbally with people every day but yet I am operating effectively and profitably for the University. Now you may question how bad my stuttering actually is. I am not going to get into a comparison of syllables stuttered per minute with anyone else who stutters. I can tell you though that my stuttering is regular and marked, making it impossible for me to be covert in behaviour. It is plainly obvious to the listener that I stutter and at times struggle with it. Occasionally I run out of air during a hard block and have to take a deep breath and start again.

So how do I effectively communicate? How have I become a respected member of the University community? Why have I been encouraged to undertake prime speaking roles? Let's look back at the gladiator story discussed earlier for comparison and contrast. Unlike the gladiator I never enter a talking situation with a mindset that the listener will act aggressively or negatively towards my stuttering. Stuttering will, if at all, barely rate as a notion in my mind and I will not have any preconceived thoughts of the conversations to come being combative in nature. I am there maybe to teach, maybe to enquire or maybe to debate. I know that the listener, whether they know that I stutter or not, is not out to actively harm my body, spirit or confidence. I understand the reasons for the listener's reactions to my long blocks and facial contortions until they get used of the way that I communicate. Watching and listening to a person with a marked stutter may initially shock, confuse and possibly embarrass the listener. I would never hold their initial reactions against them. I believe that most people will only see your stuttering as an issue if make it obvious that it is an issue for yourself. People generally reflect back the manner of the people that they are communicating with.

Now you may wish to know how I handle the task of lecturing to a hall full of students. During the first class of each semester I welcome the class into the hall, introduce myself and quickly disclose my stuttering. One of the first slides that the class sees is entitled "I stutter". While discussing this slide I take the time to reassure the class that the blocks, contortions and repetitions that they will see and hear are nothing to be alarmed about. Some people are very worried the first time they see me severely stuttering because they are unsure what is actually happening. I have had people in the past who thought that I was having a seizure or a heart attack during a heavy block. From very early on I have set the welcoming tone and environment of the lecture hall. The listeners have been educated and informed about my stuttering. The stage is set for a very positive start for the semester and a relationship between all parties is starting to form. Students appreciate the fact that you have disclosed to them about your "problem" and that you do not portray it as a negative issue. It could be very uncomfortable for a class to sit in front of a lecturer week in and week out who looks and acts like he is struggling and does not want to be there. I never mention my stuttering to the class again after that initial disclosure unless someone asks me a direct question about it.

During class although I may be struggling through long blocks and sentences I will never portray the struggle in a negative fashion. I will always wear a smile on my face, I will always interact with the class and I will always proceed forward with the lecture. At times I may truly be using a lot of energy to speak and even at times I may be in physical pain trying to speak. Sometimes if I have had a really challenging two hour session my facial muscles will feel very weak and sore afterwards. Despite these struggles I am still a successful teacher and the class grows to feel at ease with my behaviour, but like the gladiator I will adapt to the situation at hand. For example if I am struggling through a slide then I may on the fly quickly find a Youtube example video to assist or perhaps I will throw questions and discussions back to the class for them to discuss. I run by the old military motto of "improvise, adapt & overcome".

Just like the gladiator of old I am trained and prepared for the situation that faces me. In this case the lecture. I have expertise in the study area, teaching qualifications and experience under my belt. I am conditioned to the experience and to the subject matter. Most of my success comes from using purely basic teaching principles that have been proven to work. I continue to train, hone my lecturing skills and attend professional development. I use my stuttering to my advantage and I adapt my teaching to aid the student. I attempt to do the best with what I have. I use what people may say is my disadvantage as an advantage. I do not fight against my stuttering because it can be used to enhance communication.

Some advantages of being a lecturer who stutters quickly come to mind are:

The next point to discuss is how I am able to present to an audience effectively beyond the classroom. In most cases this would be at an academic conference or perhaps to an industrial audience. I approach this situation slightly differently from the lecture environment. I have been asked to present at these events for a specific purpose and in my mind my stuttering should never rate a mention or be an issue. The reason that I am there may be to discuss the findings of a study or to outline a design concept for external project funding. In these cases my speech again is not a concern at all and I focus purely on the reason why I am there to present. I would not have volunteered or been asked to present if my superiors or I thought that I could not handle the challenge. During these presentations I use all the same strategies and tactics that I use for my lectures except that I normally do not disclose. The listeners in these cases care little, if at all, about my stuttering. The listeners rapidly look past my disrupted levels of fluency and focus on the message. Although at times the method of delivery may be a little rough, it is the message that they are there to listen to. How the message gets delivered is of little consequence to the listener. The listener is primarily there for the presentation content. They are there for serious and focused reasons. They want to hear my ideas, thoughts and concepts.

My ability to survive and add quality to these presentations lies in basic presentation skills and is not a magical formula. Some of which include:

Using these basic public speaking tips and techniques I have managed to become an effective speaker in and out of the classroom environment. Too often do we let stuttering hold us back from public speaking and interactions. I believe with a positive mindset and if you take control of the situation you will find that the challenge of public speaking is not that hard after all. We can all add value to society by at least attempting to interact and get our messages out there. Do not let past experiences and pre-conceived notions hold you back. We all have beautiful voices and opinions that need to be heard. Make sure that yours is heard also. Never let anybody tell you that you should not go for a job or attempt a career due to your stuttering. If you are truly passionate about something then at least do your homework and investigate what you will be required to do and how you are expected to interact. We can and do hold positions of power, importance and direction. You can also.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

SUBMITTED: July 29, 2011
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