This weekend I spoke at WordCamp Manchester and again feel privileged for every chance I get to have space for my voice. This isn’t a talk where I share my slides and notes though, this is a little more personal.
Speaking for me often seems something every part of me isn’t made for. This isn’t where I ask for sympathy though as I want to be clear there are many reasons why I do speak, one being every time I do it improves me. What do I mean though by being not made for speaking? I am Dyslexic and whilst that’s not in itself a reason to not speak, for me it manifests verbally at times with word retrieval being difficult. This happens more when stressed and standing on a stage in front of people is never stressful right?
Like many I also am by nature shy. If I know you then I am talkative but it’s not my default. I have spent many of my 43 years learning from people who aren’t and I am a good mimic. My wish to be in the shadows is perpetual though and my happy place is being unnoticed. I also have some hearing loss in my left ear. Whilst daily not an issue to me, this causes some difficulties when on stage with noise behind me or heavy accents asking questions in quiet voices high up in a dimly lit audience. I have at times totally mixed up what question was being asked and then ended up answering a different one. Little fact, around 1 in 6 people in the UK have some form of hearing loss, it is incredibly common, also that increases with age. Combining hearing complications with my under pressure brain’s stumbling to process complex language fast, can make for an interesting interpretation of any question.
I repeat though this isn’t a post asking for hugs and puppies. Every single person has their own story, their own experience and this is just mine. It’s easy to assume when you see a rehearsed speaker who they are and what they are experiencing. Different people have different motivations for speaking. Just like the swan, gracefully gliding on the top of the water, yet underneath all action below frantically paddling. You never see what goes on underneath the speaker’s surface you see.
About now you are probably wondering why I even speak. Why I stood in front of an audience yesterday and mentally reached for a word having to on spot swap for another. I found the new word and moved on. For anyone that this happens to every success is therapeutic. You prove to yourself survival and thriving. Those that know me will see when this happens and support by not pointing it out. The reality I have accepted over time is those that don’t know me, rarely notice, despite what my mind assumes. This single fact has given me confidence and along with both speaking and practicing speaking, I have learnt and grown in my coping mechanisms.
There are things that enable me to speak. Over time learning to appear to make eye content but not making it really was something opened up question sessions for me. If you look in-between the eyes it is easier. Rehearsing and reaching for words as I forget has given me a range of options to swap in. Similarly taking time with questions asked me, learning to repeat them back to those that asked and even asking for it to be said again, these add up to a great confidence practice. Dark mode for keynote has also been incredible for me. I make notes in my own ‘me-hand’ that makes sense for me and likely makes no sense for anyone, but allows me to have a support in speaking. I distill from full sentences as they would mean I’d be more likely to misread if had to lean on them.
Why I do this goes beyond the therapeutic, beyond the challenge and not accepting anything I feel or experience I can’t (stubborn is my natural state). I am driven to share my experience, like many. It’s a privilege to speak. I have been supported in doing this and that matters. Giving space to anyone to speak is something crucial, it’s how we get more voices. Over time I’ve realised nobody is really made for speaking. Speaking for me actually has benefits it doesn’t for others. It’s given me confidence, skills to communicate in large groups and made me realise I have things worth saying, that can be said by me. I am who I am today and can do what I do today because of speaking. It is exercise for me and I am growing stronger every talk.