Networking For Stutterers: Lessons from The Undateables

Have ever  met someone who you  really wanted to talk to?

It’s not because  you did not have  the questions etched in your  mind in bullet-form.

But your heavy tongue could  not  get you passed smiling  and nodding sheepishly.

I remember  when that happened to me.  I attended a networking event and a friend of mine introduced me to this quite  dashing  Spanish VIP and the only thing that I could say  in Espanol apart from “Hola!”  was “Hasta la vista!”. ( Ok. Maybe I should not blame this one on my stutter.)

Recently, I watched an  episode of TLC’s The Undateables  where a young  British guy, let’s call him Gary  had trouble finding  his soul mate since he suffered from Tourette syndrome.  Gary’s  problem was exacerbated when he was nervous. In turn, he would  just say what was on his mind without filtering and even curse out loud. Hence, he had very few friends who accommodated his tics

Stutterers  would like to enjoy the pleasures of an ordinary life,  like having a hearty chat with your close friends and family.  I can’t even begin to explain what it feels like to be able to express  your  feelings and  describe  situations so that  others to paint  the story in their minds. In the world of business, it’s no different,. You have been told over and over again about  the importance of networking  but  making   conversation is such a daunting task.

Here are a couple of tips that I gathered from Gary’s successful blind date in that episode of The Undateables that can  hopefully a take a bolder step in dealing with stammering.

  • Research the event (or person)  so that  you can go prepared.  Knowing  who is likely to attend will  enable you to know what kind  of  issues to raise in conversations. In  Gary’s case, the date was organised  by a dating agency for people with disabilities.So he was quite lucky to be paired with someone  ho had similar interests. As  the date went along, he became more comfortable  with  himself and his date, till his tics eventually stopped.

 

  • Never underestimate the power of practising  your speech or running the conversation in your mind.  Have a friend  who can role play  different scenarios. This  will not only  broaden your  conversational horizons but also  build your confidence.  As  I had shared in a previous post, I was lucky that from an early age that I got used to standing before audiences thanks to my primary school music teacher.

 

  • Avoid the use of conversation fillers…you know…like..um…whatever. They kill your credibility and makes your audience want to pull their hair out. I knew this first hand when someone imitated me once #NotFunny. Instead, try taking a pause. This gives you a chance to take in a deep breath, gather your confidence as re-arrange your thoughts. Fast Company quotes journalist Jim Lehrer on the power of a pause:

“If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”

You can read the whole great article here.

  • Take advantage of your stutter and become a great listener.  However, following Nicole Lapin’s  early-in-life strategy of  nodding and smiling  in every situation will make you a doormat.

 

  • On that note,  if  you know someone who does, please do not  complete their sentences for them. Some stammerers maybe ok with it  but most tend to feel like the wasting your time or that you are impatient.

 

  • Have a back-up plan: this is a great chance to  make  good use of the synonyms that you have learnt . Ok.  Within  reason. I like the way actress Emily Blunt puts it in a speech  that she gave at the 2009 American Stuttering Institute Benefit Gala.  It’s weird having to say  “Affirmative” instead of “Yes” when someone asks you something like “Would you like to come to the party?” .   Just  make it  seem natural.

 

  • Please do not take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the light moments and if you are brave enough make a slight joke out of it. Help others also be comfortable around you.

 

  • Be yourself and let other people know that awesome you.

 

 

Related links:

StutterTalk

Coping with Stuttering

Katherine Preston on Finding Pieces of Me After Making Peace With Myself and  her book, Out with It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice

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About Lillian

I am a proud student of the human experience which provides me with the perfect excuse for being a bibliophile (read: book hoarder) and the unofficial patron of Nairobi Inama bookshops. But in my past life, I was a recorder player. You can also find me on Medium (@lillianyamongo) where I discuss sustainable finance.
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