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Speaking as a librarian

Mark Tynan | 01.06.2011

Speech therapy has taught Mark Tynan how to be at ease with himself and his stammer. He puts this into practice when giving lectures to students.

Mark TynanI work as a librarian in University College Dublin (UCD). To be specific, I am a librarian in Development Studies Library in UCD Library. Working in Ireland's biggest and busiest university library means that not speaking is not an option, which is good as it means I cannot hide or use avoidance techniques. I have to speak to students and staff all the time - on the phone, at information desks, in lectures - and, while it can be stressful and I do stammer, the world doesn't end when I do.

I have had a stammer since I was about eight years old. I have been to many different speech therapists over the years as a child and an adult - everything from one on one and group therapy to psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, self-help books and the Internet. Most recently, in 2009, I went on a 6 day intensive course run by Patrick Kelly, a speech therapist who himself stammers, and this was the best and most successful course of its type I had gone on. It taught me how to be at ease with myself and my stammer and not to worry about it too much. If you stammer, you stammer and your day should not be ruined by it. Further information on this course is available at www.patrickkellystammering.com or by Googling "Patrick Kelly stammering". Since I did Patrick Kelly's course I am happier in myself, more contented and much more open about the fact that I stammer. I speak more about my stammer to friends, family and work colleagues and have found that speaking about it makes it less of a problem.

Giving lectures

As a librarian in a university, a large part of my job involves having to speak to and lecture students. These lectures can range in size from two or three students to a couple of hundred, and can be on topics as diverse as finding information, plagiarism and conducting efficient and scholarly research. When I started working in UCD in 2007, these lectures were something I dreaded. I'd have sleepless nights wondering how I was going to say "literature review" the next morning. I'd have nightmares where I'd suffer disastrous blockages, and whole lecture theatres would laugh and taunt. Now I sleep fine, and say "literature review" the next day, and if I stammer while doing so, so be it.

The main thing I've learned and try to remember when giving these talks is that things never turn out as bad as you think they will. I'm still always nervous though and go through Powerpoint presentations beforehand and identify the slides and words that will cause problems. Do I put a slide in with an image so I can point and get the word out that way? Or is this using a trick and avoiding the problematic word? So do I just say the word and be done with it? It's never straight-forward! I find that the best way is always to say whatever it is you want to say.

Years ago, when I was myself a student in UCD, one of my English lecturers prefaced her first lecture by saying she had a stammer. She then made light of it by saying one student had once told her she thought her stammer was great, as she had loads of time to take notes! I have forgotten a lot of what lecturers said in college but I remember this. I thought she was great and I follow her example now and say right at the start of my (much less interesting) lectures that I have a stammer. The students will know anyway and by saying it first I retain control and am often more fluent afterwards. Unlike my nightmares, the students don't laugh or taunt. They usually don't react at all. As they are listening to a librarian speaking about the library catalogue, they are probably not listening anyway! But it's worth remembering that what's most important for us is not so important to our listeners. UCD students are like most ordinary people we meet everyday and are generally decent and polite and have their own thoughts and problems. The guy from the library who stammers is not the person they'll think about last thing at night. Maybe though, like my old English lecturer, one of the students that I talk to will themselves stammer or know someone who does and remember me, long after what I have said and the way I said it is forgotten.

From the Summer 2011 issue of Speaking Out, page 9.