Overcoming the fear of speaking
Prior to my stroke, I was reasonably comfortable to talk in groups - it was not my favourite pastime - to be honest - nonetheless did it if needed arises. I spoke at my wedding, presentations at work, my sports club functions etc but I preferred to be not the limelight to me - particularly when facing a group setting. Public speaking has always made me nervous, and I always tried to avoid it.
In the early days of my stroke recovery, my aphasia was a very big problem. I was struggling to find the words and sentences and my communication was very, very poor. Luckily I am still improving, and I am speaking and conversing with almost anyone. I know my speech is definitely not perfect - I know that - but it is liberating to be able to speak, and I have a better life now because I am communicating with people who can understanding my speech.
But public speaking is a bit different from normal conversation talking. It is sometimes terrifying, and scary - I still get butterflies every time when speaking to a big audience - but public speaking is uplifting, exhilarating and satisfying also - especially when the speech was all over, and the audience was happy, entertained and more informed.
In the Alfred Health Community Rehabilitation (at Caulfield - roughly 3 years ago), I participated in a speech presentation skills group (maybe 5 or 6 people) where I had to stand up and give Powerpoint presentations to the group. I was nervous, each time because my speech was relatively poor in this stage, but my speech therapists were encouraging and positive. I chose my topics (for my speeches) because it was more relevant and I spoke about football, barefoot-running, cricket etc. The subject matter was less important than grammar, and I received good strategies to prepare for the speeches, and hence I received more confidence and advice.
My rehab centred on goals - naturally. Aside the presentation skills group, I attended one-on-one speech therapy also. One session (with Claire my speech therapist), I said ‘I need your help’. My cricket club (Maccabi AJAX) organised a fundraising dinner for me, and I desperately wanted to prepare a short speech for the function to say thank you - It was my first speech after my stroke and the date was almost after 13 months my stroke.
The ‘Legends Dinner’ was memorable night - similar to a sportsmans night with dinner, guest speakers, silent auction, raffles etc. Over 200 people came to the function, honouring our cricket club stalwart - Barry Kave - because he had completed 50 years of playing cricket and he reached the 800 wickets milestone. Barry is a humble man and a friend, and he agreed to proceed with the function only because of helping me. I am (still) grateful, humbled and shocked by with Barry, and the generosity and support of my cricket club, wider community also. This was a difficult time for me and my family but made so much easier by the support of so many.
Claire helped me with the speech: Who to thank, important points, and - of course - the grammar. I was speaking with ‘broken English’ eg. missing words in my sentences, confusing with tenses at the stage. We decided to combine - my ideas and Claire’s grammar - because it was important to me that the audience understands my speech. The speech was written with ‘proper English’ and the most difficult thing was say and pronounce the little words (eg. ‘It’ ‘is’, ‘that’ etc). Basically it was a team effort and thank goodness for Claire’s input.
My speech was only three minutes long, but I practiced the speech at least 20 times beforehand and after completed the speech, I was happy and very relieved. My friend videoed the speech (Loz’s speech also) and I can't believe how far I have come.
After the cricket club dinner, I received more confidence in speaking, and 18 months thereafter, I spoke at Seek as part of Stroke Week with the Stroke Foundation. I spoke about how I survived a stroke, recovery, goals, motivation and my speech was roughly 20 minutes. My speech was mostly a word-to-word with good grammar, and also intertwined with ad-lib sentences. This was a huge milestone for my recovery and I was overwhelmed the audience response the feedback was very good - and I decided to speak again soon.
I am four years post-stroke now (I know, time flies), and I delivered four speeches since the cricket dinner - with very diverse audiences. Seek (corporate); one primary school; one high school; and recently I spoke at St. Vincents Hospital with the staff.
Every time I speak, I am more comfortable, confident and easier to convey my experiences. I don’t know my future plans yet - eg. volunteering, therapy, working etc - and I am not proactive about speaking , but I will try to be available to speak with anyone - One on one, small groups, large groups - because my experiences hopefully can help raise awareness of stroke, and benefit other stroke survivors.