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This week, I’m delighted to welcome guest blogger Rachel Coldicutt to the voxgig newsletter. Rachel writes about public speaking with a stutter in a really great, matter-of-fact way. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers; instead, she tells us how she goes about overcoming anxiety and getting herself up on stage and giving kick-ass talks. I hope you enjoy what she has to say.

  – Richard

Guest blog: Tips on public speaking with a stutter by Rachel Coldicutt

I don’t speak about my stutter much: for one thing, I don’t have to — it quite often speaks for me. But I do do a lot of speaking. Of all kinds. In fact, probably one of the most annoying things about me is that you can’t shut me up, and — unusually for someone with a stutter — more and more of that speaking is in public.

Quite a few people who stutter ask me for advice on how to approach public speaking, and I don’t always have time to speak to everyone — so what follows is a few thoughts on how to prepare, what to expect, and what to ask for. This isn’t scientific or therapeutic advice, but it’s how I deal with it.

I can’t help you to be magically, perfectly fluent — I can’t help myself to do that — but hopefully I can inspire you to remember that you do have a voice, and that it’s okay to use it.

1. Say Yes

If someone asks you to do some public speaking, before that awful liquid feeling takes over your stomach and you think you might pass out, say yes. Don’t say “No”, or “That’s not for me,” or “Are you sure? I have a stutter.” They’ve asked you because they want to hear what you have to say. It’s a compliment. Take it.

I mean, really. Go on. You’ll be great.

2. Be Prepared

The prospect of standing up in front of an audience, having something to say, and then saying it all can be very overwhelming. Also, no one tells you that people who make it look easy are almost always very well prepared; just like when an athlete or an actor wows you with their performance, they have almost certainly practised and prepared and got it wrong very many times before they have got it right.

One of the problems of doing public speaking when you have a stutter is that you can be so scared of The Stutter and Stuttering, you forget to do the other stuff. But don’t do that. If you know what you’re going to say, you’ll think about the technicalities of your speech* less. (*By “speech” I mean, how you speak, not the words you are going to say. For the purposes of this blog post, the words = your talk, how you speak = your speech.)

On all the non-stuttering stuff, Ella Fitzsimmons has written this fantastic guide to everything from what to wear to how to stand to how to structure your talk. So start with that.

3. If It’s Helpful, Use Slides

Everyone’s stutter is different, but I am really bad at reading aloud. If you are too, the following might help.

The words that defeat and overwhelm me are the ones I can’t change: whether that’s saying my name, reading my bank card details, giving my date of birth, or ordering from a menu. Sitting around a table at one of those awful big meetings, waiting till you have to introduce yourself, turning your name over on your tongue, wondering if it’s too late to run out before the introductions get to you, is far worse for me than standing up and giving a talk.

So the idea of reading out a talk, word for word, is completely impossible. But slides are a brilliant prompt — I can structure and break down what I want to say into short chunks, and then use the visuals to guide me through what I have to say while I’m speaking.

Quite often, I will start writing a talk by writing it like an essay, and then section it out into slides and relate each point to a picture, with the text pasted into the notes section of Keynote or Powerpoint so I can read them aloud while I’m practising. Generally, I will have practised a talk enough (say, 10 times) that I can more or less remember what the picture is telling me to say without having to read the notes verbatim.

I can also pick out any particular challenging phrases or quotes and put them on a slide, so that — if I’m uncomfortable saying them — I can point everyone to the slide to read the contents. Probably lots of speech therapists would say that’s cheating, but frankly, I don’t care: if I’m on a stage in front of hundreds of people and I’m not totally in the moment enough to stop, breathe in, and say the word on the exhalation, I can just point at the freaking slide and that’s fine. Really this section should just be called “cheating”, but I’m sure you get the drift.

4. And, Relax!

When I was a teenager, the best speech therapist I ever had (a woman named Barbara Mastrud) told me about a vicar who was a patient of hers, who got through giving a sermon every Sunday by going to bed early with a hot cup of cocoa the night before. I remember being really cross about it; I remember not wanting to specially get a good night’s sleep, I remember it not seeming fair. But seriously, she was right: have a good night’s sleep.

On the day, I also avoid caffeine and drink chamomile tea, and if I feel I need to, I might start the day with deep breathing or some vocal exercises to just make sure everything in my jaw and throat area is as relaxed as possible.

I also try to avoid unnecessary stresses. For instance, I’ll have worked out how to get to the venue beforehand, I’ll have spoken to one of the organisers about how the A/V will work on the day. If I’m lucky, I might even have already had a chance to stand on the stage and see what it all looks like, and do a tech rehearsal. This tends to only happen when I’m doing talks with big audiences, but if you’re very nervous it’s really worth it as it means there won’t be much to faze you when you get on stage, and don’t be afraid to ask — remember you are entitled to this as an accessibility need, but you will need to be prepared to get there before everyone else in order to do it.

5. Ask for Help

As I said previously, I find it really difficult to introduce myself. If there’s going to be a compère, I will ask them to introduce me by name, so I don’t have to worry about that.

6. Keep Going

When you get on to the stage, you will almost certainly feel some kind of adrenalin rush. That adrenalin always makes my stutter a bit worse than it would be normally, and makes it likely I won’t remember to use my control.

But — and this is the most important thing — it is fine. It is fine to stutter.

Throughout my childhood, I was often told that having a stutter isn’t fine, that I should control it, that I should make it go away. And while I have benefitted immensely from speech therapy, I’ve not yet made my stutter disappear. And more to the point, it hasn’t killed anyone. I might have embarrassed some people, I might have made some teenage waiters laugh nervously, I might have made innumerable people in call centres say, “the line is really bad, can you repeat that?”, but I haven’t killed a single person by stuttering. And I very much doubt that you will either.

So go ahead, stutter.

And then carry on talking.

There aren’t many people with stutters in public life, so it’s hard to feel permission to stutter in public. But it really is fine.

And, the other thing that no one tells you, is that every single person in the audience wants the talk to go well. Everyone wants the next 5, 10, or 20 minutes of their life to be interesting or informative or funny or moving or awe inspiring. Unless one of the people in the audience is your nemesis (and frankly, your life must be quite exciting to have a nemesis), no one is going to want you to fail. So trust the audience. Let them enjoy themselves, and maybe you will too.


Rachel Coldicutt




Voxgig Podcast

Coming Soon… 

I am delighted to announce that  voxgig is starting a podcast series! The title of the series is ‘Fireside with voxgig’. In each podcast, I’ll be interviewing leading experts from the events industry.  The aim is to deliver high quality insights, valuable public speaking tips and enjoyable personal success stories, all in a relaxed, informal and chatty style. Keep an eye out here for the first podcast in the series, coming soon. 

Speaker Profile

Megan Washington on Stage in front of a grand piano

The Thing Is, I Stutter

Megan Washington

When faced with the challenge of a speech impediment, public speaking can seem like an anxiety-ridden obstacle that is much better avoided. How does one overcome that? Australian singer/songwriter Megan Washington gives some insight into her own journey with a stutter over the course of her life and career. “Somehow, through some miraculous synaptic function of the human brain, it’s impossible to stutter when you sing. And when I was younger that was a method of treatment that worked very well for me. Singing. So I did it a lot. So that’s why I’m here today.” Megan delivers a brilliant presentation with humor and grace, following it up with a beautiful demonstration of how she is taking control of her challenges and inspiring others.

Learn from the Best

Lee Ridley (Lost voice guy) has Cerebral Palsy and is on stage wearing a tshirt that says I'm only in it for the parking

Lost Voice Guy has the audience ROARING with unique comedy routine | Auditions | BGT 2018

Lee Ridley

Winner of 2018 ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, Lee Ridley AKA Lost Voice Guy stole the show and became one of the most memorable acts the show has ever or will ever see again.

Tell me…

What is your biggest challenge as an event speaker?

This newsletter is for you. I want it to resonate with you.

So go ahead, hit reply, and tell me what you want to read about. Or email me at richard@voxgig.com. You can tweet too: @voxgig.

I’ll address the most pressing issues in each edition.

Blog Post

A TED speaker’s speech impediment and ways to overcome it

Ed Chow:

“So do not despair if you have a speech impediment. The truth is, your stage story is so much more powerful because of your vulnerability. After all, audiences connect to speakers not by what they say or how they sound (these are important nonetheless), but the heart-to-heart message that energetically moves one to tears or to action.”




Speaker Training

Do you speak at conferences? Want to learn how to give the very best talks? Or are you just starting out and want to overcome the fear of speaking on stage?
We are running speaker training workshops in Dublin, Ireland and London, U.K. over the coming months.

Speaker workshops are £150

There is an early bird price of £100 if booked a month in advance.

Conference Highlights

Indonesian dancers dressed in traditional dress performing traditional dance

Running Remote conference highlights 2018

When the venue for the Running Remote conference popped up on my screen earlier this year, I loved the setting, the venue, and the whole idea behind the conference. That idea is to connect remote workers around the world and bring them together in order to network and share what works for them.  I didn’t make it this year, but after such a successful conference in 2018, I am sure there will be many more.

Three Conferences


Scala Italy

Scala Italy

Are you a Scala enthusiast or interested in learning more about the Scala programming language? Then pack your bags and head to Florence for the annual Scala Italy conference! The venue is located on the banks of the river Arno, close to the Ponte San Niccolò on the Lungarno il Tempio. Not sure what that is? Google it and we’re sure you’ll be buying your ticket pronto. Benvenuto!


Serverlessdays Portland

Serverlessdays Portland

One Day. One Track. One Community. Serverless Days Portland is part of a series of global events formerly known as JeffConf. Different name, but same content, focusing on the serverless community and real world solutions. The Pacific Northwest welcomes you to do some exploring while you’re there too.


IP ExpoNordic

IP ExpoNordic

Going three years strong, the IP ExpoNordic enterprise IT conference returns to Stockholm for two days, along with an exhibition. IT professionals come together to learn and explore the latest advancements in the world of technology. DevOps, Serverless, Cyber Security and Blockchain are just a few of the topics that will be covered. The venue is located just a mile south of Stockholm City, so be sure to make a list of sights to see.




CFP Calendar

These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.

A favour…

Can I ask you for a favour? If you enjoy this newsletter, and if you find it useful, please consider recommending it to a friend who is learning to give technical talks, or who aspires to do so. I meet so many cool programmers who have brilliant things to share with the world—that’s you!

Please help me to improve this newsletter – I’d love to hear your suggestions! You can email me directly at richard@voxgig.com. You can tweet too: @voxgig. Thank you so much for reading!

A special thanks and shout out to TammyCora, and David for helping to make this newsletter even better!


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