A Survivor’s Guide to Public Speaking: Tips before you begin
Thursday, May 4th, 2017
Tips for Survivor Speakers
As a survivor, are you considering if, how, and when to share your story with the public? Do you wonder what it would be like to step into the role of a public speaker? This guide includes frequently asked questions and tangible steps that can help you make some of these decisions and develop a plan for sharing your story if you decide to do so.
NOTE: There may also be a potential impact on family members, friends, co-workers, and community in general of telling your story. Think about some possible scenarios as you are preparing and “walk through them.” For example, your family and/or friends may be surprised to learn about your abuse, or upset that you never told them about it. They may feel that you should not be telling “family secrets.” The victim advocate working with you would be an important source of support while assisting you with this process.
Am I ready to start telling my story?
There are several considerations that can inform a survivor speaker’s decision to tell her story publicly. Issues related to safety, physical and emotional well-being, and the overall impact on others of sharing a personal story all deserve attention. Questions such as, is it safe to share my story publicly? Do I really want to share my story or am I feeling that I SHOULD? Who could help me figure this out? These are some of the points we encourage you to consider as you decide whether or not to share your experiences with others in a public forum. Sorting through these questions can be challenging. However, victim advocates, other survivor speakers, and often family and friends can help inform your decision. Keep in mind that while others could provide you with support during this process, it is ultimately your personal decision to take this step.
How might telling my story impact my safety and well-being, my children and others I care about?
Impact on your emotional well-being
Speaking about traumatic events that you have experienced may produce strong emotional and physical reactions for you. While many survivors feel strong and empowered after telling their story, some survivor speakers also describe being exhausted and emotionally spent after public speaking events. Some have had flashbacks and nightmares or experience depression in the hours and days after sharing their story. Some have also experienced physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches after presentations. Others have noted how helpful it was to have someone supportive at the presentation or later in the day when they returned home. Some survivors prefer to clear their schedule before and/or after the event to allow adequate time for processing and reflection. Others plan self-care activities such as being with family and friends, spending quiet time, or going for a walk.
Impact on children: respecting your children’s boundaries
Depending on their ages, your children may or may not be aware of many of the details of the abuse you experienced. As you contemplate whether or not to tell your story publicly, consider how your children might feel about you bringing this information out into the public arena. Even if they do know the details, hearing about the events again may be embarrassing or upsetting to them. If the person who abused you is also their parent, ask the children how they feel about you sharing that story with strangers. Usually, there are aspects of your story that can be shared even if you leave out specific details that your children wish to keep private.
Ongoing risks from the person who abused you
Remember that the person who abused you, or his/her friends and family, may hear about your presentation. As you think about whether you are ready to become a survivor speaker, consider whether it is safe for you to do so. Some survivors who have publicly shared their stories were stalked or threatened by their former partner even though the relationship had ended years ago. Some abusers have threatened to sue organizations that have asked the victim of their abuse to speak. If you have any concerns about current or future safety risks, explore these with an advocate and review the guidance in this guide.
Want to read more? Click here for the full guide.
This material was reprinted/adapted from the publication titled, From the Front of the Room: A Public Speaking Guide for Domestic Violence Survivors & Advocates (September 2011) by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV). Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network contributed to the Spanish version of this report.