Make Room For The Stuttering

Be Memorable!

Posted on: December 2, 2011

I really don’t want to be identified as the lady who stutters at work. But I know darn right well that is how some people know me and remember me.

I stutter during one-on-one conversations, I stutter on the phone and I am known to stutter when making small or large group presentations. Contrary to what I used to think, most people in my world know I stutter.

There’s certainly worse things to be known for, right?

I could be known as the one everyone hates dealing with because she never follows through.

Or I could be the one that everyone knows is always late.

Or I could be known as the one that you can’t tell anything to because she can’t be trusted.

On one of the stuttering forums I visit, someone was talking about how it’s too bad some people reach “old age” and never come to terms with the fact that they stutter.

He shared an observation that he had when he had a group of people over to his home recently. People were gathered around, talking, laughing, chiming in when they had something to contribute. He also noted that there were several different conversations actually going on at the same time.

He found it interesting to watch how people jockeyed for the right moment to jump in and add something to a conversation when they had something they wanted to contribute. Sometimes people talked over one another and interrupted.

He also mentioned that he didn’t contribute much because he really didn’t have much to say, and was rather busy keeping people “watered and fed.”

But when he did have something to say, the conversations stopped and everybody listened. Because this guy insists that he not be interrupted when he speaks. Sometimes he struggles to get his words out, so when he does want to contribute, everybody listens.

I likened this to being memorable. People remember people who stand out and say something compelling and valuable, even when stuttering while sharing their point.

A friend and I talked about our stuttering last night. He was venting how frustrating it feels to him to have conversations at work with colleagues or people in authority. He feels like no one knows who he is.

I told him what I thought about that! My take is that he feels that way because he rarely takes opportunities to initiate conversation and “make people want to hear more from him.”

When I said this, he looked at me with this “raised eyebrow look” of his that means, “What the hell are you talking about?”

I said to him, “You have to be memorable. You stutter, so be so compelling in what you say while stuttering, that people will definitely remember you.” I had his attention. I could see his wheels churning.

There’s worse things, right?

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12 Responses to "Be Memorable!"

I love the last paragraph. Sometimes, we are memorable just because we stutter, and that is certainly cool, too. All of us want to be special, yet when we ARE actually different, we hate it… I wonder why that is? Great job, Pam!

Memorable is defintely the right word, Pam. We – stutterers – need to use our stutter to advantage whenever we can because for most of our life it’s seen by us and others as a disadvantage. If we can learn to command a conversation – and often it’s as simple as the other person being too embarrassed to interrupt the stutterer in front of them – then we should grab that advantage with both hands. Likewise, if we make our contribution count, even with a stutter in tow, then the people around us will want to listen when we do speak out. Fluent folk have no problem speaking and by definition they often say things with little thought or sense. Stutterers are not so lucky but when they do speak they should make damn sure their words count. What’s more, someone who stutters, and controls the ‘room’ when he speaks will be remembered long after he leaves the room – for good or bad.

If you don’t talk than people don’t get the chance to know you. Putting yourself in a conversation is very scary, but you can’t get better at it without practice. I’ll add that I don’t think what you have to contribute has to be something huge either. Most people say things that are not necessary. For example: When a co-worker tells you about their weekend.

I once babysat a pair of twins. Great kids, but for years the only way I could tell them apart was one wore glasses. Not useful at night. I suspected it was always the same one who did her homework right away and the other stalled, but I couldn’t be sure.

Finally, I asked their parents, and they said the kid without the glasses had a scar on her eyebrow. After that, I made a point of identifying each kid when with them. Yes, they had very different personalities. After a few months I realized they also had different interests, speech patterns, and body-language. I could tell them apart from across the yard!

The way to make people remember you is to do what their parents did for me. Give them one trait they will remember easily, so they can add to it. “That bald guy had one good idea” becomes “That bald guy had three good ideas this week” becomes “That bald guy with the good ideas is fun to sit with at lunch” becomes “That bald guy with the good ideas who I sit with at lunch is good at helping me solve problems.”

Nice post Pam. I can remember when I was a PhD student and would have to give presentations. I used to always volunteer to go first and before I would start my talk, I would tell the audience I stammer. Many ‘fluent’ and more experienced people would tell me how brave that was. I encourage people who stammer to take the lead and be the first to speak up too. It’s great for confidence building.

Thanks all for reading and for leaving such good comments. This is an interesting topic.
Even though we have opportunity to be memorable, do we want to be remembered just for our stuttering and not for what ever our content is?
A friend wrote about that on the facebook comments – she worrries that people will only remember her for being brave enough to stand up and speak and stutter, and not remember at all her content.
Catch 22, huh?

I apologize if this sounds like a dumb question, Pam, but why do you not like your stuttering to be referred to as a “disability?” I am asking only to get your perspective on this. I guess it can be difficult to label “stuttering,” as stutters vary so much and so much is still being learned about what causes stuttering. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Absolutely not a dumb question! I guess I feel it should be my choice if my stuttering is to be labeled a disability. I don’t consider myself to be disabled by my stuttering, right now, at this point in my life. There was a time that I did feel disabled – but not by the stuttering, per se, but more so by the fear of stuttering and being judged as stupid because of how I sound(ed). When I was so afraid to talk that I didn’t, then I was disabled. I was not communicating.
I was not talking – or if I did, I didn’t say what I wanted, I switched words, or thoughts, or abbreviated what I really wanted to say.
I felt devalued and demoralized, so therefore, that was disabling to me.
These days, I stutter openly and freely and don’t quite care as much what other people think. I speak without that fear of judgement. Mot all the time, though,because I am certainly human and have those moments when I my stuttering makes me feel stark naked and too exposed.
Because I speak up and say what I want, all of what I want, I am communicating and I don’t feel disabled by my stuttering or my fear.

Do other people still react negatively or ignorantly sometimes? Yes! Does that bother me? Yes! But it doesn’t render me silent, like I was for so many years.
I felt like I was in prison, by my own hand, and the fear was so paralyzing sometimes – that was disabling.
I know I was disabled during those years – speaking is a major life activity, and when you can’t do, or think you can’t, or won’t do it, that disables you from participating fully in life.

I don’t like other people judging that I am disabled because I sound differently. My former boss, of almost 4 years, did that all the time. Referred to me as having a disability, told other people that I have a disability. I just don’t like that, not when I consider myself very able to do anything.

Does this make sense? What do you think?

I had an insatiable desire to “like” your response, too bad we’re not on facebook! Ha!

I agree that each PWS should be able to decide if they want their stuttering to be considered a disability or not. I guess its just a matter of communicating that to those around them. Like this past week, at an office meeting on harassment in the workplace, a co-worker used me (and my stuttering) as an example in his response to the group. It was innocent and I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend, but inside it made me very angry for some reason.

I am usually happy to communicate about stuttering to others, since, as we all know, people are usually pretty uneducated about it. For some reason, though, being referred to a)without my permission and b)by someone that doesn’t know me, it didn’t sit well.

I like how your post shows that a PWS’s perception of their own ability/disability is so strongly impacted by where they are in their own life at that point. Thanks for the insight Pam!

Thanks Michael! I wish there was a “like” button, but I guess the fact that someone takes the time to comment implies they like it! This topic is very close to my heart, as my former boss did that all the time, and really offended me, but in a power relationship, such as boss/employee, we often can’t really say what we want. I feel the same way as you said – how dare someone who does not know the real me refer to me in any way that implies he or she does.
I think you and I have a lot in common! Your comments are always spot on!

Wow, this post really hits home for me. My family interrupts each other almost constantly. I’ve sometimes wanted to record family gatherings, with multiple conversations going on and everyone talking over each other. It’s crazy. And it only hit my after many years of living away from home. Being interrupted constantly while trying to stutter well, and not avoid, is very very ..very.. frustrating.. to the point that I wonder if it’s a part of why I am in the 20% who’s stuttering persists into adulthood. (I learned that speech = challenge and failure/not getting a chance to say what you want to say). On a related note, since I have had a better attitude about my stuttering, and am actually trying to talk more, I am often repeating my points multiple times! (How annoying!) Maybe I feel that since I finally “got the floor”, I need to make sure I get my point in?

So, lately, I’ve been trying to balance all this.. I’m trying to figure out how to best deal with the interrupters, and also not say things over, but focus on what I’m saying and make it good. So far my plan with interrupters has been simply calling them out on it with some playful attitude: “Can I finish my sentence?” I think there’s a lot to be said for the balance. I used to work with a man who was very quiet.. but when he spoke, people listened, because he spoke with meaning, only when he had something valuable to say. And this worked, since he was pretty smart. I loved working with him.

-Lori

[...] recently inspired me to write a post called “Be Memorable!” Jon points out that stuttering makes us memorable, and that’s a good thing, especially in [...]

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