Make Room For The Stuttering

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I’ll never forget the time at a Toastmasters meeting where we had a visiting “dignitary” with us to install new officers. It was the beginning of a new Toastmaster year and it is tradition in Toastmasters that a leader performs an induction ceremony.

I was so surprised when our Area Governor, whom I had not previously met, started speaking and I realized he stutters. In a way, I was kind of excited to realize there was another person in the room and in Toastmasters that stutters like I do.

I have often heard that people who stutter have a sense of radar when we hear other people who stutter. We can hear the repetitions, the breaks in speech, the blocks, all signs that a person stutters. I found myself hanging on this person’s every word as he completed the induction. He spoke slowly, deliberately, with repetitions and blocks.

After the meeting, I went up to introduce myself and congratulate him for a job well done. I also decided to disclose that I stuttered too, and that I was pleased to see a fellow stutterer do so well in Toastmasters.

Well, he became quite defensive and denied that he stutters. I remember this like it was yesterday. He got a little red in the face and adamantly let me know that he does not stutter. I felt foolish, as I had “outed” him when he clearly did not wish to be identified as a stutterer. I remember apologizing quietly and hurrying away, feeling embarrassed that I had embarrassed him.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it?

Another time, I was at a networking meeting and heard a woman talking about her organization and clearly stuttering. I remember having self-talk with myself, again excited to hear another person who stutters in a professional environment and feeling conflicted if I should say anything to her.

The negative experience I had at the Toastmasters meeting still hung over me and I felt it was best that I not “out” another person. Disclosing that you are a person who stutters is a personal choice that needs to be respected, despite the overwhelming inside urge to yell, “hey, over here, me too. I stutter too.”

I remember being introduced at a Toastmaster meeting where I was to be a featured speaker. A fellow Toastmaster was responsible for introducing me and I thought he would share my usual bio which I had provided to the club, as we were all asked to. He ad-libbed a bit and added some extra things to his introduction of me.

He included that I was a proud stutterer and an inspiration to the club. I remember feeling embarrassed that he said that about me. There were people in the audience who were new and didn’t know me and now knew something about me that was very personal. It didn’t bother me that I stutter because I do and am open about it in Toastmasters. What bothered me was not being able to disclose it myself – I felt like I had been “outed.”

Now I knew what I felt like to be outed, even in a very well-intentioned manner and in a moment of pride. Ever since then, I have been very cautious about going up to anyone I hear stutter and saying anything, even the “I stutter too.”

It’s a slippery slope, outing someone as a stutterer or being outed yourself in a way you didn’t expect.

What do you think?

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Another TV reality show features someone who stutters, trying to make it big because of, or in spite of, their stuttering.

In the show, America’s Got Talent, we have a young man who stutters and is a comedian. His story is interesting because he says he stutters due to a sports injury. He explains it in the clip below.

Drew Lynch is a comedian and he’s trying to get people to laugh, but I would have liked to see some material that wasn’t encouraging laughing at just stuttering. All of his jokes were about stuttering.

What do you think?

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Earlier in the week, I did a presentation on stuttering to high school seniors who are taking a scientifc research biology class. In addition to talking about stuttering in general and my own experiences, I also touched on genetics and the neurological basis of stuttering.

The students were wonderful and asked so many smart and thoughtful questions. Truth be told, I was a little intimidated by them because they are so smart and all biological science enthusiasts. But they made me feel so comfortable and welcome, our time together just flew by.

Below are some comments from the students, which their teacher emailed to me. Feedback is so important. It helps us determine if we met our objective and did a good job. I felt I had and these comments made me feel so good!

Ms. Mertz

Your presentation was such an inspiration. I never fully recognized the emotional trauma that can accompany a stutter. It takes a strong person to be able to accept that and continue living their life. The video you showed us was especially moving, proving that a stutter can’t stop someone from living their dream.

Thanks so much for taking your time to speak with us,

Dear Pam,

I appreciated you coming to speak with us about your stuttering. You showed a lot of confidence when giving your presentation and did a very good job explaining the struggle you went through as a child. It was nice to hear about all of the programs that are available now a days to help people with stuttering issues get to know people that have the same disability. I was unaware that such programs existed.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you for coming in and speaking with our class. Your presentation was very interesting and informing. Before your presentation, I had never thought about the physiological affects stuttering could have on a person. After meeting with you  I now have a better understanding of the struggles a person who stutters and will be more open-minded in the future.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you so much for speaking with our class, it was so inspiring to see how comfortable and confident you were, I also thought it was so interesting how rare stuttering is in women. I never knew that! Thanks Again!

Dear Ms. Mertz.

Thank you so much for stepping out of your comfort zone to tell us about the struggles you, and others who stutter, have dealt with throughout your lives. I had no idea that stutters were cause by genetic and neurological factors. I always thought they were caused by stress or anxiety. Thank you so much for enlightening me and promoting a better understanding of those who stutter.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

I’d like to thank you for coming and speaking to our class. I understand how it must have felt for you to have done that, but I want you to know that we all benefited from your talk. By you putting yourself in that situation for us, we all have a better understanding of both sides of your iceberg. I hope you continue to do talks like the one you gave us, as to help remove some of the stigma that surrounds your disability.

This week is National Stuttering Awareness Week in the United States. It’s an opportunity for people who stutter to talk about stuttering to those who don’t, to educate and raise awareness.

There are many ways to advertise and promote stuttering awareness. Here are a few.

1. Consider wearing a stuttering awareness tee-shirt, wrist band or lapel pin to work or out in the community. If people ask about it, mention you stutter and take the opportunity to explain what it is and how it feels.

2. In your office, display posters or a coffee mug that says something about stuttering. (These items can be found in the store at the National Stuttering Association.)

3. Consider contacting a radio station and asking if you can make a public service announcement (PSA) about stuttering.

4. Read blog posts or articles or literature about stuttering to educate yourself more about stuttering. Great free resources are available at The Stuttering Foundation.

5. Stutter openly this week. If you are usually covert about stuttering, try to allow yourself to stutter openly. Be open if people have questions about your speech. Seize the opportunity to raise awareness.

This week I am speaking to a high school senior class that is specific to scientific research and public health. I will be addressing my personal experience with stuttering along with talking about the neural and genetic basis of stuttering.

I have also submitted a brief article to my local newspaper about how to listen to someone who stutters. It has been accepted for publication and will be printed in the paper tomorrow.

What will you do this week?

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I had a really great conversation this week with a colleague about stuttering. I was talking with a new staff member about a Google hangout I participated in with people from all over the world, and how much I enjoyed it. She asked me what was the topic and I said stuttering.

PamEpisode 139 features Heidi Reynolds, who hails from Panama City, Florida. Heidi is 23 years old and works full-time as a nanny for twin children. She is also finishing up her undergraduate degree and is waiting to hear back from grad schools to which she has applied.

Heidi aspires to be a SLP and also wants to get her doctorate degree so she can research stuttering and eventually teach.

Listen in to a meaningful conversation about guilt. Heidi shares that she often feels a lot of guilt for listeners having to listen to her stutter. She is working on balancing that guilt with acceptance. She has reached a place where she feels comfortable with “this is me.”

We also discuss speech therapy experiences, use of speech tools, the Speech Easy device and so much more.

And we finish up by discussing the National Stuttering Association and the importance of self-help and support.

The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

PamEpisode 135 features Ashley Marcinkiewicz, who hails from Clifton Park, NY. Ashley is currently a PhD student at the University of New Hampshire, where she is studying microbiology. As a PhD student, Ashley teaches biology courses. She also enjoys hiking and outdoors activities.

Listen in as we discuss what it’s been like teaching and how Ashley has handled advertising her stuttering. We also discuss techniques and tools Ashley uses for when she gives presentations.

We talk about speech therapy experiences, the importance of attitude in how we approach our stuttering and how stuttering can be used as a benefit.

We also discuss the importance of community and learning from others’ perspectives about stuttering.

This was a great conversation, full of honesty and humor. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions in the comment section.

The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2015.

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