Make Room For The Stuttering

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I participated in a great conversation this week about ways to build confidence if you stutter. During a Stutter Social chat, a young person asked how some of us more “seasoned stutterers” deal with the anxiety of stuttering in certain speaking situations.

Some people shared their experiences from speech therapy, some shared from their perspective on acceptance and two of us talked a little about Toastmasters.

The following are some of the ideas that we shared about building confidence. Maybe you’ve tried some of them. Maybe you’ve got a suggestion to add.

  • Don’t obsess or rehearse before hand. That increases anxiety and decreases spontaneous conversation.
  • Consider advertising and letting listeners know that you are a person who stutters.
  • Try using voluntary stuttering to help you gain some control during the speaking situation.
  • Seize opportunities to speak, such as Toastmasters clubs or other speaking forums. Practice helps reduce anxiety and build confidence.
  • Remind yourself that you have as much right to be in that speaking situation as the next person, that your voice deserves to be heard.
  • If someone interrupts you, calmly let them know you’re not finished speaking yet and then proceed to complete your thoughts, no matter how long it takes.

What do you think? Do you have anything to add?



This is not directly about stuttering, but in a way, it is. This guy showed on a big stage how nerves and anxiety can get the best of any of us. The news shows are describing Mr. Bay’s performance as a “melt down” and “embarrassing stage fright.”

I took this a different way. I think he did us all a favor. He showed us that he’s human and felt anxious and vulnerable, like we all do from time to time.

How many of us, fluent or not, can relate to what happened here?


Episode 104 features Jessica Stone, who hails from New York City. Jessica has her Master’s degree from NYU in Mass Communication, and has been working as a copy writer in advertising for 16 years.

Jessica had set two goals for herself before she turned 30 – to get her master’s degree and to live abroad. Having accomplished the first, she set out to research the second.

She found herself leaving NYC to live in London, which turned out to be for 6 years. Through that experience, Jessica learned about networking, confidence and resilience.

Listen in as we discuss early memories of stuttering, covert stuttering, anxiety and breathing. We also talk about public speaking – both Toastmasters and Transformational Speaking – and Jessica’s experience with the McGuire program in London. And so much more.

Feel free to leave comments or ask questions, or just let Jessica know what a great job she did. Remember, feedback is a gift.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 18 of the conversations with men features Ray Welchman, who hails from South Australia. Ray is a systems engineer in a defense company.

He also runs “Feel The Fear” workshops as a licensed trainer for Susan Jeffers training. Jeffers wrote the wonderful book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

Listen in as we talk about different therapy experiences, the McGuire programme, avoidance, denial, hiding and so much more.

We talk about courage, growth and Toastmasters. Ray is the president of his Toastmasters club and and often finds himself privately exclaiming “look what I’m doing now.” Confidence and courage help us expand our comfort zones and grow.

Speaking of growth, see this video of Ray performing in a Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest.

This was a great conversation. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions. Feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode is from DanoSongs.

Producer note: apologies for the abrupt beginning. Technical difficulties resulted in a few seconds of Ray’s introduction being “cut off.”

At the FRIENDS conference this past July, one of the phrases I heard that really stuck with me was “listening deeply.” People were asked what they hoped to get out of the conference, and someone wrote they hoped they would learn to listen more deeply.

I have heard many people who stutter say they think they are better listeners in general because they are more aware of the importance of listening and because they also talk less.

What do you think of that?

Last night, I had to give a high stakes presentation to our school board. It was important that I conveyed my message powerfully in a short amount of time. When we were preparing, my partner and I had considered doing a PowerPoint presentation or just talking without “relying” on visual aids.

We chose to NOT use a PowerPoint and to just speak, and have handouts available for further reference for board members.

The group that spoke before us had a PowerPoint presentation, and I worried that maybe we had made the wrong decision to not use a visual.

As I watched and listened to the first speakers, I also paid attention to the audience. They were not paying close attention. They were looking through handouts and flipping pages as the speakers spoke.  I thought they were not listening deeply, as they were perhaps distracted by the PowerPoint presentation.

When I got up to speak, despite being very nervous, I just spoke. As I made eye contact with listeners, I noticed they were all focused on me, some made direct eye contact and they were listening. I could tell! I could see facial expressions, body language and head nods that told me they were listening.

I got the impression that they were listening deeply, as they were invited to do so by not being distracted with anything else. I think they heard my message loud and clear.

By the way, I stuttered a few times and did not feel in any way that it detracted from my message.

We all should aim to listen deeply. We might be surprised by how much we actually hear.

An interesting story came my way yesterday. Friends from the stuttering community passed this article around – “Did Michelle Obama Fake A Stutter?” to see what “real stutterers” think of someone who may have used stuttering to exude sincerity.

Stop for a minute and think about that. Why would someone giving a powerhouse political speech at the Democratic National Convention “purposefully stutter?” To add sincerity and impact to her speech? To win the hearts of her audience members? I don’t think so.

Michelle Obama doesn’t need to try and win over her audience. She already is a strong speaker, and knows how to connect with her audience.

This is just one more way to confuse people about stuttering. As we know, the average person has normal dis-fluent moments while speaking. Even presidents do!

If  Obama did have word repetitions, it wasn’t to purposely stutter so she could come off as more sincere or authentic or likeable. She had a few moments of imprecise speech like everyone does. She wasn’t using stuttering to win votes.

That’s just ridiculous!

You all know that I write about my experiences involving stuttering. I have wondered what will happen when the day comes when I don’t have anything more to say. Well, I am not wondering today.

Last week, I presented a training to a professional audience on public speaking and communication. The group consisted of speech therapists, occupational therapists and training coordinators who are all terrified of public speaking.

As an ice breaker, I asked everyone to introduce themselves and use one word or phrase to describe what public speaking means. Like expected, most of the responses were negative. We heard words like nervous, anxious, stressful, shaking, sweating, fear, and embarrassment. The last person said she didn’t want to stutter when speaking.

I felt my face flush when she said that. I had not yet disclosed my stuttering. She provided my cue. I reintroduced myself and said my word for public speaking was opportunity. I then added, “oh, by the way, I stutter, and I am OK with it. I hope you all are too.”

No one said anything, but I did notice a few glances toward the woman who had mentioned stuttering. I did not say this to embarrass her. It just seemed like the perfect time to disclose and advertise.

As soon as I did, I put it out of my mind and proceeded. Towards the end of the training, someone asked me why I had used the word opportunity.

I was the only person who had chosen a positive word to describe public speaking. I replied that it allows me to grow and push outside of my comfort zone, and that I don’t let stuttering hold me back.

This past week, I facilitated the second of two adult education graduations in one week. I had coordinated both events, arranged for speakers, and was the emcee at the first one. One of our district superintendents spoke at both affairs. He spoke on the same theme, changing the second speech up just slightly from the one he gave earlier.

After the ceremony, and before we proceeded to join the graduates for a reception, the administrators were chatting and I happened to be close by.

I overheard one assistant superintendent say to the one who had spoke, “hey, you did a nice job. You didn’t stutter as much as last week.” And she laughed. I glanced at them both – she was laughing, he was not.

I felt uncomfortable. It seemed like an insensitive remark to make, given that I had stuttered openly when I had emceed last week.

Maybe I am overly sensitive. What do you think? Would you have said anything?

Friday night I went to a youth public speaking event. Sixth grade kids have spent the last 21 weeks working with two Toastmasters on developing confident communication skills. This night was their final night and their chance to show off their skills to friends, teachers and parents.

These kids were all 10 or 11 years old and have been willingly learning public speaking skills that will be lifetime tools for success.

This was such an exciting event. The program was facilitated by two veteran adult Toastmasters who volunteered to work with these kids over the last five months. The kids learned how to deliver planned speeches, impromptu speeches and how to offer valuable feedback.

Toastmasters offers a program called Youth Leadership that is offered to high school students. That this program was offered to sixth grade students was so impressive.

I was invited to attend as an area leader in Toastmasters.

I was so impressed with what I saw on several levels. The kids were enthusiastic, proud, and supportive of each other. They were all dressed for success. The girls wore dresses or skirts, the boys dress shirts and ties!

The school encouraged and fostered this partnership with Toastmasters. The parents were obviously thrilled that their kids had developed such confidence. I knew this because several parents shared feedback at the end, and two said they wished they had this kind of program when they were this young. One mom got choked up with emotional pride.

I was not sure if I was going to be asked to say a few words or not at the event. I was prepared to if asked. As it turns out, there wasn’t time at the end, so I did not speak.

If I had, I probably would have stuttered, naturally or voluntarily, or mentioned something about stuttering. Would that have been appropriate? Maybe, maybe not.

One of the kids said something that struck a chord with me when she was evaluating (offering feedback) another kid who had delivered a prepared speech. All the kids had a speaking role.

This young girl said something like, “In Toastmasters, we know there is always room for improvement. I noticed that you seemed to stutter on a couple of words. Try not to do that next time.”

I tensed up as I heard that. I shouldn’t have, because it was a totally innocent comment made by an 11-year old girl who was offering feedback to another 11-year old girl. They were all nervous. And giving feedback is hard to do. You want to be positive, but you also want to give the speaker something they can take away and grow from for the next time they speak.

I found myself having an inner dialogue with my self. I thought, “wow, this kid is using the word stutter to connote something negative. We don’t want that. But what can I do?”

Then I thought, “well, if I have to say anything, and I stutter and wind up acknowledging that I stutter, that little girl might feel bad, so if I do have to speak, I hope I don’t stutter.”

Then I thought,” you idiot. This would be the perfect time to educate people quickly about stuttering. What if one of those kids actually stutters and no one knows, because like I did, the kid tries to hide it in school?”

Then I thought, “Stop talking to yourself, Pam. You are making too much of this. It’s not that big of a deal. You are taking yourself way too seriously.”

I was glad that they ran out of time and I was not asked to say anything on behalf of Toastmasters.

What do you think?

I have been involved with Toastmasters for almost six years. I love it! It has changed my life and I tell people that all the time, especially new members and those who may be interested in learning more about Toastmasters.

This year, I have been serving as an Area Governor, which means that I lend guidance and support to several clubs. I have to visit each club a couple of times a year and provide support and feedback as needed to help the members and the club grow.

I visited one of my clubs a few evenings ago and had a great experience. Whenever a Toastmaster leader visits a club, we are always asked to speak a few minutes. I noticed there were newer members and at least one guest. I chose to include in my introduction how much Toastmasters has helped me grow in confidence and courage, especially as a person who stutters.

To my amazement, two other people in the group also stutter. After I spoke, everyone else introduced themselves. One young man, a member for only a month, shared that he could relate with me. He said it was good to hear a Toastmaster leader talk about stuttering, as he also stutters.

And then, the guest at the meeting shared that he too stutters. He is from Copenhagen, Denmark and is here for a semester as an exchange student. He stuttered openly and shared that he too was happy to hear a Toastmaster leader openly acknowledge stuttering. He mentioned he had heard about Toastmasters through the McGuire (speech therapy) program he had taken in Denmark.

After the meeting, this young man said he felt comfortable and planned to join Toastmasters and then transfer his membership when he returned home to Denmark.

This made a great impact on me that night. I wondered if I had not shared about my stuttering in my introduction, would these two young men have shared? Maybe, maybe not. They might have felt no one could understand and might have felt they needed to keep it hidden.

I felt inspired that my choice to share personal information about my stuttering might have inspired those two young men to feel comfortable enough to disclose.

And what are the odds that 3 people who stutter would end up at the same Toastmasters meeting, totally unaware of the coincidence? Something tells me we were supposed to be there that evening to encourage and inspire each other!

What do you think?

Episode 4 of this occasional series with men who stutter features my good friend Joseph Diaz, who hails from Dallas, Texas. Joseph and I met at my first NSA conference in 2006, which was in Long Beach, CA. We have been fast friends since.

Joseph is a long time member of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). He has held many leadership positions with the NSA, including being a long time board member.

Joesph started stuttering rather late. His stuttering didn’t make an appearance until he was a junior in high school.

Joseph shares his long journey with stuttering. He talks about the times when stuttering consumed his life, avoidance behaviors and negative self-talk. He also talks about his “rock bottom” and how he turned the corner.

Joseph honestly shares about what it was like socializing, making friends and dating. We also talk about acceptance, and how that conscious decision to accept himself as a person who stutters shaped his life.

Joseph also shares his career path, and his very active involvement with Toastmasters.

We hope you listen in! Feel free to leave comments or questions for Joseph, or just thank him for sharing and doing such a good job!

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

An interesting article appears in today’s Business Management Daily about a worker who stutters who is hoping to get a promotion at her job.

She is told by her supervisor that the new manager would be brought in from another department.

When the worker asks why, she is told, “we know you work well with the other typists. They know about your stutering problem. But this is for a manager position. What about the communica­tion skills?”

She is further told, “We simply wouldn’t be doing you a favor by promoting you into a job you couldn’t handle.”

Couldn’t handle? I stutter and speak publicly in my job every day! To managers, communications specialists, teachers, administrators.

Read the full article here. There is some brief discussion on the American’s With Disability Act (ADA.) What do you think? Is this for real, or as friend Burt suggests, written as a parody?

I had an impromptu moment of stuttering humor at a Toastmaster’s event on Saturday, which couldn’t have been better if I had planned it!

Once a month, our Toastmaster’s division has an Executive Council meeting, where all of the officers get together and compare notes and progress.

On this day, I was asked to present the report for our division, in the planned absence of our Division Governor.

We follow a pretty tight agenda, and each presenter gets 5-7 minutes to deliver their report. Someone “times” us, and holds up helpful flags to let us know our pace and when to wind down. Red means stop! When I saw my “red flag”, I still had a couple slides left to cover and more to say.

That is not unusual for me. I often struggle to stay within timeframes, and have demonstrated that throughout my 5 years of giving Toastmaster speeches. I have given over 50 speeches and am on track towards my goal of DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster) which is the highest rank in Toastmasters.

So I said I wasn’t finished yet, and added, “Just so you know, stutterers are always entitled to more time.” That got an appreciative laugh from the audience.

Someone immediately chimed in and said, “Pam, you are well on your way to DTM, or ‘Don’t Time Me!” That got an even larger laugh from the group.

I finished up with my presentation and sat down to applause!

As I thought about it later, I realized how great a moment that really was. In a formal meeting following formal timing protocols, I injected impromptu humor about  stuttering, which was well received.

And a fellow Toastmaster felt entirely comfortable to “jab” back with a perfect little joke that everybody got and enjoyed.

Another example of the value of sharing our stuttering and making it a comfortable topic for anyone to talk about.

Last week I went to a presentation on tolerance. The name of the program was called “What Makes You Tic?” The speaker was Marc Elliott, a man in his twenties who was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when he was 9 years old.

He has lived with strange physical tics for many years, as well as inappropriate outbursts of name calling, cursing, and loud, odd noises.

His most-notable tic is/was the slamming together of his teeth, loudly enough to hear his upper and lower teeth grind and make contact. Imagine doing that for over 20 years!

His talk was very inspirational. He shared about how he often found himself explaining to people in school or out in public that his weird movements or sounds were not intended to bother or offend anyone, but that they were involuntary.

He also has lived with a rare intestinal disorder, making the “taken-for-granted” bodily task of relieving himself a particular challenge as well. He talked about never wanting to use a public restroom. He always felt he was being judged. Even when all he could see, and others could see, were ankles and shoes at the bottom of a stall.

If he heard someone come in to the bathroom, he would make himself stop “his business” in mid-action, in order not to be judged (or so he thought, in his mind.)

This is very similar to stuttering. How often have you chose not to speak, or switched words, for fear of how someone would react?

During his talk, Marc  made reference to stuttering. I was not surprised. I knew there was some closeness ( in the brain area) between stuttering and Tourette’s syndrome. And I am always interested in how people with differences manage in their daily lives.

Marc shared that in the last 5 months, he has gained such a level of acceptance for his tics, that he rarely tics in public anymore. He said he almost never thinks about the fear of how others may perceive him, which has given him control over his tics. This is where he made reference to stuttering. And what surprised me, frankly.

He indicated that like Tourettes, if people who stutter could just forget that they stutter, like we do when we sing (!), we would be able to reduce or eliminate stuttering, like he has done with his tics.

He never quite told us how he has eliminated his tics. He said we could read about that in his book, (of the same title, “What Makes You Tic?“) which is due out by the end of the year.

At the end of the program, many people started lining up to speak with him. I got in line, deciding to let him know (gently) what I thought of his comment about stuttering.

I was close to the front of the line, and listened while some young girls cooed about how amazing and inspirational he was. An excited group of three got another friend to take a picture of them with Marc.

When it was my turn, I introduced myself, using some voluntary stuttering until real stuttering took hold. I told him I enjoyed his talk, but was a little curious about his reference to stuttering. I shared with him that if not thinking about stuttering was all it took for me to not stutter, like he no longer tics, then I needed to know the secret right away.

I also said, “I bet you didn’t think anyone who stutters would be in this audience, huh?” He did seem genuinely surprised and commented that he was glad I had come up to him. He also said he was grateful that I had shared a little about stuttering, and that maybe he needs to get more information before he “uses that connection” again.

We spoke for just a few minutes, but I knew I had his attention. While we spoke, he “ticked” quite obviously – his mouth clamped tight a couple of times and his gaze was all over the place. Maybe it was because I was stuttering freely, or like me (with my stuttering), he tics more one-on-one with someone than he does/did when he was on the stage talking and using a microphone.

I think he was actually surprised that I came up to him and had the guts to gently point out (for me anyway) that his analogy about “not thinking” about stuttering wasn’t the answer.

He thanked me and gave me a hug before I left.

I was glad I went up to him and was honest and stuttered openly. We all learn from each other.

Episode 73 features Jeni Cristal, who hails from Long Beach, California. Jeni is 22 years old and attends the University of Long Beach, majoring in Health Care Administration.

Jeni will graduate in spring 2012, and plans to go on for her Masters degree in Public Policy. Then she wants to apply to law school, with the long-term goal of becoming a prosecutor.

Jeni is from a very large family – she has 10 siblings! Two of her brothers stutter. Listen in as Jeni shares her poignant story of growing up not being allowed to talk to her mother – because her mother thought Jeni’s stuttering was contagious! She was only allowed to talk to her mom if she was fluent.

We talk about how tough it was for Jeni to not talk about any of this for years, and the changes in her relationship with her mom. We also discuss disability resources for college students, speech therapy, forgiveness, letting go and acceptance.

Jeni and I had a great conversation. We both got choked up at the end of our chat, as we realized we had made a real emotional connection. Sharing our personal stories does that!

Please feel free to leave comments for either of us, and especially let Jeni know what a great job she did. Feedback is such a gift.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

A friend who I haven’t heard from in a while checked in with me last night via our LinkedIn connection. He ran across my article I have written for the 2011 ISAD conference. If you haven’t read it, please do. Its called, “I Stutter! How In The World Can I Join Toastmasters?”

Tom had been a member of my current Toastmasters club for a little less than a year. He was a ball of fire – a man possessed in fact. He gave a speech at every opportunity there was for him to speak, and earned his Competent Communicator (CC) in about 6 months time.

He has now joined a club in the Baltimore area, and shares that he is on track – his track – to have his Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB) and Advanced Leader Bronze (ALB) by June of next year. I have no doubt. He’s one of those guys that sets a goal and goes after it quickly.

He commented on my paper and said he enjoyed reading it. I emailed him back and let him know I was gunning for my DTM – Distinguished Toastmaster – the highest award one can earn in Toastmasters. I’d like to earn that by next June, but it’s a lot of work and will take time and a big commitment.

Upon hearing that I was seeking DTM, his comment was, “HOLY CRAP – that is a stunning accomplishment. Congratulations.”

I wrote back and said something like, “yeah, not too bad for a woman who stutters, huh?”

And then he paid me a great compliment. Trust me – this man does not throw praise around casually. I read this several times and decided I should share this. I don’t think he’ll mind!

Well, here’s a personal impression. When I was in Capital Toastmasters people often praised you and your accomplishments, and almost always the sentiment was something like, “What a wonderful accomplishment for someone who stutters.” To be honest, that always bothered me. It felt as if they were saying that it’s especially impressive for you to succeed in TM because you are less capable than other people. In my mind, I never thought of you as a talented speaker for someone who stutters. I just thought of you as a talented speaker. Period. Not to diminish the obstacles that you have overcome, but my point is that you are a successful speaker by any standard, not just by the standard of a stutterer.

Thanks Tom! I think my colleague nailed the exact essence of Toastmasters. That it’s about our communication, our delivery and our message. Priceless piece of feedback.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2014. 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 2014.

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