Make Room For The Stuttering

Uhm, Uhm? I’m Stuttering!

Posted on: August 14, 2009

If you are involved with Toastmasters, then you are very familiar with something we call the “Ah Counter.” At every meeting, people take on different roles, to provide structure and feedback. The timer lets us know how much time we have left, to encourage us to keep within limits. The Grammarian suggests we try to use a new word, to build our vocabulary. An Evaluator offers encouraging feedback for a member who has delivered a prepared speech. The Ah Counter counts the number of times members use filler words such as “uhm”, “ah”, “like”, “ya know”, to encourage us to be aware that we are doing this and to try and insert a pause for effect rather than use these filler words.

Most people do this rather unconsciously and it is useful to have it pointed out, so that we have more articulate and meaningful speech. But what about the person who stutters who may use fillers like “uhm” and “ah” as a running start to get past difficult words? I realize that sometimes I do that, and its part of my stuttering pattern. By initiating with an “uhm” or “ah”, somehow I think I am fooling my brain into not getting stuck on a particular word. And it works. It’s almost like sliding into the word. Wow! I have never admitted to myself or others that I do this!

But it’s sort of a conundrum in Toastmasters. I am able to get certain words out more easily, but to the Toastmaster listeners, I am using the dreaded filler words. I realized that I was doing that about a year ago, when I got gentle feedback to “be more aware of my use of  the”ah” phrase.” My first defensive reaction, to my myself, (ha, ha) was, “well, of course they’re going to say that – they don’t understand stuttering.” But I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to sound defensive and I DIDN’T WANT IT TO SOUND LIKE I WAS LOOKING FOR AN EXCEPTION! But I did start paying attention more to myself and try to listen for any of my filler words.

I got similiar feedback last week!  I had almost no use of “uhm”  or “ah”, but instead apparently used “and” as my filler to slide into certain words. At my Advanced Toastmaster Club, they don’t hold back and give honest feedback. No fluff! If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t be attending advance meetings. The first time I heard such really honest feedback, I remember thinking: “Wow, this is different. Not as warm, fuzzy and encouraging as my Toastmasters home club.”  I wasn’t sure if I was really ready to hear anything that might relate to my stuttering.

Well, no one ever tied my use of filler words with my stuttering. They were just evaluating me as they do everyone else, which is exactly what I wanted. The only one who had a problem with it was me – internally. I wanted to explain – “Hey, I’m not using filler words. I’m stuttering!” But it didn’t make sense to do that – I saw it as using my stuttering as an excuse and I didn’t want to do that.

I have been more aware of my use of “uhm” as a slide into a word I fear I will stutter on. That’s actually a big insight for me. I have listened more to myself when I speak and try to insert a pause or even take a breath before a word I think I might stutter or block on. So I am using less of the Uhm and Ah, and am now using “and” instead. Geez!  Ok, I’ll take that. Because I have learned from the experience. My stuttering is actually teaching me something and I am being open to it!

Have any of you had a similiar experience? Even if you don’t stutter? How does it feel to get very honest feedback from others?

4 Responses to "Uhm, Uhm? I’m Stuttering!"

When I realized that ah’s could get me onto my other words much easier, I began to use it. Believe me I got so dependent on it that it scared me and actually made my speech worst after a while because like most people say it once, I repeat it several times before I was able to move to my next word and this was really frustrating for me and worst I was thinking too that maybe others were irritated by it.

I have discontinued it since, and now when I realise I am having a block, I would pause before I go on. Sometimes the pause is too long and I loose my effect in conversations as people either think I am finished saying what I was saying, or they would just plain look away.

All this is frustrating and I really wish I had something like Toastmaster to help me.


I am sure there are Toastmasters meeting around you to give you the support and practice you are seeking. If not, tere is no reason why you can’t get a chapter started where you are.
Toastmasters would be so great for you.


I loved your honesty in sharing that you didn’tlike being accomodated to in your TM meeting. That is exactly the point. We join Toastmaasters to get the same benefit as everyone else. If we wanted that, we would joing a TM club just for stutterers. I believe my friend Russ in Dallas was instrumental in doing just that, starting a chapter just for PWS.

I can understand that, but the richness of the experience comes from interacting comfortably with people who don’t stutter,so we can normalizethe experience.

Good stuff, Pam. I think all PWS do that — using words or ums in order to not stutter — at least at some point. So, I would disagree with you that your ums or ands are stuttering. They are not. They are you trying not to stutter. But you know that. The very best thing we can do is to just stutter. But that is very hard. You bring up such an important point here. So many PWS believe that their stuttering is so much more than it actually is… most of what we call stuttering is actually trying not to stutter. We need to get rid of all that extra crap. We need to Stutter Naked!

Hmmm, stutter naked. Interesting consideration, Joe. At the risk of sounding too defensive, I think I am recognizing my use of filler words as part of my stuttering pattern. That it is indeed what I do to slide into the “feared” word and try not to stutter.
It is my covert reflexes taking over.

Hopefully, as my stuttering continues to evolve, I will feel truly comfortable with all of it.

Thanks for the insight.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2022. 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 2022.
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