Make Room For The Stuttering

Will They Feel Cheated?

Posted on: March 11, 2011

I had an insightful conversation last week with a friend. We were discussing work and the impact of stuttering and how we deal with it when “it” comes up. My friend is not covert at all and could not hide her stuttering to save her life. So, its fair to say her stuttering is pretty obvious.

She and a partner have a successful business and she handles most of the marketing and is the on-line presence. New customers are “handed over” to the other partner to “deal with”. She thinks because her stutter is severe, it’s better and smarter to have her partner deal with “in-person” communication. Of course I disagree, but our choice  to talk about it offered valuable insight.

My friend is very good at what she does. So good, in fact, that she is repeatedly asked to present at conferences. She repeatedly declines these invitations to speak. When I asked why, she said, “well, its obvious. I can’t convey my message”. I pressed her, by asking “according to who?” If she has never presented at a conference, then she doesn’t know her message won’t be conveyed. Right? We can’t be afraid of what we don’t know!

The plot thickens. She very matter-of-factly and honestly told me she fears tricking and cheating people. Huh? I did say that – HUH? She is a great writer, and a loud internet presence. She tells the truth like she sees it, honestly expresses her opinion and says what she thinks, all of the time, even at the risk of pissing others off. That’s why she is so good!

So she thinks people will expect the same loud, brash, “say-it-like-it-is” real person they know virtually. She said people will be disappointed when they meet her in person, and she opens her mouth, and st-st-st-st-stutters. That she will have cheated them. I did not understand this and pressed on boldly (uncharacteristic of me, I know!)

She told me people pay thousands of dollars to attend these professional conferences, and that many would sign up for her talk based on name alone. (Wow, to be that self-confident! She can be, because she’s that good).

Then, when she began to talk, or try to, or block or make painfully uncomfortable facial grimaces, people would know. She would be exposed for the fake and the fraud that she really is. That she is not who they were led to believe she was. And that they had been robbed of their money and would feel cheated. And deserve their money back!

I offered gentle reassurance that of course people wouldn’t be that shallow. That professional adults would absolutely accept her for who she is. And she just looked at me and said, “well, if I stuttered like you do, sure maybe. But that’s not going to happen in my case. And we both know it”.

So my friend asks her fluent partner to handle all of the presentations. For the sake of the business. She says sure, she feels a little guilty, pushing all that extra work on to one person. She hopes that it will soon get easier to share the workload when they get up to speed and bring on a third person.

A person that can speak. That will not deceive conference attendees. That will not demand their money back because they felt cheated.

What do you think?

15 Responses to "Will They Feel Cheated?"

A very interesting discussion, full of important questions we are all confronted with – at different degrees. The specific question
of people paying to attend a conference goes well beyond the “traditional” question of whether and when it is more appropriate for us to give public speeches.

As a starting point, I would say that I know of at least one of your friends who is known enough in the relevant industry for it to be indeed very plausible that people would pay upfront to listen to her. Even very important people from very big gompanies. So the premise of the discussion is not that hypothetical.

It would be foolish to assume that none of the conference attendees would express some disappointment. I know the word may sound harsh, but hey, we have all met stupid or arrogant fluent people. You know that probably better than any of us Pam. Stupid people don’t become less so in work context. Rather, then become more so if they have the impression that their money is involved. So I totally understand your friends’ concern.

Now on the other hand, I’m sure there are also a number of persons who would not mind, or who would mind a bit but not too such an extent that this would overweight their satisfaction to be actually able to listen to your friend. So even if they don’t know, these persons actually get less than they deserve for their money (with all due respect for your friend’s partners).

From a purely business point of view, this latter category may cost more to your friend’s company than would the few persons who would demand their cash back would she speak. I know that the picture is totally different if you add to that the emotional aspect of course.

How to reconcile the two. I’m sure you and our friend thought about multitude of ideas, so I’m certain I won’t come up with anything new. But certainly options such as her intervening jointly with her partner would make sense, at least at a first steps. Her intervention could be presented as a “complimentary” (is that the proper word for a sort of free corporate present?) add on to an existing paid conference. Or a surprise one. If it’s a surprise, feedback on it could be very useful. Or she could participate first only in free or not too costly events . I know this may sound demeaning, but there are many industries where this kind of events happen. It can be presented again as an offer to a business’ best clients. But then her company would have to select the attendees so it sounds like granting them some golden status.

I’m sure your other blog viewers will have other and better ideas…

Ah Burt, I asked her if it would be OK to post this, as I was sure not too many would know. At first, she was going to be a “he”, but she said it was OK, in fact, she said it would be fine to use her name. But I chose to just refer to her as “she” for now. Yes, it is quite an interesting dilemma – when do you turn to others to “carry the weight” or when do you just say, “screw it, this is me, and me is GREAT”. So I do hope we get lots of ideas, And you are right. There are many arrogant, self-important people out there who have no idea how stuttering can impact this one little issue, which many professionals take for granted, just as most of the world takes basic communication for granted. Thanks for pondering with us, and offering these insights.

The first thing that I thought was do they have bios of themselves on their website? She could put it there that she stutters (for starterers), and so it’s out there for her clients to see. Just a thought.

I think you should go for it. Baby steps with a safety net are better than no steps.

I’d be careful about offering free sessions. Who else is offering them? Who goes to them? Often people just starting out offer them, and the people attending don’t know enough about the topic to know if the session was good or not — they’ll judge the format, not the content.

Advertise and charge based on your expertise in the field, not your rate of speaking. The value is in the quality of what you say, not the quantity. Let the juniors rhyme off the stuff everyone already knows. Concentrate on what sets you apart from them.

Like any other speaker, at the end of the session, add extra value for them to take home. More of what only you can offer, not more of someone else. Maybe a free year of your newsletter (if you have one), or a follow-up consultation, or a coupon for a discount on your book (if you have one). This will emphasize the value you offer and give them a chance to think about the content over the next few days. Watch how other presenters do it. Some just want names for their spam list or to raise book sales, others offer true value.

Get the rest of the session right. Practice with the mic and the screen. Basic stuff.

What about sitting on a panel with people you know? If fellow experts are paying attention to what you say, nodding, giving you the time to say it, and proving they listened by what they say next, that will send a strong message to the audience. They can take more questions if it’s a bad day for you, but, more importantly, they can insist that you take your turns.

That also gives you more choices about disclosure. The moderator or a fellow panel member can disclose, or they can react calmly to your disclosure to the audience. Give them a chance to get used to your speech in private before the panel.

People pay big money to hear Stephen Hawking. He isn’t easy to listen to, especially live. People still pay to go. They don’t go for an easy listen, they go to hear what he has to say.

Pam, this is frightening. This is ME just a few years ago. This is how I felt, this what I believed. In Russia I was well known among a certain professionals as a writer and a very knowledgeable person. I have been writing articles and also handled an internet forum for a magazine in which i was an editor. I had devoted fans on this forum. And I was afraid to meet my audience in person. Well a narrow circle knew me personally and knew I stuttered, so they somehow tolerated this, but every time I had to meet new people I would fear that they would feel cheated. That they imagined myself – loud, eloquent, smart – and will see grimacing, painfully struggling person, who also is not as quick to find a good answer. I declined TV interview once, and we had a more talkative person handling most of our presentations. But believe me or not, but there is a great speaker inside of you. You just need to allow her to emerge and to step forward. Check out Toastmasters, look up Alan Badmington’s and John Harrison’s articles online – there are many PWSs who turned into good speakers. I was in your shoes just a couple of years ago. All those limiting beliefs can be eliminated and you can find your voice. I am not talking about 100% fluency, but about freedom and confidence and ability to deliver your message and connect to your audience.
Find your voice!

Thanks Anna and Crickett for taking the time to reply. Isn’t it funny how something like this could pose a real dilemma for a person who stutters? Our desire for authenticity could indeed jeopardize everything else we work for. I honestly never thought about this as much as I did after my friend and I chatted. It stayed with me all week, which is a sign for me that I am supposed to write about it.
I used to feel like a fake, a fraud – when I was covert and leading what I felt was a double life. And sometimes I still do. There are times when I feel the need to try and be as fluid as I can for people who don’t know that I stutter. Even though it is much more relaxing for me to just stutter. And when I do that, my inner voice sometimes says, “you’re gonna be sorry. When you slip up and stutter, because you will, how will you explain that?”
Yes I talk to myself and have these inner dialogues. And I worry that I am being fake sometimes. But not to the extent that my friend shared. I can see why she would feel this. Yes, we have to be ourselves, but there are some very arrogant, self-important people out there, in all industries, who are going to judge severe stuttering negatively. If it means losing potential customers, which is tied to one’s livlihood, then it is indeed a tough dilemma.

Pam, it is exactly because attemting to face your fears with your clients may affect your business that joining Toastmasters is such a good idea. Or similar club. I did my first speech at Toastmasters a bit more than a year ago with abundant stuttering. Now I started winning club competitions. Some people may still remember my first struggled and blocked speeches, but does it matter? It is tough to start facing your fears with your admirers or clients. But Toastmasters can become your play ground, where you build your confidence and see what you are capable of. I lived in a self-constructed cage for almost 40 years. I sure wish I knew how to break free of it earlier.

Precisely why I have been in Toastmasters myself for almost 5 years! I now stutter confidently!

Another idea: Let it be known that you rarely talk to groups because of you have a speech impediment. “Rare” adds to the perceived value. It also warns people that they may have to listen harder. Spin it a bit towards medical, to break any preconceptions about stuttering and distinguish it from your ability to think.

Then do things like ToastMasters and panel discussions to stretch your comfort zone.

By the way, when I became mostly fluent and was finally able to face any speaking situation, I expected that people whom I know will somehow change – my speech changed big way… But nothing changed. People with whom I have business treat me the same, my husband doesn’t change – he didn’t start loving me more or less. My friends are the same. The only thing I gained was freedom to endeavor any speaking situation without fear and self-doubt. But such thing I could have much earlier if I started just doing things that I wanted and felt need to be done regardless of stuttering. It seems that people who love me and respect me now have been doing this even when my speech was very blocked and I had plenty of secondaries. They have been doing this, and I just never thought about it, never could trust this. It may well happen that people will listen to your friend despite her speech. Stuttering often has much less significance to other people than it has for us.

If the business they are running and the product(s)/services they are offering have no correlation to an ability to speak fluently…I don’t see the source of stress or tension. If the services or products they sell rely on an ability to give powerful presentations, I could understand a lot more.

Hey Tony,
Thanks for checking in here, and sharing your thoughts. The business they are in doesn’t rely on giving on powerful presentations, but it is expected to some degree because they are so well known and prominent in their field. People want to hear her, because she has such a heavy successful internet presence.

Based upon what you have revealed, it does seem her fears are unfounded and not based in reality. But, that is the plight of we stutterers, isn’t it? We are somewhat trapped in our own experience and reality and things look poignantly different from where we sit. I do hope she can rise above her circumstance. 🙂

I read the Dilbert blog a lot, and one of the things that I found interesting was that Scott Dilbert (who writes and draws the Dilbert comic) had a weird issue where he couldn’t talk – at all. He could sing, he could read and rhyme, and he could talk in public, but he couldn’t have a conversation with his family.

And that kind of hit home with me because, although I stutter, I can sing (well, I can’t sing well, but I don’t stutter when I sing) and I can rhyme fluently enough. I guess those things use different parts of the brain than just speaking.

But speaking in public was also something that Scott’s able to do. I wonder if there’s another part of the brain that’s geared into that.

I’ve spoken in public before (just in school or at work – never at a presentation) and I’ve bombed a few times but have been successful most times. But you won’t know until you try.

It breaks my heart. I won’t say I think she needs to do a speaking engagement or not. I think it’s where she is at in her life, in her walk with her stutter. I am not where I’d like to be – but making strides to get there. I recently attended a motivational speaker appearance at my kids’ middle school. This man had no arms or legs, yet played sports through school and was determined to “be who you choose to be”. I think culture has been unkind to stuttering, but applauds someone overcoming a “physical” disability. I took his advice to heart though – I want to be who I choose to be, not to hand myself over to my stutter and let it define who I am.

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