Make Room For The Stuttering

Getting Wet

Posted on: May 26, 2011

I have been in Toastmasters for five years. To say it has been a great experience would be an understatement. Toastmasters values and supports individual growth and thereby fosters courage and confidence. I am proof of that!

Having a safe environment to practice different speaking situations and know that people actually want you to succeed is priceless. We don’t  find this everywhere.

Workplaces can be intimidating. They may encourage you to “speak up” but sometimes an employee is fearful of the consequences of doing so. In our communities, it can be tough to be heard as well, especially if you are the “new kid on the block” or you are not a social butterfly!

And if you stutter, all of these situations can be even scarier. But Toastmasters welcomes and encourages every member to build on strengths we already have and work towards personal and professional goals. It is a non-threatening environment where members simply support each another. Sometimes, we “nudge” each other a bit as well!

I have not done any planned speeches since last summer. I have been focusing on other things and mentoring a new member. That’s also part of Toastmasters – paying it forward and passing along what has helped us to the next person. I take meeting roles and enthusiastically participate whenever I can.

At this week’s meeting, a person was to be Toastmaster of the meeting for the first time. She was a little nervous, had spent a week emailing members, getting bios together and planning. She really wanted to do well. (I suspect she is a bit of a perfectionist like me!) There were two planned speakers on the agenda. Both backed out at the last minute.

While we were waiting for the meeting to start, I mentioned that some Toastmasters talk about have “back-pocket” speeches that they can do anytime. I half-jokingly mentioned that maybe we might have to do that at our meeting. Well, our Toastmaster Annette called my bluff and asked if I would give an impromptu speech. How could I say no!

So, with only seconds to prepare, I rose to the challenge, walked up to the lectern and delivered a 7 minute speech called, “When It Rains, Get Wet”. I talked about living life to its fullest and shared the personal experience of having participated in my first team 5K walk last week. Something I never thought I could do. Something way out of my comfort zone!

Unbelievably, it seemed like one of my better speeches. I was comfortable, relaxed, animated. People commented on that in the written feedback slips we give to each other after anyone speaks. And when I finished, another member volunteered to give his second ever speech, off the cuff. Talk about risk-taking.

I share this for a reason. I was always afraid to take risks, especially speaking risks. I always feared that I would be judged as incompetent, just because I stutter. But I have learned that sometimes the best lessons are taught when we just let go and do it.

I have to share some of the feedback I got after my impromptu speech. It was so gratifying and affirming. I allowed these comments in and gave myself permission to feel good!

“Smooth, fun story, nice build-up, happy ending, a lot of fun.”

“Amazing speech! I felt your joy when you crossed the finish line. You inspired me to take a risk!”

“Great! Wonderful personal story! Engaging topic, excellent delivery.”

“Pam, you are the ultimate risk-taker! Are you sure this wasn’t planned? I wish I could be as confident as you. You did an awesome job. Great body movement and non-verbal cues. You totally rock!”

Normally, I would be adverse to share compliments like this. I often feel embarrassed. I know why – I used to feel I didn’t deserve to be told I do/did a good job!

But taking this huge risk felt great and proved that good things happen when we go way outside our comfort zone. People keep telling me to share these really good things, so I just did!

10 Responses to "Getting Wet"

Nice how the topic of the speech applied to the evening.

Back pocket speeches, or stories, are useful. Every so often we can’t use the one we planned. Maybe it resonates too much with current events. Maybe the physical setting is wrong. Maybe the audience isn’t in the right mood. Maybe we hadn’t even planned to tell a story.

Variable-length stories (my guild calls them accordion stories) are also useful. There are many ways to change the length, and many reasons why you might want to. Outside of a formal setting, we rarely know in advance how long a set will be.

Did you say 5k walk? Congrats!

Yup! I said 5K walk for first time. It was quite the experience, thats why I could talk about it so easily. The preparation, the support of my team captain, feeling like I would never make it, and surprising myself that I did, and the absolute great feeling that came with telling this story spontaneoulsy.
I am really enjoying story-telling – have been involved now with my tellers circle for over a year, hard to believe. I am looking to try something a little more formal soon!

Pam, your story is so inspiring – mind if I send it around to our Toastmasters members? None of them stutter, but your story has universal value.

Thank you Anna! Go for it! Let me know what people think! In fact, encourage them to comment!

Pam, I’m sorry I missed your speech. We had our school dinner that night. You should really be proud of yourself, both for the speech quality, and for doing the walk! You definitely inspire me.

We went to Cleveland last week for my niece’s wedding. I thought of you because the groom’s father stutters, quite severely. I know that you might not like it that when someone hears or meets someone who stutters, one thinks of you, Pam. I get the same thing because I have 2 sons with special needs (CP) and I’m the token parent of a child with special needs in our community. Also, as you know, my youngest son also stutters sometimes.

I didn’t have a chance to talk to the groom’s father until the brunch the day after the wedding. I was pretty proud of myself (ok, so I’m not so humble :)) that I just looked him in the eye and waited patiently ’til he could finish his words. It was a little painful for me; not because it took SO MUCH time, but it looked VERY difficult for HIM and I really felt badly for him. Maybe even a little pity, because he just said a couple of sentences and didn’t say anymore. I had the feeling that he would have carried on more of a conversation if he could get the words out more easily.

I can understand now how you became such a talented writer. This man happens to be an editor and a technical writer. Just wanted to tell you my thoughts. Keep educating all of us, and soon the world will see how each one of us is very special!

Thanks Shayna for sharing this. You are right – I don’t particularly like being referred to or remembered as the one who stutters, but like you, i am the “token” in our group, so be it. Like Richard says above, it is good to hear an account from a person who does not stutter about how it feels to listen to severe stuttering. It’s helpful to everyone to share diverse perspectives.
A friend of mine emailed me earlier, in regards to helping her out with a performance she is doing at a theater next weekend. She offered to get me a “comp” ticket if I would sit at her table before the show and during intermission, talking to people about what she does and answering any questions they may have about her CD.
In her email, she included a forwarded message she wrote to the guy who is handling the comp tickets. She made a reference to me needing a comp ticket. As if to remind him of who I was, she said I have been coming to the story circle for awhile now, and she is the one that stutters.
Even though I don’t really want to be know as “the one who stutters”, I guess it means I am pretty memorable! I understand why people do that, and in a way, its flattering, because people remember me for hopefully educating them about stuttering. Like you shared, you felt good to be present with the groom’s father and maintain eye contact for as long as it took. Not everyone has the patience, or desire, to do that. Thanks again for sharing!

Shayna: It’s interesting to get an honest account from someone about how they felt when talking to a person with a severe stutter. Thanks for writing about your encounter with this man. It’s perhaps not surprising that he is a writer.

Hi Pam-
I am glad you were able to accept the compliments. I notice the young people put pics of themselves on facebook and their friends write how wonderful they look. I think we should embrace that to its fullest and agree live life the same way. Enjoyed your post. Lori

Think of yourself, not as the one who stutters, but the one who empowers people who stutter.

Pam, one example how stuttering sometimes has more place in our heads than it should – this Saturday I was giving a speech in Toastmasters. For some reason I had more blocking than usual and felt that I didn’t do so well. Actually I felt I did terrible. I was very surprised when people voted me the best speaker and showered me with amazing comments. I will send you the link to this speech on Youtube. Thanks to my dear Toastmasters I realized that I was worried about little stuttering and missing all the good things I done in my speech. Considering that even this amount of blocking is just nothing compared with what I started with, it was pretty silly of me feeling so badly about it. Now I am back to feeling good. I pinned some comment on my wall and look at them often to remind that stuttering is not all that matters about us.

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