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I was instrumental in getting these two videos made for the National Stuttering Association and figured, what the heck, let me share them here. They might help you. They might help employers. They might help a lot of people. So, go ahead and share.

And I’m actually in both of them. Which is kind of cool. So are my friends Katie and Derek. Even cooler. We were all willing to be completely vulnerable.

The first video is something really short you can use to educate your employer before you’re hired – during the job interview stage – and after you’re hired too, to help talk about stuttering at work. Because we know that can be a challenge.

The second video is also really short and to the point. We who stutter get really stressed about job interviews. Preparation can make all the difference. Do some research. You’d be surprised how many people go into a job interview and it’s obvious they know nothing about the company they hope will hire them. Do that research. Show you are interested.

And consider disclosing that you stutter. It will make it so much easier for you and the interviewer. You will feel more at ease and won’t be obsessively thinking what will happen when you stutter. By telling the interviewer upfront that you stutter, you remove that anxiety you have and let the listener know exactly what to expect. It just makes the speaking encounter so much easier and then you can be your cool, calm collected best self at the interview.

 

 

Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a “Mock Interview Day” for people who stutter at a globally recognized corporate office in New York City. For the second time, Goldman Sachs offered it’s employees an opportunity to spend a volunteer day helping people who stutter practice job interviews.

I helped an employee who stutters who works at Goldman coordinate participant registration, which was free and open to anyone who could come in person for two practice interview sessions. Goldman had 25 employee volunteers who would each interview two different individuals and provide that all important feedback.

Too often, when we interview for a job and don’t get an offer, we aren’t given any feedback. People who stutter then sometimes automatically conclude it must be because of stuttering. Of course, that might be true sometimes but other times it could be for any number of reasons: lack of experience or education or someone else is just genuinely a better fit.

One of the things we did to help the employee interviewers prepare for talking with people who stutter was we provided a “stuttering overview” session in the morning before the participants arrived. A SLP who stutters, the Goldman employee who stutters and myself  presented for a little over an hour on what stuttering is and isn’t, tips for listening, when or if to intervene if the person who stutters really struggles and we all offered a personal perspective on our own stuttering in the workplace experiences. Everybody was extremely engaged and asked thoughtful, important questions. We got a lot of very positive feedback about how helpful that was.

At the end of the day, when we were networking and eating pizza, someone came up to me and asked about whether I’d be interested or able to help provide similar training to his staff. We spoke for about 15 minutes. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a Goldman employee waiting patiently to speak with me. I tried hard to acknowledge him, but the person engaging with me wasn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Finally, the Goldman employee got to me. What he waited all that time to share with me blew my mind. He said, “you probably hear this all the time, but you are the most compelling speaker I have ever heard.” I felt my face flush and immediately felt embarrassed. He went on to say that he felt he was a crappy speaker and he was so impressed that I stuttered and still managed to make people want to hear what I had to say. He wanted to know my secret. Truly, I was speechless.

I thanked him and we talked for about a half hour and I encouraged him to check out Toastmasters. We have since communicated by email a few times and he told me has checked out the numerous Toastmaster options available in his area.

So why am I sharing this? I am not bragging, honest. I was embarrassed, but it resonated so I feel I needed to share. We who stutter can be and are amazingly effective communicators. When we remember that it’s not all about fluency but connecting with our listener and saying what we want to say, there’s a lesson here. Even fluent speakers get freaked out about public speaking. Our words count and that’s what people want to hear. We just need to remember that again and again.

 

when I stutterI recently had the privilege to see the documentary When I Stutter, a film by John Gomez. This is a film about people who stutter and portrays how people who stutter actually feel about stuttering, which is not always talked about. It is an honest examination of the sometimes dark side of stuttering, which often doesn’t get explored.

The film is currently making the rounds of private screenings and film festivals. It is being sponsored by colleges and universities that have communications disorders programs and being promoted by the National Stuttering Association.

It is a powerful learning experience for speech language pathologists and students studying to be future therapists. But it also demands and deserves to be seen by anyone who has an interest in the power of people who stutter daring to express themselves no matter how their voice might sound or how long it may take to speak.

That’s what hit home for me. The power of the voices. These are real people who stutter. Not actors portraying people who stutter, which is the sad norm when stuttering even gets a mention today. And we hear from both men and women and people of color, again an anomaly. So the film, by its intentional design, promotes diversity and inclusion.

Listening to the voices and seeing the facial expressions of people like me sharing their stories was visceral. Partly because I knew some of the people, especially the women, Rachel and Jenny, who have both been featured as guests on my podcast, Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.

So, knowing these people made it personal. Knowing the stories as my own made it real. Understanding the dynamics and complexity of stuttering made me nod my head in some parts. And tears welled up easily at other parts.

This is a must see film if you have any interest at all in the human condition. Even if you don’t stutter, you will identify with the shame, isolation and feelings of inadequacy that anyone with something that makes us stand out from everyone else can so easily relate to.

Kudos to John Gomez for bringing this film to light and to the stuttering community and the communities at large that we inhabit. We all have something that makes us different, stand out, unique. It is vital that we share our stories about whatever that is in as authentic a voice as possible. And “When I Stutter” accomplishes this, with grace and respect and actually honors the people who dared to be real with us.

Go see this film. It’s important.

 

I promised two weeks ago that I would offer a short summary of a few of the powerful, especially meaningful workshops that I attended just for myself at the recent National Stuttering Association conference in Chicago. I say “just for myself” because as usual I did find myself busy at the conference helping lead a few workshops and helping with other things. It took me two weeks to write this because I’ve been busy and I needed time to process how wonderful some of these workshops were.

So it was important to me to attend a few sessions that I was just a participant and could enjoy the experience facilitated by others. One such workshop that I found profoundly important was “Writers Who Stutter” which was presented last year and again for the second time this year. I couldn’t attend last year because of a schedule conflict so I was excited and intrigued to see what they might offer.

“They” were people who stutter who all happen to be women and immensely enjoy writing. In fact, they started a “writers who stutter” Facebook group within the last year and encourage others to participate and share some of their pieces with each other. These women – Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani – all express themselves exquisitely in writing and in voice too. They have all been guests on my podcast and are great storytellers.

Since I didn’t get to attend last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And it was a 9:00am workshop, which honestly I choose to skip most of them in favor of squeezing in some needed rest. Which, at a stuttering conference, you don’t get much of, so you take it when you can get it.

As preparation for the this year’s version of the writer’s who stutter workshop, the facilitators offered a warm-up writing exercise through the Facebook group. They offered a “writing prompt” used from last year and asked participants to write a six word story about stuttering. I was thinking, “yeah, right, like that’s possible.”

But I thought about it and offered my thought to the group. “Stuttering is about me, not you.” The facilitators commented right away that they loved it and even asked permission to use it in some other way. So, I was hooked and knew I’d find time to go to that workshop in Chicago. Even if it was at 9:00am.

I’m so glad I did! Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani talked about the important of our writing voice and how it becomes part of our identity. I could so completely relate with that. For years, because I stutter, I often found the only way I could express myself was through writing. I believed the voices in my head that said my voice wasn’t worthy of being heard.

But with writing, the words would flow, fluently and fluidly. I remember in the early days of this blog, I recall writing things but don’t recall the actual process of typing them. The words just sort of magically flew from my fingertips and often just appeared on the screen and I’d stare incredulously and wonder how did those words appear. And sometimes those pieces were my best writing and didn’t need any editing. It was amazing to me to see that unfold time and time again.

It still happens once in a while. Like right now, I am not thinking any thoughts as I type this, but somehow the words are coming together, so effortlessly and fluidly filling the page,.

And I think that was the point of the writers who stutter workshop, at least to me anyway. It may not have been the facilitator’s main premise at all. But my take-away was that we should respect the identity we create as writers and go ahead and let stuttering inform our stories and what we choose to write about. Stuttering experiences provide rich, compelling stories that belong to us, the community that stutters. And we need to have a space to do just that – write and create and share and get feedback and write some more.

This workshop gave attendees a chance to break into small groups and write a bit on a prompt that we were given to get us started. Then we could share within our group if we wanted. Or not. Maybe we just wanted to soak in the experience and keep our musings private. Then the last fifteen minutes or so of the workshop brought the smaller groups back together to share out and process as a whole and see the beauty of our creations, our identities and the power of our voices – both in writing and voiced out loud.

How lucky I was to attend that workshop. It reminded me how many of us who stutter have often gravitated to pen and paper to express ourselves. Because that often felt better, right and eloquent like we think we aren’t. But we’re wrong! We are eloquent both in writing and in voice. When the two collide and we’re given a space to explore that, great things happen.

Thank you Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani for staying true to you and sustaining your group for a year and giving writers who stutter a place to realize our words are worthy, no matter which way we choose to express them.

I look forward to next year’s version of this workshop.

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There is so much I want to say about the recent National Stuttering Association conference that just wrapped up in Chicago, Illinois this weekend. I am going to write later in the week about a couple of deeply important workshops that I attended that opened up dialogue that some people may not be used to.

But I feel compelled to write just a bit about The Stuttering Monologues, which was a performance I coordinated with 12 people and that we performed at the closing ceremony on Saturday July 7. I got the idea to create a version of stuttering monologues back in 2012 after watching a local performance of The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler. Ensler created her Vagina Monologues as an activism vehicle for women to be able to voice their concerns about consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences. Women of all different ages, races, sexual orientations and other differences let their voice be heard.

I envisioned that the same could be done with our stuttering stories. I presented the inaugural Stuttering Monologues as a workshop at the NSA conference in 2012 in Tampa. It was hugely successful – one of the most attended sessions, with standing room only. I brought it back again the following year, in Scottsdale in 2013. Again, the session was a stand-out, with a wall in the workshop room needing to be opened in order to accommodate people.

I wanted to bring it back to the conference again, but felt waiting a few years to keep the experience fresh was best. This seemed right, 5 years later and in Chicago. The NSA Executive Director asked me what I thought about presenting it to the whole conference as part of fully attended closing ceremony. We could make that work, right? What was done the previous two times in 75 minutes would now need to be done in less than 30 minutes.

I embraced the challenge. I had already lined up my presenters for the 2018 version of the Monologues when I learned we would do them at the closing and everyone would need to come in at under 2 minutes. That’s a big challenge for people who stutter. One person freely admitted that sometimes it has taken him fully two minutes to just say his name.

But we did it and to enormous success. We heard deeply moving, authentic stories about fear, shame, priorities, kindness and the human condition. It was funny, gut wrenching, inspiring and real all rolled up in one neat, 26 minute package. We heard monologues titled, “Dear Diary,” “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know,” and “Heartbeat.” All rang true and we somehow managed to capture the diversity of our stuttering community through the unique voices we heard.

I had some people come up to me afterwards saying it was the best part of the conference. That the short stories were so powerful and riveting that everyone should hear something like this that so perfectly captures the complexity of stuttering. A long time member’s husband came up to me and said for him it was the best part of the conference. He said it was moving, emotional and powerful and that he could tell a lot of work went into it to make it look so seamless. That meant so much to me.

This was a labor of love. Not everything went perfectly. Some people didn’t come to practice sessions, some waited until the 11th hour to submit titles and bios and two people bowed out throughout the planning process. But it worked. Authentic voices were raised and eager ears listened to the stories that are all of us.

 

 

hand-to-ear-listeningI came across something in the “Notes” section of my phone from three years ago. I obviously felt it was important enough to write down. I’m not sure what lead me to read it again this week, but it really spoke to me.

“For years, we have gone to speech therapy to change the way we speak to make it more comfortable for others. We shouldn’t have to do that anymore.”

This brought back memories of when I participated in speech therapy for the first time as an adult about ten years ago. It was traditional fluency shaping therapy with the goal of changing the way I spoke. I greatly resisted this, without even knowing I was resisting!

I found it hard to learn the “targets” and even harder to demonstrate them. It felt mechanical and clinical and I couldn’t figure out why this wasn’t working for me. I also began to feel like I was failing and I wasn’t used to failing at anything. The harder I tried to “shape my speech differently” the more I failed to do so.

Finally, I realized that the reason I wasn’t succeeding with using fluency targets was because I didn’t want to use them. I felt like creating a different way to speak really just made me covert again. And more importantly, it felt like creating a different way to speak was more for the benefit of others than for me. It seemed like I was working at changing my speech so that listeners wouldn’t be uncomfortable and so that I wouldn’t have to explain why my speech was different than the norm.

People had told me I should try to be fluent when going for job interviews and giving presentations at work. But inside, I felt like that was taking my voice away, and I had been taking my own voice and hiding it away for years. This was the beginning of my personal realization that I didn’t want or need to be fixed and that I didn’t need to conform to be like everybody else.

We don’t need to make people feel more comfortable when listening to stuttering. We all need to just be patient and present communication partners.

Have you ever considered why you participated in speech therapy? A friend recently mentioned that his employer “made him” attend speech therapy sessions because a client was having difficulty with his stuttering. Thoughts?

Well, last week was a very busy one for me. Like I mentioned in my last post, I had several opportunities to talk about stuttering and hopefully raise awareness in my little corner of the world.

Last Monday, I was a guest on a local media production’s podcast where they interviewed me about stuttering. They sent me the link a few days later and I was really happy with how it turned out. The interviewers had done some prior research and asked me some great questions. Take a listen if you’d like. (Although that is an awful picture of me! Ugh!)

On Wednesday, I had the chance to “tell” my story at a 25th anniversary celebration of the Interfaith Story Circle, which is a local group here in Albany, New York that focuses on the power of storytelling. I was so delighted to have my story about women who stutter sharing their stories included in their celebration event.

And on Thursday last week, my podcast was featured on one of our local news channel’s segments highlighting women. That was such an exciting experience, as being on TV is a big deal, at least to me anyway. Fortunately, I was more photogenic in this clip here.

http://wnyt.com/news/pamela-mertz-podcast-for-women-who-stutter/4902733/?cat=11883

 

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. 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 2017.
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