Make Room For The Stuttering

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I had such a wonderful experience this week, presenting to an organization and people I did not know about stuttering at work.

This has been a vision of mine for quite a few years now. If people who stutter are going to be truly supported and included in all aspects of life, we have to educate the people in our worlds that do not stutter.

People who stutter want to be successful in school and at work. So schools, universities and workplaces need to hear stuttering, normalize it and get over the fears associated with hiring people who stutter.

It was a very surreal experience for me – to have traveled down to Northern Virginia to meet with people interested in “hidden disabilities” and stutter openly, without fear or anxiety. People at this workplace truly want to be inclusive of everyone who brings difference and new perspectives. I was welcomed with open arms, and spoke to an audience of about 50, 20 or so in-person and the rest calling in from other company sites via Skype.

The main theme of my presentation is what is gained through being completely open and vulnerable about something that is often widely misunderstood and stigmatized. I spoke of the strengths people who stutter have innately, because of our lived experience with stuttering. We bring grit, perseverance, resilience, patience and empathy to work – all of which are valuable competencies any employer wants.

The best way to make change and help people understand stuttering is so simple: TALK ABOUT IT. Make it less of a mystery, normalize it, frame what is often perceived as a weakness as a great strength.

In so doing, we will help workplaces become more inclusive for today’s workers who stutter and for the young people behind us, who will enter the workforce. Hopefully, my efforts and those of other adults who are not afraid to be vulnerable, will help lessen the stigma and burden of trying to hide stuttering in the workplace.

The company that I presented at recorded my presentation. I am looking forward to seeing that, and more importantly, looking forward to getting more workplaces to see the value of talking about stuttering at work.

It’s freeing and hopeful.

Episode 212 features Michele Delo, who hails from Buffalo, New York. Michele recently graduated with a degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and is preparing for her exam to be a registered dietitian. One of her goals is to do clinical nutrition to perhaps include diabetes education.

Michele is a a co-chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association in Buffalo. She shares that taking on this role has really helped her with leadership and public speaking skills.

Listen in as we chat about advertising and how she had been a covert stutterer. Michele describes using a higher pitch when speaking, which helps her be more fluent and also more peppy and chipper when she is interacting with patients. I shared how altering pitch has also helped me, and is a skill I learned in Toastmasters. People who stutter who have chosen acting as a career also have noted success when using pitch and vocal variety to help be more fluent.

This was a great conversation with a young woman who owns her uniqueness and encourages other women to do the same.

The musical clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

Editors note: Again I had some trouble removing background static and feedback. Sue me! I’m still an amateur. 🙂

Episode 211 features Jazmynn Davis, who hails from Maumelle, Arkansas. Jazmynn is a licensed dental assistant, a Regional Chapter Coordinator with the National Stuttering Association and is actively involved in the world of beauty pageantry.

Listen in as Jazmynn talks about interacting with patients and peers and how she handles her stuttering. She also shares how she has made stuttering awareness her platform when competing in beauty pageants. Jazmynn gives us a primer on pageant protocol and explains how it’s not just beauty but all aspects of a woman’s life. We talk about how well prepared for public speaking one becomes after participating in on stage interviews that are timed and judged.

Jazmynn has also used this platform to mentor and coach girls and young women interested in competing in the pageant world.

Music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter. Editors note: There are a few areas of background static that I was unable to edit out. Sorry!

Episode 205 features Danette Fitzgerald, who hails from New Haven, Connecticut. Danette is an Optical Systems Engineer working on the manufacturing side of building microscopes.

She has always been good with math and science and discovered she wanted to pursue a career in science after taking a physics class and finding it fun. She is a chapter leader for the local National Stuttering Association support group and also loves traveling.

Listen in as we talk about covert stuttering and “recovery from covert behaviors,” stuttering in the workplace, speech therapy experiences, advertising and confidence building strategies.

We also chat about Danette’s recent experience at the ISA World Congress for People Who Stutter which was held in Iceland this past June. I really enjoyed this opportunity to connect with Danette, as we’ve known each other for many years now but never had a chance to talk in depth like we did here.

 

Episode 202 features Ariel Mahlmann, age 23, who hails from Olney, Maryland. Ariel graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Economics and she works full time for a Cyber Security start=up, Ariel also writes a blog about lifestyle and stuttering. Her blog title illustrates her stuttering.

:Listen in as we discuss networking and interviewing, advertising stuttering and ways we manage our stuttering. Ariel also talks about the very positive experience she has had in avoidance reduction speech therapy. She describes the goals and objectives of this non-traditional therapy perfectly and explains why it suits her so well.

We also talk about Ariel’s first time experience at last year’s National Stuttering Association annual conference and it’s impact. Ariel wrote a great blog post describing what that first-timer experience was like. Ariel is planning to go back for her second conference and is prepping for it by intentionally setting  goals o ensure she gets the most out of it and has fun. What a great idea!II plan to set a goal as well to meet a certain number of new people.

This was such a fun conversation and I look forward to meeting up with Ariel in person in Fort Lauderdale.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

Episode 201 features Juliette Blondeau, who hails from Cypress and presently lives in Paris, France. Juliette is 21 years old and she is setting the world on fire. She is in her last year of her undergraduate degree, studying politics and Islamic Theology. She is also a newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the French Stuttering Association.

Juliette and a fellow newly elected French Stuttering Association Board member are working on two challenging projects for people who stutter. They just completed a very successful eloquence contest over a course of seven weeks and are now developing a guidebook so that other countries can benefit if they wish. This is a great example of “improving the wheel,” instead of “recreating the wheel.” They are also working on an ambitious workplace stuttering awareness project.

Listen in as we discuss the benefits of disclosing your stutter, collaboration, the importance of empathy and connection, and how stuttering can be a really powerful and useful “people compass.”

It was so wonderful to chat with Juliette, as her enthusiasm and passion is contagious.

Note: there are a few awkward moments in the audio, due to a poor internet connection. Juliette is in France and I am in the USA, after all. I did not want to edit out too much of Juliette’s thoughts so there is a bit of static throughout, but it’s not too distracting.

The music clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

warrior not worrierIt’s that time of year again and I find myself making tons of presentations to high school kids. Right at the beginning of the year, I start off with presentations on sexual harassment prevention to every student in our building, plus four remote sites.

So, I am doing about four 40 minute presentations a day that cover what sexual harassment is and isn’t and also discuss and explain tolerance and respect of differences to ensure we have a school environment free of bullying and discrimination.

It’s a lot to cover and not particularly easy topics to discuss with high school age kids. Talking about anything sexual gets major giggles going and red faces, but for the most part, they go well. It’s amazing – when I feel confident and on top of things, the talks go exquisitely. Everything just flows, I get the kids involved by asking questions and it generally becomes conversational, instead of me standing in front and “lecturing at them,” which I hate and I am sure the kids do even more.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Annie about this just the other day. I confided in her that I always find this time of year, and these presentations, really stressful. They shouldn’t be at all – I am so good at these now after years of doing them that I can just talk and don’t really even need notes or cues.

But I always worry about what will happen when I stutter and someone notices and laughs. Annie wanted to know why I just didn’t relieve myself of that stress by simply starting off each presentation with a quick “disclaimer” that I stutter and get it out there. I’ve talked about this here before over the years. I never know if I should really do that because I’m afraid of drawing attention to me and away from the topic at hand. I’m not there to talk to the kids about stuttering and I always worry (quite obsessively) about how that will go over.

So I usually don’t disclose or advertise that I stutter at the beginning of my talks. I “hope” that I’ll be largely fluent and that it won’t come up and I won’t have to deal with it. Not the best plan, because then I need to be prepared for addressing reactions when I do have a big juicy block or long repetition in the middle of a sentence. When that happens, I figure I’ll deal with it then.

I would never take this approach with adults. I am totally comfortable letting adults know at the onset of a presentation that I stutter and that I’m OK with it and hope they will be too. But there’s just something about the kids that makes me feel more anxious about turning this talk around and making it about me.

So far, my first four talks yesterday went well – really well, in fact. The kids were super engaged, interacted, asked lots of questions and we had a good conversation in all four classes about current events, like the #MeToo movement.

Maybe I just worry too much.


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