Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘authentic stuttering

On Friday, I went for the third year in a row to help with a collaborative mock interview event held at Goldman Sach’s NYC office. Employees from Goldman Sachs volunteered to help people who stutter practice interview skills in a stutter friendly environment that simulated real interviews.

A small team of people who stutter educated the volunteers who were spending their day learning about stuttering and how effective communication is not attributed to fluent speech.

I knew several of the volunteers as they’ve participated in each event, and they remembered me. Several indicated that this day has been very meaningful and helped them realize this is a way to “give back” and help job seekers in a very tangible way.

It was hugs all around when I arrived and greeted these who are now friends.

It is so empowering to share stories of stuttering and vulnerability to people who don’t share that experience and see the power of authenticity.

One guy came and spoke with me and shared that he vividly remembers when I participated in the first event in 2017. He said he was mesmerized by my story and how I commanded the room when speaking. We talked about how he raised his hand and shared with his colleagues for the first time ever that he also stutters and had always hid it. That was a powerful moment for him.

And it was an extremely powerful moment for me when I saw him on the diversity and inclusion panel at the end of the day. He shared his story of how much easier it’s been for him to build relationships with colleagues because he’s no longer covering up such an integral part of his self.

Honesty and authenticity fosters deeper relationships, which in turn increases productivity and team work.

What an exciting, life changing experience this has come to be and not just for those who stutter.

Everyone benefits when everyone can feel free to be true to themselves in the workplace, the place where most adults spend most of their time.


Special note: It’s so exciting and gratifying for me to share this 200th episode of the voices of women who stutter from all over the world. I never believed in 2010 when I started this that it would still be going strong nine years later. I have talked to women from 41 different countries around the world. So this latest episode is a proud milestone.

PamEpisode 200 features Betony Kelly, who hails from Kent, England, in the United Kingdom. Betony keeps quite busy. She is a new mom to her first child. She enjoys connecting with interesting people. She works with the UK Civil Service in a behavior change and engagement role and chairs a stammering network. She also works with the British Stammering Association to help support people who stammer in the workplace.

Listen in as we talk about how there is really something beautiful about stammering and that it should be OK, but it’s really not yet in our workplaces. There is such an emphasis on sounding slick and competent and being an impressive speaker. Stammering is such an integral part of who we are yet so many of us still are compelled to hide it. Particularly women. Why?

We take a deep dive into authenticity and how employers say they want that but really only want the version of ourselves with boundaries. Employers don’t want our emotional baggage, do they? They want us to be our “adult selves” and leave our real selves at home. We talk about inclusion and what it really means and that it can’t just be “token” inclusion. There is absolutely a continued need for crucial conversations such as this, especially with those who don’t stammer and still take fluent communication for granted.

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

PamEpisode 190 features Saundra Smith, who is originally from Chicago, Illinois but currently lives and works in the suburb of Joliet, IL. Saundra is a wife and mother and an elementary school principal.

Saundra had teachers who told her when she was 5 years old that she was amazing and wonderful and could do anything she ever wanted and she believed them. That set her course for a wonderful career in education, where she is currently in educational leadership.

Saundra went to her very first National Stuttering Association conference in Chicago in July 2018. She was only able to stay for one day. But as she tells us in this heartfelt conversation, she was profoundly affected by what she learned and discovered about herself. A particular “aha” moment at the Women’s Empowerment workshop really made a big difference for her.

Listen in as Saundra talks about how much she has done to finally release her true authentic self in just over two short months.

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


Someone asks you to repeat something you’ve just stuttered on and you stutter again the same way?

You’re remarkably fluent all day and when something important comes up, you have a huge, ugly block?

Someone uses those annoying hand gestures to hurry you along in your speaking?

You’re on the phone with a doctor’s office and you stutter on your date of birth and the receptionist asks, “are you sure?”

Someone rolls their eyes at you when you’re in a mid-stutter?

You begin to stutter and your listener looks so uncomfortable you actually feel sorry for them?

You can’t get hazelnut out in the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, so you order french vanilla, even though you don’t like it?

A grown adult mimics your stuttering and then laughs, thinking he’s just told a great joke?

Someone finishes your word or sentence for you and they’re right?

A waiter brings you the wrong thing and you’re afraid to speak up to send it back because you might stutter again?

A friend from the National Stuttering Association and Stutter Social, David Resnick, recently gave a great TEDx Talk on using technology to build empathetic resonance. I’ll let him explain in his talk exactly what that is.

I was thrilled to see another TED Talk where someone openly stutters and still communicates beautifully and effectively. Of course, my thrill was enhanced by the fact that I know David!

And it was great to see Stutter Social featured and explained. I have been a Stutter Social host for two years now and I love it. The sense of community from a virtual stuttering support group certainly does build empathy.

Enjoy David’s talk! It’s great!

I just returned from the annual National Stuttering Association conference, held in Baltimore, Maryland this year. I spent a week at the conference site, catching up with friends for a few days before the actual conference started.

To say I had an outstanding experience would be an understatement. It is hard to put into words what it is like to be immersed in the stuttering community for 5+ days. It is a time filled with connection, bonding, laughter and tears. Even though it had been a year since I had seen most people, we picked up as if it had only been a week. That’s the beauty of community.

It is also the time each year where stuttering is normalized. It is freeing to stutter openly with hundreds of people who share and get the otherwise isolating experience.

I was very involved in first timer activities at this conference, hosting the first timer’s orientation workshop and welcome luncheon. It was great to meet new people just coming into the community who have not been in an environment where stuttering is the norm.

Everywhere I turned, I heard people stuttering. It is almost magical to hear the different types of stuttering and to see people thrive in a patient, non-judgemental environment.

One first timer I met in person after having “met” him online in Stutter Social hangouts was Shane. He kept looking around in wonder and exclaiming how unbelievable it was for him to be there and to hear so much stuttering. He kept saying “thank you” to us “old timers” he met, as he was so grateful for the experience to be in a normalized, inclusive stuttering environment.

The sense of community at a stuttering conference picks you up, holds you up and surrounds you with love and support. People meeting each other for the first time hugged in greeting, as if they were old friends. Sharing something as personal as stuttering is an almost instant bond. Lifelong friendships are made at conferences and people eagerly look forward to the next one before the current one is even finished.

On my last day, I became overwhelmed with emotion as I was saying goodbye to new and old friends. As I hugged people, tears flowed and I got choked with emotion so strong it surprised me.

I guess I figured after 10 years of attending stuttering conferences, saying goodbye would be easier. Not true. I felt sadness and a yearning to stay with the community rush over me like waves crashing against a shore. It will be another year before I see most of these people and get to experience the magic of the stuttering community again.

Now, I am transitioning back into a world where fluency is the norm and I am in the minority. But I take the love and support of my stuttering family with me and I will remember the power of support and community. I can’t help but remember – it flows through my veins.

Finally, a person getting media attention who actually stutters! And she’s a SHE!

Swedish golfer Sophie Gustafson did a media interview that got lots of attention from the stuttering community this week. This was a big deal for her, as she has shied away from most public speaking due to her stuttering.

It is refreshing to see someone who has dealt with the physical, emotional and social aspects of stuttering actually talk about it, and stutter. She is not one of those who miraculously outgrew or overcame her stuttering.

She still stutters and lets it be known in this NY Times article published March 27 and her television interview (which made the rounds this week on social media, even though it aired back in November 2011.)

In this 2002 Sports Illustrated interview, she talks about how she has tried to manage her stuttering throughout her life, including therapy at the Hollins Institute.

A couple of my friends suggested I try to contact Sophie and see if she would consider being a guest on the Women Who Stutter: Our Stories podcast. I contacted her through her Twitter account, and she actually responded. When I asked her if she would consider being a guest and sharing her story, she said she wasn’t ready for that.

Those of us who stutter can certainly understand that!

Today’s post is inspired by new friend Anna, who was featured in the January 2011 edition of the Toastmaster magazine. She was also a featured guest on “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories”, in Facing The Monster – Episode 44.

Anna contributed some great comments on the most recent episode featuring Nina G – Standing Up. Anna notes the importance of “fluent stuttering”, which is a term described by Van Riper in the classic stuttering book, The Treatment of Stuttering.

Someone once told me, “if it’s any consolation, at least your stuttering is easy to listen to”. I remember thinking, “why did she have to add the disclaimer phrase, if it’s any consolation?” To me, it sounded like she was paying me a compliment, but framing it as a negative, as if we are not ever supposed to say something positive about stuttering. Well, Anna de-bunks that and more!

I want to share Anna’s recent comments about “fluent stuttering” and how it can be attained by focusing on “the outside” rather than “the inside”.  I like to think of that as quieting our inner self-talk!

Pam,thank you for yet another wonderful pod cast. Nina is another example (one is you) of a person who has something that I call “fluent stuttering”. This means speaking confidently and passionately, without avoidance and fear. The difference with this kind of stuttering from “typical stuttering” – that which can be monotone, deliberate, struggled, or covert speech (I had this too) – is that such fluid stuttering is easy to listen to. In a while you stop noticing the stuttering just as you stop noticing a bit of an accent or some other different speaking pattern.

Speaking openly, expressively, without holding back is a very real goal. I myself aim for total fluency, but if I end up with fluent stuttering instead, I will be just as happy. By the way, I also learned a lot when I enrolled in a clown class – I am not performing on a real stage, but the whole approach to performing – learning how to interact with an audience and feeling confident on stage – is very valuable.

One great thing I learned in clown school is about directing your attention outward. We have lots of exercises to make sure that we focus on the outside rather than staying inside our heads. We, people who stutter, are usually all inside our heads – watching ourselves, anticipating stuttering, trying to figure out listeners’ reaction etc.

Having your attention concentrated on the outside allows you to enter the state of fluency and freedom of fear. The moment you go inside your head (I wonder how I am doing, do they like me?), you get tense and nervous. Nina’s confidence  on stage indicates that her attention is out there, she is connected to her audience. This is what makes Nina and others so fluent, despite stuttering. Fluent stuttering sounds strange, but it is a real phenomena and one that everyone can learn how to do.

I just loved Anna’s thoughts and honesty, especially sharing that she took classes at Clown school. How exciting is that? What do you think of Fluent Stuttering? Can you see yourself doing that and being happy with it, as Anna suggests? Let us know your thoughts!

As a person who stutters, I once believed no one would want to listen to me talk for any length of time. I had gotten “the look” too many times. You know the one I mean. When the listener first realizes something is different, and the look of surprise appears.

Their eyebrows arch, eyes widen, and then they quickly glance away. Then, maybe thinking that to be rude, they look back for a second, and quickly break eye contact again. Then they look distracted, looking at their watch, or a clock, or suddenly seem fascinated with the cracks in the ceiling tiles. They look everywhere but at me, the person talking and stuttering. Amazing how this can be read in seconds.

This week, I am pushing outside of my comfort zone in a new way. I have been a member of the Inter-Faith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area for just less than a year. I will facilitate the December circle and talk about my stuttering journey, to people who don’t stutter. Some of them may have never heard a real stutterer stutter.

I have a theme, “Stories of Trust, Leaps of Faith and Courage”.  I plan to open with a reflection and tell three stories. Then, circle members will be invited to share a story of their own, if they wish. It becomes a story swap. We do not process, offer feedback or applaud. We just listen and let the stories in. As a gesture of acknowledgment, members gently rub our hands together after a story is told.

In preparation for the circle, one of the seasoned tellers offered to “listen out my stories”. We met last week in a coffee shop, and over tea, I told my stories and she listened, really listened. She had a notepad with her and shared that she might jot some thoughts for feedback after. I was a little worried about that. But I didn’t need to be. She was a seasoned listener.

As I told, I “watched her listen”. She never took her eyes away from me. She was entirely present. Her facial expressions matched my tone. She took notes without ever looking down at her pad. Her eyes showed emotion, sometimes a smile, or look of surprise, or sadness, or wonder. Mostly presence though.

I stopped “watching her listen”, and just relaxed and told. I did not gaze directly at her, as suddenly I felt so free that someone was listening with intent, that I found more passion in my voice, used more imagery to describe a memory and used my hands to gesture. When I glanced at this woman, she was totally with me, listening, feeling the emotion of my story. As I neared the end, I felt overwhelmed with what I had shared to a near stranger. I choked up and my eyes brimmed over. I looked down for a second and back up. Her eyes were also watery and it was OK.

I had never had someone listen so intently, even as I openly stuttered. We paused and smiled at each other and then she said she wanted to share with me what she had heard. She offered me “appreciations” – told me all the things that had moved her and that helped create images in her mind as she listened.

I had expected to get “feedback” such as things I should change in my stories. Nope. This woman who I did not know very well just listened, appreciated, and told me that.

What an intimate experience to have had. I felt that what we had done had mattered a great deal that evening in the little coffee shop. I felt valued and alive. When we said good night and hugged, my eyes welled up again. We weren’t strangers anymore.

I am learning a lot more about what stuttering looks like by editing audio.  And I am reminded of two experiences that bothered me in the past, which now make more sense as I actually “look” at stuttering.

Above is a screen shot of my voice recorded and captured as a sound wave in the audio program “Audacity”. Notice how some of the audio looks “dense and thick” and some is just a straight line with no depth to it. Well,  if you play that clip of audio, the part with no depth is where I stutter – its a pause or block.

Looks funny, doesn’t it? I never really understood how sound could look until I started using this type of editing software.

Podcasters (both the veteran ones, and newbies like me) use this free program to edit audio, much like you would if you were editing text. You can highlight, add, delete, copy and paste. It does take a little getting used to, but not as intimidating as I first thought.

When I did a radio program on NPR last month on stuttering, of course there was stuttering. It was expected that I stutter. That was the point of the talk, to raise awareness of stuttering.

Afterward though, the show’s producer asked me if I would record a testimonial for the radio station. They ask all the guests to do it. I just had to say my name, where I worked, and what I listened to and liked best about the station.

Well, after the first time, the producer suggested I try it again. After take 2, she asked what did I think. She said we could “edit out the stutters” if I wanted. I just looked at her. She said it was perfectly fine to leave them in. I said “Of course, I want them left in!”

She asked me to do it yet again, as she said it sounded like I was reading from a script. (I was!) She wanted me to sound natural. Each of the 6 times I recorded that testimony clip, I stuttered on the exact same words and in the exact same way. We didn’t change anything.

This reminds me of something similar about two years ago. I was feeling more confident than ever about speaking and how my voice sounded. I decided to “audition” to be a reader for the visually impaired through a program offered through our public broadcasting television station.

Readers read aloud from newspapers, books or magazines,and then people with visual impairments who subscribe to the service, can hear their favorite newspapers or magazines and keep up with the news. It’s a great program, and completely supported by volunteers.

Well, I “passed” my audition. I read a couple of newspaper articles.  Because of my stutter, which I did not disclose to the woman listening to me, I can often speak with good modulation and pausing, and speak very deliberately, which is perfect for this kind of thing.

But when the audition was over, she gave me some editing orientation. I was going to have to edit my own stuff. She let me experiment in a studio for a while, and let me know that I would need to edit out any “dead air”.

I recorded several clips and produced sound waves like above. Because she was not in the room, I spoke more naturally and had some stuttered moments. I remember they looked exactly like this clip looks. She had shown me how to drag and click, and I could “trim” out the “mistakes”. I did not want to edit out my stuttering nor did I want to trim away “dead air”.

That was me talking. Those sound waves were my voice, my stuttering. What did I do? I erased the sample clips I did that day, cleaned up my work space,signed out of the studio, and left. And never went back.

I had largely forgotten about that until recording the testimonial last month. And now doing audio file editing, where I am actually seeing what my voice “looks like” in the form of a sound wave, I get what radio or TV people who don’t stutter “see”. They just see a sound wave with dead space that needs to be trimmed away. It is totally impersonal to them. There is no connection, the sound wave doesn’t represent a person.

But that stuff up there – those different lines, some dense, some not, that’s ME. That’s my stuttering. That’s what it looks like.

And I will never edit any of that out. EVER. So be it, right?

My school’s annual awards night is this Wednesday. Which means that I get to be up on stage, facilitating part of the program as adviser for our school’s chapter of the National Technical Honor Society.

I will be conducting the induction ceremony for the kids elected in to this prestigious club. I will lead them in a candle lighting ceremony, and then call each students name as they come on stage and receive their certificates.

This will be my third time doing this. So I should be totally comfortable with it, right? Wrong!

If you recall, I wrote about this at around this same time last year. When I did it for the first time in 2008, I felt very  disrespected when my boss told me I had butchered the kids names when reading them at the ceremony. What he referred to as butchering was actually stuttering on the first letter or sound of the names.

I stuttered last year when I did it as well. But I had thrown in a quick humorous line about my stuttering to put me and the audience at ease.

So this year, it is two days away and I am feeling anxious. I would prefer not to stutter as I call the student’s names. So, I am practicing the names, to be sure I have the pronunciation correct and perhaps even a bit of timing or cadence so that it doesn’t “sound so much like stuttering”.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? I know in my head that it is ridiculous to worry about stuttering on the names, because I stutter, and it is what it is. But I do. I can’t seem to “turn off” the human propensity to worry about things that really aren’t that big of a deal. For I will probably be the only one thinking it is a big deal.

Everybody else (as they should be) will be reveling in the excitement of the night. And I will be obsessing if I sounded all right calling some names off that no one will probably remember in a day or two anyway.

So maybe, knowing that, I can just relax and get on with it and not make such a big deal out of it.

Whats the worse that can  happen? My boss may call me in for some feedback again. Maybe this time, if he insults me, maybe I will have the courage to tell him how that makes me feel.

In the meantime, I am going to try to enjoy the rest of my Memorial Day holiday. Thanks to all the heroes who make it possible to even have the freedom to express myself in this way.

I was fortunate enough to get some clips of good friends speaking at various points during the conference. I will post several of them here over the next few days. Here is Bob and Mitch. They both spoke genuinely from the heart, and have a message worth hearing. I am grateful that they gave permission for me to post their “story” here.

Please feel free to comment, or just let them know they did a great job!

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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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