Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘public speaking and stuttering

I wanted to take a moment to share an experience that I vividly remember and that may have shaped me into my lifelong, hard to shake, covert stuttering behaviors.

I posted a recent article on my Facebook wall, with facts and statistics and anecdotes about students advocating to “opt out” of required oral presentations in school when they have a diagnosed disability, to which they are legally required to receive  alternate assessments  or reasonable accommodations.

Here’s the article if you’e interested – Teens Are Protesting In Class Presentations.

Here is my video excerpt self-explained.

 

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.

 

As I have shared over the years, a big part of my job is going around to different schools and giving presentations to high school school students. I work as a recruiter in a career and technical high school and it’s my job to inform 10th graders about training options they have for their last two years of high school. Students can choose to enroll in one of our programs and attend for a half day, while remaining at their own school for the other half of the day.

It’s a great opportunity for high school students. They can take one of our programs for two years and leave with licenses or industry certifications that will enable them to find jobs right out of high school or be more prepared for college.

I love my job. I am out and about a lot meeting with different kids all of the time and giving information that, to some, may be life changing. Many kids struggle with traditional high school so having an opportunity to participate in hands-on training very often is a game changer. Research shows that kids who graduate from career and technical programs also graduate from high school, often at a higher graduation rate than traditional schools.

So I feel very blessed to have this kind of job. But it can be daunting. I am making the same presentation about 60 times over the course of two months. I have it memorized. But knowing and being comfortable with my material does not make it any easier when I find I am stuttering a lot. Which occurs a lot. I am talking about programs with specific course names that I can’t change for something easier to say.

I almost always stutter on the word “Cosmetology.” It comes out “cos-cos-cos-ma-ma-ma-tology.” Sometimes I get weird looks, sometimes kids will snicker or full out laugh.

I also almost always stutter on the words “Construction” and “Culinary Arts.” Those hard “C” sounds get me every time. I’ve been asked why don’t I just advertise to the students that I stutter so I feel more comfortable and to lessen the uncomfortable reactions I get.

I think about long and hard before each school’s slate of presentations. I am not there to talk about stuttering. I am there to talk about the really cool technical training programs we offer. I don’t want to talk about something that I’m not supposed to talk about during these times, even though I could easily talk about stuttering for hours. No, I usually don’t mention stuttering and just “power through” the stuttering moments or blocks. I try not to let it show when I’m bothered by kid’s reactions to my stuttering. I do my best to remain emotionless and neutral.

Maybe this is not the best strategy to take when doing so many presentations. But this is the way I’ve dealt with it for years now, and suddenly advertising and then having to maybe explain myself feels uncomfortable to me.

So, I am sticking with the way I’ve done it. I have 7 more presentations scheduled for this week and then I’ll be done for this school year. I trust I’ll get through them like I have all the others. And if I don’t, and someone says something that makes me really uncomfortable, maybe, just maybe, I’ll find myself being upfront and sharing this part of myself with kids who will most likely be OK with it.

 

 

 

PamEpisode 167 features Hazel Percy, who hails from East London, in the U.K. Hazel works in an elderly care home, but her real passion is in public speaking and giving talks in her community. She enjoys sharing her journey towards getting over stuttering.

Listen in as Hazel shares her experiences with early speech therapy, The McGuire Program, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP.)

Hazel also talks about how she was influenced by people who seemed to have recovered from stuttering, and she became very interested in learning about natural fluency. These days, she combines techniques learned from the McGuire program with elements of natural fluency. Hazel is also a proud 4 year member of Toastmasters.

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

Producer Note: Yes, there is a lot of static in this episode. We had a transatlantic internet connection and it was not always the best. Focus on Hazel’s content – what she has to say is worth listening to!

Last week I was meeting with some students who had been recommended by their teachers to help me with outreach presentations. The students will co-present with me at their home school and share their experience as a current student enrolled in one of our career areas.

I was meeting with two young men from one of our programs, describing the details of the presentations. One of the guys said no right away. He said he wasn’t comfortable at all with standing up in front of people and speaking. I encouraged him to look at it as an opportunity to get some practice. He was adamant that he didn’t want to speak. This is a voluntary speaking opportunity and I let him off the hook.

Another student was in my office at same time, overhearing this conversation I had with his classmate. When I asked him, he expressed apprehension and said he didn’t really think he could do it, because he stutters. I leaped at the opportunity to let him know that I stutter too. He looked at me with surprise, as if he couldn’t believe that a staff person could also stutter.

I assured him that I do these presentations all the time and don’t let my stuttering interfere with conveying my message. He agreed to help out. We are doing the presentations at his school tomorrow. I am proud of him for deciding to take a chance and push himself out of his comfort zone.

I was surprised to learn that there is a student who stutters in my school. I haven’t run into any students that stutter in my 9 years here. I am glad that I shared with him right away that I stutter too!

Earlier this week, I gave 4 presentations to high school students about career planning and options for scheduling for their last two years of school. This is something I do every year as part of my job as Outreach Specialist. Every November and December, I go out to school districts in my area and present about vocational programs that students can choose.

As I’ve been doing this now for many years, you’d think I would be totally used to the challenges of public speaking with a stutter. Right? Wrong! I still feel self conscious when I have lots of stuttering and sometimes my mind wanders with thoughts that the students are thinking there is something wrong with me.

Monday happened to be one of those days where I stuttered a lot and was very aware of it. I did not disclose to the audience ahead of time like I sometimes do, because I didn’t want students focusing on my stuttering. I wanted them paying attention to the information I was sharing.

In between two of the presentations, I overheard two students whispering (loudly enough for me to hear) and laughing about speech impediments. Clearly they had heard me stutter and were talking about it. I felt very uncomfortable but didn’t react or say anything to them. Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have disclosed that I stutter at the beginning of the presentations and just trusted that the students would take it in stride and act respectfully. Maybe I didn’t give them enough credit.

It bothered me that I let stuttering and someone’s reaction to it bother me as much as it did. I did a pretty good job of not letting it show though. I’ve always believed that when you’re speaking in public, you should never let the audience know that you’re uncomfortable or “sweating something.”

Someone told me yesterday that there will always be another day where I’ll have a more positive experience. He’s right. I’ll have plenty more opportunities to present in the coming weeks and choose to disclose my stuttering if I think that will be helpful.

What do you think? How do you handle the challenges that come with public speaking and stuttering?

For years, I believed that stuttering could not be used in the same sentence as effective communicator. The two did not equate. Stuttering to communication was like a bull in a china closet – not going to work.

But ever since I joined Toastmasters and practiced public speaking and realized that I could communicate effectively, things changed. I began to believe in myself as a communicator and others did too. I’ve been asked to speak to many groups about my stuttering journey, something I never imagined myself doing when I was younger.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a high school science class about the neurobiology of stuttering.The students were a great audience and asked thoughtful questions. They also provided me with great feedback.

These are just a few of the comments students emailed me the day after the presentation:

“Listening to you speak was amazing. You’re so confident and knowledgeable on the topic and it was truly inspirational.”

“Your ability to conquer your fear of stuttering was inspiring. I wish I had your amazing communication skills.”

“I truly admire the courage it took for you to present to us! You are an inspiration and I hope you know what a great communicator you are!”

It was so gratifying to talk to these kids and have them share that they think someone who stutters can still be a great communicator.

We CAN be great communicators. Remember, there is so much more to effective communication than being fluent. Speaking regularly and getting feedback proves that.


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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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