Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘public speaking,

How many of you have speech or speaking goals for 2017? I usually don’t set speech goals for myself, because I tell myself I am comfortable with, and accepting of, my speech.

However, I have given this a lot of thought and there are some things I’d like to work on in the coming year. Since I finished Toastmasters and really don’t have a desire to go back anymore, I find I don’t have as many opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone. I miss those monthly opportunities to speak regularly but I was tiring of the structure of Toastmasters.

Don’t get me wrong! Toastmasters was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a person who stutters. I found courage and confidence I didn’t know I had. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for speaking challenges. I just found that 7 years of bi-weekly meetings was enough. I do miss the people though.

Some of you may recall that I tried improv in 2016 for the first time ever and found that I really liked it. That was a big time push out of my comfort zone. I liked the “in the moment” spontaneity of improv and being to able to create something out of nothing just by taking a chance and thinking on your feet.

In 2017, I really want to take a second level improv class and learn more about being comfortable with spontaneity. I don’t want my stuttering to hold me back from taking creative chances with speech. So far, a second level hasn’t come up yet, but I will keep my eye out and watch for it.

I have a big speaking challenge coming up in April. I submitted a proposal and was approved to speak at the New York State Speech Language and Hearing annual conference. I will be giving a two hour workshop on “Reclaiming Her Space: From Covert to Overt Stuttering.” I am really excited about this but anxious at the same time. My perfectionist self really wants me to be perfect for this audience of SLPs and SLP students.

I know it’s not realistic to have expectations like that for this talk. I can only tell my story as best as I can and hopefully relay important information to the audience that will help them in some aspect of their work with people who stutter.

I also want to find some other speaking challenge or goal for the year. Does anyone have any ideas? I’d love your feedback.

I participated in a great conversation yesterday with people who stutter from around the world, in a Stutter Social group video chat. The discussion started out with one person asking for tips about giving presentations. He had one coming up at school and was nervous that his stuttering would interfere with his ability to do a good job.

Several people offered suggestions, such as practicing, trying not to read verbatim from notes and advertising that you stutter before beginning the presentation. One person suggested that he try and be as fluent as possible. He talked about practicing speech techniques daily in order to achieve fluent speech.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in that I thought this was an unrealistic goal. People who stutter are going to stutter and we should not strive for fluency. In my opinion, that often results in feelings of disappointment and failure, which just exasperates our stuttering.

Instead, I suggested that we aim for being fluid while communicating. Being fluid can be described as having or showing a smooth and easy style. That’s what I shoot for when I am giving presentations.

My years of Toastmasters training helped me build excellent speaking skills, which I use every day. I’ve grown comfortable with eye contact, gesturing, vocal variety, and speaking without using notes. I became a much more fluid speaker when I began to focus on what I was saying and trying to convey. In other words, I wasn’t trying to be perfectly fluent.

I am a more natural and comfortable speaker when I move easily from topic to topic with good transitions and flow. I am more fluid when I am very comfortable with what I am talking about so that I don’t need to use notes.

You can stutter and be a very effective communicator. Stuttering doesn’t have to interfere with the message you are conveying. As the name of this blog implies, you can make room for the stuttering by being fluid, going with the flow, being comfortable when speaking and enjoying the experience.

Making room for the stuttering will help lessen any anxiety you have about trying to be perfectly fluent. That’s just not going to happen for people who stutter.

 

Earlier in the week, I did a presentation on stuttering to high school seniors who are taking a scientifc research biology class. In addition to talking about stuttering in general and my own experiences, I also touched on genetics and the neurological basis of stuttering.

The students were wonderful and asked so many smart and thoughtful questions. Truth be told, I was a little intimidated by them because they are so smart and all biological science enthusiasts. But they made me feel so comfortable and welcome, our time together just flew by.

Below are some comments from the students, which their teacher emailed to me. Feedback is so important. It helps us determine if we met our objective and did a good job. I felt I had and these comments made me feel so good!

Ms. Mertz

Your presentation was such an inspiration. I never fully recognized the emotional trauma that can accompany a stutter. It takes a strong person to be able to accept that and continue living their life. The video you showed us was especially moving, proving that a stutter can’t stop someone from living their dream.

Thanks so much for taking your time to speak with us,

Dear Pam,

I appreciated you coming to speak with us about your stuttering. You showed a lot of confidence when giving your presentation and did a very good job explaining the struggle you went through as a child. It was nice to hear about all of the programs that are available now a days to help people with stuttering issues get to know people that have the same disability. I was unaware that such programs existed.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you for coming in and speaking with our class. Your presentation was very interesting and informing. Before your presentation, I had never thought about the physiological affects stuttering could have on a person. After meeting with you  I now have a better understanding of the struggles a person who stutters and will be more open-minded in the future.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you so much for speaking with our class, it was so inspiring to see how comfortable and confident you were, I also thought it was so interesting how rare stuttering is in women. I never knew that! Thanks Again!

Dear Ms. Mertz.

Thank you so much for stepping out of your comfort zone to tell us about the struggles you, and others who stutter, have dealt with throughout your lives. I had no idea that stutters were cause by genetic and neurological factors. I always thought they were caused by stress or anxiety. Thank you so much for enlightening me and promoting a better understanding of those who stutter.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

I’d like to thank you for coming and speaking to our class. I understand how it must have felt for you to have done that, but I want you to know that we all benefited from your talk. By you putting yourself in that situation for us, we all have a better understanding of both sides of your iceberg. I hope you continue to do talks like the one you gave us, as to help remove some of the stigma that surrounds your disability.

Like most people who stutter, I often find myself feeling self-conscious and vulnerable when I stutter publicly. I do a lot of public speaking for my job, and this is my busy time of the year. I have been conducting tours and presentations to prospective students interested in applying to our school.

Sometimes, I find myself hoping that I’ll be mostly fluent in my presentations so I don’t encounter teens snickering when I stutter during my talk. That’s happened often, as my fluency has been very inconsistent and teens don’t quite know how to react when they hear an adult unexpectedly stutter.

Today, I had a big group that was touring. I make a 15 minute presentation at the start of the visit and then take questions as we walk around on the tour. Sometimes, I find myself very fluent when giving these presentations, as I have to project my voice to a big group and that really helps with my control.

I was very happy today that I had a great speech today. What does that mean, a “great speech day?” For me, it means that I felt comfortable and in control while speaking and took the stuttering in stride. I had a few moments of stuttered speech but felt so comfortable that I didn’t let it bother me. I did not feel self-conscious or embarrassed and I did not experience any physical tension or blushing.

Being able to take the stuttering in stride is what it’s all about. We need to remember that good communication is about the message we are conveying, not whether we stutter or not. We can be excellent communicators and stutter.

When I was younger, I never believed that. I thought my stuttering meant I was doomed to be a poor communicator. Well, that is so wrong. I stutter and I’m a great communicator. Take it in stride.

What about you? Can you take your stuttering in stride and just be OK with it?

 

This morning I was involved in interviewing high school students for a competitive, accelerated health and scientific research program for next school year. The teacher and I had a standard list of questions that we were asking all of the candidates.

These students are juniors in high school and most of them were quite nervous.

We asked questions geared to discover whether the students would be a good fit for a demanding, rigorous year-long program that requires a lot of reading, writing and public speaking.

One of the candidates shared that she is very shy and one of her weak areas is “talking out loud in front of people.” She went on to say that when she does, she often finds herself stuttering and stumbling and feeling embarrassed.

I mentioned to her that many people have a fear of public speaking and that practice is key. The teacher commented that I probably had a lot more to share on that. She knows I stutter.

So that opened the door for me to share with the student that I stutter, but I don’t let it stop me from public speaking. I shared with her about my involvement with Toastmasters and my years of practicing and honing my communication skills.

I could see the student visibly relax as I briefly shared with her about this.

After her interview was complete and she had left, the teacher and I talked about perhaps me coming into her class sometime and doing a presentation on stuttering, as it’s a fascinating subject that has research implications and the students spend a significant amount of time in this class on research.

We talked about genetics and the different brain studies that have been done. I was already beginning to flesh out in my mind what such a presentation to accelerated high school seniors would look like. We agreed to schedule a date for me to present in May. I’m going to try to make it during National Stuttering Awareness Week.

You never know when you might get a chance to talk about stuttering, so be ready!

I tend to stutter the same way on the same words all the time. Even when I try to focus and use a technique or slow down, there are just certain words that come out the same way, every time.

Communication is one of those words. I don’t stutter on the first “c” in the word. No, I block and stutter on the second “c” sound – right in the middle of the word. It usually takes the form of three or four repetitions on the “ca” sound. Communi-ca-ca-ca-ca-tion. I am very aware of when I am in the stuttering moment with this word, as it’s a word I have to say a lot in the presentations I deliver to high school students.

I talk to them about career planning and the essential skills needed to be college and career ready, with good communication being one of those essential skills.

I am not ashamed that I stutter and I am of the belief that good communication is so much more than perfect fluency. But for some reason, when I block and stutter on key words, the same way, every time, I feel quite vulnerable and exposed. Perhaps it’s because this mostly happens when I am speaking to young people.

It’s important to me to be a good role model when I am speaking to people, especially young people. I maintain eye contact when I’m blocking and when I complete the word, I usually smile and just keep moving forward. I like to think that communicating in my own style, with confidence, is good role modeling for young people.

I want them to see that moving through vulnerability can yield good results.

A good friend of mine suggested I do a little dance when I say “communi-ca-ca-ca-ca-tion.” To the beat of the “ca-ca-ca-ca.” I think it would be a good ice breaker when I am giving a presentation on stuttering, but maybe not so much when I am talking career preparation to high school students. They might think I’m nuts and call the security officer.

What about you? Do you have words that you stutter the same way every time? How does it make you feel?

I participated in a great conversation this week about ways to build confidence if you stutter. During a Stutter Social chat, a young person asked how some of us more “seasoned stutterers” deal with the anxiety of stuttering in certain speaking situations.

Some people shared their experiences from speech therapy, some shared from their perspective on acceptance and two of us talked a little about Toastmasters.

The following are some of the ideas that we shared about building confidence. Maybe you’ve tried some of them. Maybe you’ve got a suggestion to add.

  • Don’t obsess or rehearse before hand. That increases anxiety and decreases spontaneous conversation.
  • Consider advertising and letting listeners know that you are a person who stutters.
  • Try using voluntary stuttering to help you gain some control during the speaking situation.
  • Seize opportunities to speak, such as Toastmasters clubs or other speaking forums. Practice helps reduce anxiety and build confidence.
  • Remind yourself that you have as much right to be in that speaking situation as the next person, that your voice deserves to be heard.
  • If someone interrupts you, calmly let them know you’re not finished speaking yet and then proceed to complete your thoughts, no matter how long it takes.

What do you think? Do you have anything to add?

 

 

This is not directly about stuttering, but in a way, it is. This guy showed on a big stage how nerves and anxiety can get the best of any of us. The news shows are describing Mr. Bay’s performance as a “melt down” and “embarrassing stage fright.”

I took this a different way. I think he did us all a favor. He showed us that he’s human and felt anxious and vulnerable, like we all do from time to time.

How many of us, fluent or not, can relate to what happened here?

Pam

Episode 104 features Jessica Stone, who hails from New York City. Jessica has her Master’s degree from NYU in Mass Communication, and has been working as a copy writer in advertising for 16 years.

Jessica had set two goals for herself before she turned 30 – to get her master’s degree and to live abroad. Having accomplished the first, she set out to research the second.

She found herself leaving NYC to live in London, which turned out to be for 6 years. Through that experience, Jessica learned about networking, confidence and resilience.

Listen in as we discuss early memories of stuttering, covert stuttering, anxiety and breathing. We also talk about public speaking – both Toastmasters and Transformational Speaking – and Jessica’s experience with the McGuire program in London. And so much more.

Feel free to leave comments or ask questions, or just let Jessica know what a great job she did. Remember, feedback is a gift.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 18 of the conversations with men features Ray Welchman, who hails from South Australia. Ray is a systems engineer in a defense company.

He also runs “Feel The Fear” workshops as a licensed trainer for Susan Jeffers training. Jeffers wrote the wonderful book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

Listen in as we talk about different therapy experiences, the McGuire programme, avoidance, denial, hiding and so much more.

We talk about courage, growth and Toastmasters. Ray is the president of his Toastmasters club and and often finds himself privately exclaiming “look what I’m doing now.” Confidence and courage help us expand our comfort zones and grow.

Speaking of growth, see this video of Ray performing in a Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest.

This was a great conversation. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions. Feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode is from DanoSongs.

Producer note: apologies for the abrupt beginning. Technical difficulties resulted in a few seconds of Ray’s introduction being “cut off.”

At the FRIENDS conference this past July, one of the phrases I heard that really stuck with me was “listening deeply.” People were asked what they hoped to get out of the conference, and someone wrote they hoped they would learn to listen more deeply.

I have heard many people who stutter say they think they are better listeners in general because they are more aware of the importance of listening and because they also talk less.

What do you think of that?

Last night, I had to give a high stakes presentation to our school board. It was important that I conveyed my message powerfully in a short amount of time. When we were preparing, my partner and I had considered doing a PowerPoint presentation or just talking without “relying” on visual aids.

We chose to NOT use a PowerPoint and to just speak, and have handouts available for further reference for board members.

The group that spoke before us had a PowerPoint presentation, and I worried that maybe we had made the wrong decision to not use a visual.

As I watched and listened to the first speakers, I also paid attention to the audience. They were not paying close attention. They were looking through handouts and flipping pages as the speakers spoke.  I thought they were not listening deeply, as they were perhaps distracted by the PowerPoint presentation.

When I got up to speak, despite being very nervous, I just spoke. As I made eye contact with listeners, I noticed they were all focused on me, some made direct eye contact and they were listening. I could tell! I could see facial expressions, body language and head nods that told me they were listening.

I got the impression that they were listening deeply, as they were invited to do so by not being distracted with anything else. I think they heard my message loud and clear.

By the way, I stuttered a few times and did not feel in any way that it detracted from my message.

We all should aim to listen deeply. We might be surprised by how much we actually hear.

An interesting story came my way yesterday. Friends from the stuttering community passed this article around – “Did Michelle Obama Fake A Stutter?” to see what “real stutterers” think of someone who may have used stuttering to exude sincerity.

Stop for a minute and think about that. Why would someone giving a powerhouse political speech at the Democratic National Convention “purposefully stutter?” To add sincerity and impact to her speech? To win the hearts of her audience members? I don’t think so.

Michelle Obama doesn’t need to try and win over her audience. She already is a strong speaker, and knows how to connect with her audience.

This is just one more way to confuse people about stuttering. As we know, the average person has normal dis-fluent moments while speaking. Even presidents do!

If  Obama did have word repetitions, it wasn’t to purposely stutter so she could come off as more sincere or authentic or likeable. She had a few moments of imprecise speech like everyone does. She wasn’t using stuttering to win votes.

That’s just ridiculous!

You all know that I write about my experiences involving stuttering. I have wondered what will happen when the day comes when I don’t have anything more to say. Well, I am not wondering today.

Last week, I presented a training to a professional audience on public speaking and communication. The group consisted of speech therapists, occupational therapists and training coordinators who are all terrified of public speaking.

As an ice breaker, I asked everyone to introduce themselves and use one word or phrase to describe what public speaking means. Like expected, most of the responses were negative. We heard words like nervous, anxious, stressful, shaking, sweating, fear, and embarrassment. The last person said she didn’t want to stutter when speaking.

I felt my face flush when she said that. I had not yet disclosed my stuttering. She provided my cue. I reintroduced myself and said my word for public speaking was opportunity. I then added, “oh, by the way, I stutter, and I am OK with it. I hope you all are too.”

No one said anything, but I did notice a few glances toward the woman who had mentioned stuttering. I did not say this to embarrass her. It just seemed like the perfect time to disclose and advertise.

As soon as I did, I put it out of my mind and proceeded. Towards the end of the training, someone asked me why I had used the word opportunity.

I was the only person who had chosen a positive word to describe public speaking. I replied that it allows me to grow and push outside of my comfort zone, and that I don’t let stuttering hold me back.

This past week, I facilitated the second of two adult education graduations in one week. I had coordinated both events, arranged for speakers, and was the emcee at the first one. One of our district superintendents spoke at both affairs. He spoke on the same theme, changing the second speech up just slightly from the one he gave earlier.

After the ceremony, and before we proceeded to join the graduates for a reception, the administrators were chatting and I happened to be close by.

I overheard one assistant superintendent say to the one who had spoke, “hey, you did a nice job. You didn’t stutter as much as last week.” And she laughed. I glanced at them both – she was laughing, he was not.

I felt uncomfortable. It seemed like an insensitive remark to make, given that I had stuttered openly when I had emceed last week.

Maybe I am overly sensitive. What do you think? Would you have said anything?

Friday night I went to a youth public speaking event. Sixth grade kids have spent the last 21 weeks working with two Toastmasters on developing confident communication skills. This night was their final night and their chance to show off their skills to friends, teachers and parents.

These kids were all 10 or 11 years old and have been willingly learning public speaking skills that will be lifetime tools for success.

This was such an exciting event. The program was facilitated by two veteran adult Toastmasters who volunteered to work with these kids over the last five months. The kids learned how to deliver planned speeches, impromptu speeches and how to offer valuable feedback.

Toastmasters offers a program called Youth Leadership that is offered to high school students. That this program was offered to sixth grade students was so impressive.

I was invited to attend as an area leader in Toastmasters.

I was so impressed with what I saw on several levels. The kids were enthusiastic, proud, and supportive of each other. They were all dressed for success. The girls wore dresses or skirts, the boys dress shirts and ties!

The school encouraged and fostered this partnership with Toastmasters. The parents were obviously thrilled that their kids had developed such confidence. I knew this because several parents shared feedback at the end, and two said they wished they had this kind of program when they were this young. One mom got choked up with emotional pride.

I was not sure if I was going to be asked to say a few words or not at the event. I was prepared to if asked. As it turns out, there wasn’t time at the end, so I did not speak.

If I had, I probably would have stuttered, naturally or voluntarily, or mentioned something about stuttering. Would that have been appropriate? Maybe, maybe not.

One of the kids said something that struck a chord with me when she was evaluating (offering feedback) another kid who had delivered a prepared speech. All the kids had a speaking role.

This young girl said something like, “In Toastmasters, we know there is always room for improvement. I noticed that you seemed to stutter on a couple of words. Try not to do that next time.”

I tensed up as I heard that. I shouldn’t have, because it was a totally innocent comment made by an 11-year old girl who was offering feedback to another 11-year old girl. They were all nervous. And giving feedback is hard to do. You want to be positive, but you also want to give the speaker something they can take away and grow from for the next time they speak.

I found myself having an inner dialogue with my self. I thought, “wow, this kid is using the word stutter to connote something negative. We don’t want that. But what can I do?”

Then I thought, “well, if I have to say anything, and I stutter and wind up acknowledging that I stutter, that little girl might feel bad, so if I do have to speak, I hope I don’t stutter.”

Then I thought,” you idiot. This would be the perfect time to educate people quickly about stuttering. What if one of those kids actually stutters and no one knows, because like I did, the kid tries to hide it in school?”

Then I thought, “Stop talking to yourself, Pam. You are making too much of this. It’s not that big of a deal. You are taking yourself way too seriously.”

I was glad that they ran out of time and I was not asked to say anything on behalf of Toastmasters.

What do you think?

I have been involved with Toastmasters for almost six years. I love it! It has changed my life and I tell people that all the time, especially new members and those who may be interested in learning more about Toastmasters.

This year, I have been serving as an Area Governor, which means that I lend guidance and support to several clubs. I have to visit each club a couple of times a year and provide support and feedback as needed to help the members and the club grow.

I visited one of my clubs a few evenings ago and had a great experience. Whenever a Toastmaster leader visits a club, we are always asked to speak a few minutes. I noticed there were newer members and at least one guest. I chose to include in my introduction how much Toastmasters has helped me grow in confidence and courage, especially as a person who stutters.

To my amazement, two other people in the group also stutter. After I spoke, everyone else introduced themselves. One young man, a member for only a month, shared that he could relate with me. He said it was good to hear a Toastmaster leader talk about stuttering, as he also stutters.

And then, the guest at the meeting shared that he too stutters. He is from Copenhagen, Denmark and is here for a semester as an exchange student. He stuttered openly and shared that he too was happy to hear a Toastmaster leader openly acknowledge stuttering. He mentioned he had heard about Toastmasters through the McGuire (speech therapy) program he had taken in Denmark.

After the meeting, this young man said he felt comfortable and planned to join Toastmasters and then transfer his membership when he returned home to Denmark.

This made a great impact on me that night. I wondered if I had not shared about my stuttering in my introduction, would these two young men have shared? Maybe, maybe not. They might have felt no one could understand and might have felt they needed to keep it hidden.

I felt inspired that my choice to share personal information about my stuttering might have inspired those two young men to feel comfortable enough to disclose.

And what are the odds that 3 people who stutter would end up at the same Toastmasters meeting, totally unaware of the coincidence? Something tells me we were supposed to be there that evening to encourage and inspire each other!

What do you think?


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2020. 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 2020.
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