Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘public speaking,

Episode 4 of this occasional series with men who stutter features my good friend Joseph Diaz, who hails from Dallas, Texas. Joseph and I met at my first NSA conference in 2006, which was in Long Beach, CA. We have been fast friends since.

Joseph is a long time member of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). He has held many leadership positions with the NSA, including being a long time board member.

Joesph started stuttering rather late. His stuttering didn’t make an appearance until he was a junior in high school.

Joseph shares his long journey with stuttering. He talks about the times when stuttering consumed his life, avoidance behaviors and negative self-talk. He also talks about his “rock bottom” and how he turned the corner.

Joseph honestly shares about what it was like socializing, making friends and dating. We also talk about acceptance, and how that conscious decision to accept himself as a person who stutters shaped his life.

Joseph also shares his career path, and his very active involvement with Toastmasters.

We hope you listen in! Feel free to leave comments or questions for Joseph, or just thank him for sharing and doing such a good job!

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

An interesting article appears in today’s Business Management Daily about a worker who stutters who is hoping to get a promotion at her job.

She is told by her supervisor that the new manager would be brought in from another department.

When the worker asks why, she is told, “we know you work well with the other typists. They know about your stutering problem. But this is for a manager position. What about the communica­tion skills?”

She is further told, “We simply wouldn’t be doing you a favor by promoting you into a job you couldn’t handle.”

Couldn’t handle? I stutter and speak publicly in my job every day! To managers, communications specialists, teachers, administrators.

Read the full article here. There is some brief discussion on the American’s With Disability Act (ADA.) What do you think? Is this for real, or as friend Burt suggests, written as a parody?

I had an impromptu moment of stuttering humor at a Toastmaster’s event on Saturday, which couldn’t have been better if I had planned it!

Once a month, our Toastmaster’s division has an Executive Council meeting, where all of the officers get together and compare notes and progress.

On this day, I was asked to present the report for our division, in the planned absence of our Division Governor.

We follow a pretty tight agenda, and each presenter gets 5-7 minutes to deliver their report. Someone “times” us, and holds up helpful flags to let us know our pace and when to wind down. Red means stop! When I saw my “red flag”, I still had a couple slides left to cover and more to say.

That is not unusual for me. I often struggle to stay within timeframes, and have demonstrated that throughout my 5 years of giving Toastmaster speeches. I have given over 50 speeches and am on track towards my goal of DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster) which is the highest rank in Toastmasters.

So I said I wasn’t finished yet, and added, “Just so you know, stutterers are always entitled to more time.” That got an appreciative laugh from the audience.

Someone immediately chimed in and said, “Pam, you are well on your way to DTM, or ‘Don’t Time Me!” That got an even larger laugh from the group.

I finished up with my presentation and sat down to applause!

As I thought about it later, I realized how great a moment that really was. In a formal meeting following formal timing protocols, I injected impromptu humor about  stuttering, which was well received.

And a fellow Toastmaster felt entirely comfortable to “jab” back with a perfect little joke that everybody got and enjoyed.

Another example of the value of sharing our stuttering and making it a comfortable topic for anyone to talk about.

Last week I went to a presentation on tolerance. The name of the program was called “What Makes You Tic?” The speaker was Marc Elliott, a man in his twenties who was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when he was 9 years old.

He has lived with strange physical tics for many years, as well as inappropriate outbursts of name calling, cursing, and loud, odd noises.

His most-notable tic is/was the slamming together of his teeth, loudly enough to hear his upper and lower teeth grind and make contact. Imagine doing that for over 20 years!

His talk was very inspirational. He shared about how he often found himself explaining to people in school or out in public that his weird movements or sounds were not intended to bother or offend anyone, but that they were involuntary.

He also has lived with a rare intestinal disorder, making the “taken-for-granted” bodily task of relieving himself a particular challenge as well. He talked about never wanting to use a public restroom. He always felt he was being judged. Even when all he could see, and others could see, were ankles and shoes at the bottom of a stall.

If he heard someone come in to the bathroom, he would make himself stop “his business” in mid-action, in order not to be judged (or so he thought, in his mind.)

This is very similar to stuttering. How often have you chose not to speak, or switched words, for fear of how someone would react?

During his talk, Marc  made reference to stuttering. I was not surprised. I knew there was some closeness ( in the brain area) between stuttering and Tourette’s syndrome. And I am always interested in how people with differences manage in their daily lives.

Marc shared that in the last 5 months, he has gained such a level of acceptance for his tics, that he rarely tics in public anymore. He said he almost never thinks about the fear of how others may perceive him, which has given him control over his tics. This is where he made reference to stuttering. And what surprised me, frankly.

He indicated that like Tourettes, if people who stutter could just forget that they stutter, like we do when we sing (!), we would be able to reduce or eliminate stuttering, like he has done with his tics.

He never quite told us how he has eliminated his tics. He said we could read about that in his book, (of the same title, “What Makes You Tic?“) which is due out by the end of the year.

At the end of the program, many people started lining up to speak with him. I got in line, deciding to let him know (gently) what I thought of his comment about stuttering.

I was close to the front of the line, and listened while some young girls cooed about how amazing and inspirational he was. An excited group of three got another friend to take a picture of them with Marc.

When it was my turn, I introduced myself, using some voluntary stuttering until real stuttering took hold. I told him I enjoyed his talk, but was a little curious about his reference to stuttering. I shared with him that if not thinking about stuttering was all it took for me to not stutter, like he no longer tics, then I needed to know the secret right away.

I also said, “I bet you didn’t think anyone who stutters would be in this audience, huh?” He did seem genuinely surprised and commented that he was glad I had come up to him. He also said he was grateful that I had shared a little about stuttering, and that maybe he needs to get more information before he “uses that connection” again.

We spoke for just a few minutes, but I knew I had his attention. While we spoke, he “ticked” quite obviously – his mouth clamped tight a couple of times and his gaze was all over the place. Maybe it was because I was stuttering freely, or like me (with my stuttering), he tics more one-on-one with someone than he does/did when he was on the stage talking and using a microphone.

I think he was actually surprised that I came up to him and had the guts to gently point out (for me anyway) that his analogy about “not thinking” about stuttering wasn’t the answer.

He thanked me and gave me a hug before I left.

I was glad I went up to him and was honest and stuttered openly. We all learn from each other.

Episode 73 features Jeni Cristal, who hails from Long Beach, California. Jeni is 22 years old and attends the University of Long Beach, majoring in Health Care Administration.

Jeni will graduate in spring 2012, and plans to go on for her Masters degree in Public Policy. Then she wants to apply to law school, with the long-term goal of becoming a prosecutor.

Jeni is from a very large family – she has 10 siblings! Two of her brothers stutter. Listen in as Jeni shares her poignant story of growing up not being allowed to talk to her mother – because her mother thought Jeni’s stuttering was contagious! She was only allowed to talk to her mom if she was fluent.

We talk about how tough it was for Jeni to not talk about any of this for years, and the changes in her relationship with her mom. We also discuss disability resources for college students, speech therapy, forgiveness, letting go and acceptance.

Jeni and I had a great conversation. We both got choked up at the end of our chat, as we realized we had made a real emotional connection. Sharing our personal stories does that!

Please feel free to leave comments for either of us, and especially let Jeni know what a great job she did. Feedback is such a gift.

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

A friend who I haven’t heard from in a while checked in with me last night via our LinkedIn connection. He ran across my article I have written for the 2011 ISAD conference. If you haven’t read it, please do. Its called, “I Stutter! How In The World Can I Join Toastmasters?”

Tom had been a member of my current Toastmasters club for a little less than a year. He was a ball of fire – a man possessed in fact. He gave a speech at every opportunity there was for him to speak, and earned his Competent Communicator (CC) in about 6 months time.

He has now joined a club in the Baltimore area, and shares that he is on track – his track – to have his Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB) and Advanced Leader Bronze (ALB) by June of next year. I have no doubt. He’s one of those guys that sets a goal and goes after it quickly.

He commented on my paper and said he enjoyed reading it. I emailed him back and let him know I was gunning for my DTM – Distinguished Toastmaster – the highest award one can earn in Toastmasters. I’d like to earn that by next June, but it’s a lot of work and will take time and a big commitment.

Upon hearing that I was seeking DTM, his comment was, “HOLY CRAP – that is a stunning accomplishment. Congratulations.”

I wrote back and said something like, “yeah, not too bad for a woman who stutters, huh?”

And then he paid me a great compliment. Trust me – this man does not throw praise around casually. I read this several times and decided I should share this. I don’t think he’ll mind!

Well, here’s a personal impression. When I was in Capital Toastmasters people often praised you and your accomplishments, and almost always the sentiment was something like, “What a wonderful accomplishment for someone who stutters.” To be honest, that always bothered me. It felt as if they were saying that it’s especially impressive for you to succeed in TM because you are less capable than other people. In my mind, I never thought of you as a talented speaker for someone who stutters. I just thought of you as a talented speaker. Period. Not to diminish the obstacles that you have overcome, but my point is that you are a successful speaker by any standard, not just by the standard of a stutterer.

Thanks Tom! I think my colleague nailed the exact essence of Toastmasters. That it’s about our communication, our delivery and our message. Priceless piece of feedback.

Wouldn’t you agree?

My good friend Nina G, who is an amazing role model for “differently-abled” people, including people who stutter, found this blog post called Procrastination: Do You Stutter or Stammer? The author tries to correlate procrastination to stuttering or stammering.

The name of the blog is Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, and focuses on re-framing negative self-talk into ways to make positive changes in our lives.

Good stuff! Everybody has negative self-talk that can consume us if we let it. It’s always good to find ways to re-think things so we don’t get and stay “stuck.”

Except when we find the use of the words stuttering or stammering to imply something negative, that needs to be fixed or changed.

Here’s the comment I wrote on Mike Reeves-McMillan’s post. Figured I’d put it here, in case they don’t publish it!

What about those of us who really stutter? It’s not quite so simple unfortunately. I am a fast talker and a fast thinker – and I stutter. Have since I began talking. And I am an amazing communicator. I don’t procrastinate more than the average person, I don’t “stop” and “start” with my speech. I just happen to stutter sometimes, as do 1% of the adult population here in the United States (about 3 million of us) and 1% in the UK as well, and worldwide in fact. That’s a lot of people!

We are not intellectually or emotionally impaired, nor are we nervous, anxious, shy or withdrawn. What we are is this: fed up with people who casually use the words “stuttering” or “stammering” to convey a negative connotation. Sports teams get off to “stuttering starts.” A nervous teenager on his first date “stammers” hello. Employees on interviews should take care not to “stutter or stammer” their way through the first question, or risk making an indelible negative first impression.

I am all for people such as yourself selling books to help people manage their time better or figure out what obstacles exist that result in procrastination, which afflicts all of us at some point in our life.

For those of us who stutter (as it is routinely referred to here in the U.S.) or stammer (as it is routinely referred to in Europe), it is not a routine fix. Many of us struggle every day against negative social consequences, educational and vocational discrimination and exclusion. I stutter and I am very successful! I stutter and am actively involved in Toastmasters! I stutter and help people every day! I stutter and work with youth and young adults! I stutter and live and work and play in the same world as everyone else! And it’s OK!

What do you think about the use of the word “stuttering” or “stammering” when relating it to something that can be perceived as negative?

Let me know what you think!

Many of you know I have been involved with Toastmasters for over five years now. It has been a great experience for me. I have taken so many risks and expanded my comfort zones time and time again. I have given over 50 speeches and have helped to promote Toastmasters to people interested in joining.

Many people have asked me why do I stay involved? Right now, I am serving as an Area Governor for Toastmasters, which is a voluntary leadership position. I have several clubs in my area, and it’s my job to visit the clubs, file reports, provide support, help membership building and help facilitate speaking contests. It takes a lot of time! To say the least!

The sappy answer why I stay involved is because I want to give back. Having the support of an organization that pushes you to set goals and cheers for you along the way is priceless. I have done things I never dreamed I would or could. I have met great people from all walks of life who are also doing things they never thought possible.

People who stutter think they cannot succeed in Toastmasters. It’s too risky, fluent people won’t understand, I’ll embarrass myself, no one wants to hear a stutterer trying to give a speech. Well, that’s just not true. I have written about this before here and have engaged with people who ask questions about Toastmasters in several of the stuttering forums.

Toastmasters helps build better communication and leadership skills for all who choose to push themselves and get involved.

I visited a club last week and listened to a 24-year-old young man share why he joined Toastmasters. His reason made me smile. He said he thought it was high time he find a “grown up” club or activity to join.

He said he wanted to graduate from playing angry birds, hanging out with his buddies and going to the gym. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those pursuits, but they likely won’t help him along his career path.

Building confident communication and leadership skills will help him, and anyone else, achieve career, social and life goals. If I wasn’t in this current leadership role, I would not have visited his club, met him and listened to his story. His story that made me smile and reminded me why we must share our successes with others.

And I was there to cheer him on when he entered his club contest for Table Topics and won! He advanced to the next level, after just being in Toastmasters for several months. That’s what Toastmasters does – gives you the confidence and support to take chances. And it has done it for many years. Check out this Toastmasters timeline.

Because everyone wants to change and grow, and Toastmasters is a great vehicle for that. It’s all about personal growth and guts.

Please check out the article – I Stutter! How In The World Can I Join Toastmasters? – I wrote for this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) on-line conference. The conference is “live” until October 22,2011. Feel free to share the link with anyone, stutterer or fluent, who wants to learn more about how Toastmasters can change their life.

Last week, I did something that I have been wanting to do for a long time – speak at a local Open Mic. I have largely moved past my fears of speaking and presenting, through both Toastmasters and making presentations at stuttering conferences and workshops.

I do a lot of writing, prose and poetry, and have wanted to have my voice heard in a more creative, artistic manner for quite some time.

I searched around and found a listing of places in Albany, NY that host Open Mic sessions. A Toastmaster friend that also does stand-up comedy suggested one place in particular, so I decided to give that a shot.

Last Monday night, I signed up and “performed” in front of about 25 people. Most of the other performers before me had played musical instruments or sang, so I felt a little out-of-place with my spoken word pieces, but thing is, I DID IT. I planned to read one poem I wrote about two years ago, and then decided at the last-minute to write-up a second shorter piece that would “advertise” my stuttering a bit.

That proved to be a good decision. I read Forgive and Move On first, then paused, introduced myself by name and as a person who stutters, and then read my second piece.

What a great feeling! As I was sharing, you could have heard a pin drop. My voice was loud and clear over the mic up on stage, and everybody was watching and listening. As I walked back to my seat, one woman said, “that was beautiful”, and several guys came up to me and said what I did was wonderful and took a lot of courage. Another guy turned around and said to me, “it has been a while since I heard really great poetry.”

I was so happy I did this – I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone. I was even OK with getting a little choked up at the end. It wasn’t a “bad” choked up – I was just so happy that I did it that I felt a bit emotionally overwhelmed. I am thinking I may try it again.

I have a voice that needs to be heard!

Rather than write about how the annual awards ceremony went last week, I have a clip of it here to show you!

I always worry about what impression I create when I speak publicly, especially at school functions. I know I will stutter, but like anyone who stutters, I always hope it will be one of my better days.

These events serve as a reminder of what really counts. It’s not about me. This annual awards night is for the students. No one cares about the person up on stage reading off the names. What’s important is that these kids worked hard all year and deserve their special night.

The candle lighting ceremony went well, considering we had little practice time. And my little friend towards the end who reads the poem brought tears to my eyes. She was so nervous and came to me a few days before and told me. But she also said she was very honored I asked her. Again, note to self – it’s not about me. That was a big step for her. Who knows? She might be a famous talk-show host some day.

A lesson for us all!

Tonight is our awards night at school, an event that has brought conflicting emotions for me over the last four years. As some  may recall, the first time I facilitated this ceremony, my boss criticized me the next morning for “butchering” the kids names. I had, in fact, stuttered. That comment stung, and obviously I have remembered it.

As advisor for the National Technical Honor Society, I facilitate the induction ceremony, which includes speaking from a script, introducing speakers and calling students names as they receive their certificates. I have long gotten over the nervousness and anxiety of this “performance”. Last year, I even advertised using humor about my stuttering, to put both me and the audience at ease.

But, it is still tough to be on stage speaking into a microphone. Reading from a script and calling out names is my most challenging stuttering situation. I stutter more, for whatever reason.

I worry if I don’t advertise in some way that parents will think I am mis-pronouncing their kids’ names. And I don’t want that perception. Names are important. For some of these students, this may be the first ever award they are receiving.

During rehearsals with the students last week, I told them all I stutter and that I may stutter more than usual up on the stage using a microphone. They were fine with my disclosure. I was glad I did it!

My biggest concern for tonight is that I will get choked up on stage. This may be the last Honor Society ceremony that I will lead for the school. I have been informed that my current job is being abolished. I will either be doing something else within the school or unemployed at month’s end.

So it will be bittersweet for me tonight. I know I will do fine and represent the school and students well. It will be a beautiful candle lighting ceremony, solemn and emotional. Even in ordinary times, it is easy to get caught up in the emotional moments and feel the joy and pride of the students.

I will surely feel joy for the students, and sadness that it may be my last time presiding over this. Things change, times change, people change. My emotions run pretty consistent though, and it is hard for me to hide them any more.

So there is a good chance my eyes will be shiny tonight, for more than one reason. A bittersweet moment that will become another memory for me.

I have been in Toastmasters for five years. To say it has been a great experience would be an understatement. Toastmasters values and supports individual growth and thereby fosters courage and confidence. I am proof of that!

Having a safe environment to practice different speaking situations and know that people actually want you to succeed is priceless. We don’t  find this everywhere.

Workplaces can be intimidating. They may encourage you to “speak up” but sometimes an employee is fearful of the consequences of doing so. In our communities, it can be tough to be heard as well, especially if you are the “new kid on the block” or you are not a social butterfly!

And if you stutter, all of these situations can be even scarier. But Toastmasters welcomes and encourages every member to build on strengths we already have and work towards personal and professional goals. It is a non-threatening environment where members simply support each another. Sometimes, we “nudge” each other a bit as well!

I have not done any planned speeches since last summer. I have been focusing on other things and mentoring a new member. That’s also part of Toastmasters – paying it forward and passing along what has helped us to the next person. I take meeting roles and enthusiastically participate whenever I can.

At this week’s meeting, a person was to be Toastmaster of the meeting for the first time. She was a little nervous, had spent a week emailing members, getting bios together and planning. She really wanted to do well. (I suspect she is a bit of a perfectionist like me!) There were two planned speakers on the agenda. Both backed out at the last minute.

While we were waiting for the meeting to start, I mentioned that some Toastmasters talk about have “back-pocket” speeches that they can do anytime. I half-jokingly mentioned that maybe we might have to do that at our meeting. Well, our Toastmaster Annette called my bluff and asked if I would give an impromptu speech. How could I say no!

So, with only seconds to prepare, I rose to the challenge, walked up to the lectern and delivered a 7 minute speech called, “When It Rains, Get Wet”. I talked about living life to its fullest and shared the personal experience of having participated in my first team 5K walk last week. Something I never thought I could do. Something way out of my comfort zone!

Unbelievably, it seemed like one of my better speeches. I was comfortable, relaxed, animated. People commented on that in the written feedback slips we give to each other after anyone speaks. And when I finished, another member volunteered to give his second ever speech, off the cuff. Talk about risk-taking.

I share this for a reason. I was always afraid to take risks, especially speaking risks. I always feared that I would be judged as incompetent, just because I stutter. But I have learned that sometimes the best lessons are taught when we just let go and do it.

I have to share some of the feedback I got after my impromptu speech. It was so gratifying and affirming. I allowed these comments in and gave myself permission to feel good!

“Smooth, fun story, nice build-up, happy ending, a lot of fun.”

“Amazing speech! I felt your joy when you crossed the finish line. You inspired me to take a risk!”

“Great! Wonderful personal story! Engaging topic, excellent delivery.”

“Pam, you are the ultimate risk-taker! Are you sure this wasn’t planned? I wish I could be as confident as you. You did an awesome job. Great body movement and non-verbal cues. You totally rock!”

Normally, I would be adverse to share compliments like this. I often feel embarrassed. I know why – I used to feel I didn’t deserve to be told I do/did a good job!

But taking this huge risk felt great and proved that good things happen when we go way outside our comfort zone. People keep telling me to share these really good things, so I just did!

Episode 54 features Lisa Barone, who hails from Troy, New York via Los Angelos, CA and Long Island, New York. Lisa is the co-founder and Chief Branding Officer of Outspoken Media, an Internet marketing company based in Troy.

I met Lisa in a rather interesting way. Since I am a blogger, I read other blogs. About six months ago, I noticed Lisa commented on a blog that I had as well. Lisa had put her name and where she lives, and mentioned that she stutters. I realized we were only about 15 minutes away from each other. So, I took a chance and emailed her.

I started off with something to the effect, “I am not a stalker, I swear!” and went on to introduce myself and tell her a little about me. She responded back that she gets hundred of emails a day, and it was refreshing to get one that was “normal.” Little did she know!

I asked Lisa if she’d be interested in getting together somewhere to meet and talk. She said yes, we did, and we’ve been friends since. In that first meeting, Lisa shared with me that I was the first adult female stutterer she had ever met!

Since then, Lisa has met with more local stutterers by attending one of our local Chat & Chew Too meet-ups. She also had a newspaper article published about how she felt about the movie,” The King’s Speech”, called “The king and us, myths and all”. And she participated in a reading of her piece at The Arts Center of the Capital Region.

Listen in as Lisa and I discuss how stuttering has impacted every aspect of her life, but has never been her focal point. She discusses how she got into the business of providing a voice for others, and her feelings about “letting people down” when they meet her for the first time and realize that she is not the same “presence” that she is on-line. This is a very honest conversation that offers lots of food for thought and great insights.

The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter. Please consider leaving comments for Lisa or just letting her know what a terrific job she did. Remember, feedback is a gift.

Episode 52 features Marley Robertson, who hails from Winchester, Virginia. Marley is 23 years old and a recent graduate of Old Dominion University, with a degree in Human Services. She is applying to graduate programs for Fall 2011. She wants to pursue a Master’s degree in Divinity.

Marley has always been actively involved with her church, and has currently been working as a Youth Minister.

Listen in as Marley honestly shares her history of covert stuttering. We met on one of the stuttering listservs, where Marley shared that she really wanted to become more open and positive about her stuttering.

Marley shares about her recent therapy experience at the Hollins Communication Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia, and about the fluency tools she learned there. She also talks about being open and honest about her stuttering with people she has always hid it from.

Marley only recently discovered her “calling” for Ministry and tells us how she knew. She also shares a great story that definitely signaled that she has made the right decisions in her life.

Credit for the podcast safe musical clip “Echoed” goes to ccMixter. Please feel free to leave comments for Marley, or just tell her what a great job she has done. This is the first time Marley has been public with her story.

Congratulations Marley for sharing and inspiring us!

Episode 51 features Mary Wood, who hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana, via Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Mary is an ordained Unity Minister. She went back to school at age 66 and was ordained in 2005. Mary recently celebrated her 74th birthday!

I met Mary last year at the NSA Conference in Cleveland. She did a workshop called, “I Need Your Love. Is That True?” I joked with her that it was one of the few workshops with an 8:30am start time that I have actually remembered attending! A friend introduced me to Mary after her workshop.

The theme of the workshop was fear of rejection. We go through life needing people to tell us what a great job we have done, so we can feel worthy, affirmed, loved. But the basis for Mary’s workshop, and her recent life’s work, is that we really only need to believe that about our selves. We don’t need for others to tell us that we are good. Easier said than done!

Listen in as Mary shares some of the compelling questions she has asked herself (and then others) as she learned more and more about the connections to stuttering and self-esteem. She has asked herself, “What is it that I don’t like about stuttering?” She has found it to be that fear of rejection that we all know, even though it may be hard to admit.

We also discuss replacing negative thinking with positive thinking and how stuttering became like a self-fulfilling prophesy for Mary. We talk about involvement in stuttering support, Toastmasters, and how Mary knew that she was supposed to be speaking to people every chance she got.

Credit for the podcast safe musical clip “Echoed” goes to ccMixter. Feel free to leave comments or questions for either Mary or me. Feedback is a gift!


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