Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘Toastmasters

Episode 204 features Pauline Benner who hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pauline is a mom and musician. She plays woodwinds and keyboards for three different theaters and with a symphony. She is also a singer/songwriter, freelances and gives private lessons.

Listen in as we talk about how Pauline’s life path came from what she couldn’t do versus what she really wanted to do, because of stuttering. She sings for audiences but prefers not to speak to the audience before singing. She “speaks through her instruments.”

We also talk about how much of stuttering is psychological versus physical and the head space we give to stuttering. Pauline shares about how Toastmasters has helped her and her belief that society has changed where we can feel more free to stutter. Pauline wants people who are fluent to know that “the voice in our head is fluent” and that the world would benefit if we were all just more patient in general.

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

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.

 

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!

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.

You can’t connect with other people if you’re constantly stuck in your own head. This goes if you’re anxious, depressed, self absorbed or if you stutter.

We fail to make meaningful connections with those around us when we become consumed with worry or fear about how people will react to us. We get so caught up in what we are thinking that we fail to learn what the other person is thinking. These can be self defeating behaviors.

I think it’s true that people who stutter can also be anxious or depressed. I’ve written about this several times before. While anxiety and depression are not the cause of stuttering, both can certainly exasperate the stuttering experience.

And I also think it’s true that people who stutter can be very self absorbed. There are times when we think about stuttering constantly, and not positively! I’ve heard people say they’ve gone to bed thinking about stuttering and wake up thinking about stuttering. For me, when I was extremely covert, it was like a prison. I felt suffocated by the constant thoughts and worries about how I sounded when I dared to speak.

My good friend J and I recently talked about anxiety and stuttering. He hates how he feels when he thinks about stuttering and feels that he thinks about it too much. He worries that he’s not connecting with others because he gets so preoccupied with stuttering.

One of the things we’ve talked about a lot is to find other things to do that gets you out of your head. Having something to do that connects you with other people is vital to getting “unstuck.” Some examples are Toastmasters, Improv or local meet ups where you can find activities that you have in common with other people.

Thinking about stuttering all of the time is going to keep you in your head. You’ll miss out on engaging with other people and you’ll run the risk of people thinking that you’re unfriendly, unapproachable or shy, when none of those may be the case.

Getting out of your own head is easier said than done. But talking about your worries and fears with someone else is always a good idea, as well as finding things to do that take you out of your comfort zone and give you a chance to genuinely connect with others.

Try it. Try one new thing. Set it as a goal for 2017.

PamEpisode 164 features Sofia Espinoza, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, although Sofia is originally from Peru. Sofia works for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. She is an engineer and works in IT, implementing systems.

Sofia went into engineering because she thought it would be a field where there wouldn’t be much talking. When she began her Masters program, she saw it was much more interactive and would require talking and class participation. It was at this time that Sofia began researching support opportunities and found the NSA and Toastmasters.

She threw herself into both at the same time, as well as seeing a counselor. All of these things helped Sofia to graduate.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering, baby steps, shyness and anxiety, and the pain of stuttering.  We also talk about wearing armor to protect ourselves and how heavy that armor can be to carry around.

Sofia attended her first NSA conference this year, as it was held in Atlanta. We talk about her experiences and her favorite workshop.

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

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.

 

PamEpisode 158 features Jennifer Allaby who hails from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. Jennifer retired from a career in social work, most recently working with First Nation communities.

Listen in as Jennifer describes how about a year ago she began to seriously look at the stuttering part of her life. For about 30 years, she had been covert. She says it had become like work to keep up the façade of not stuttering.

She explored the stuttering community and marveled at how open and welcoming people have been. She also shares that since becoming involved in the stuttering community, she’s learned a whole new language.

We also discuss Jennifer’s involvement in Toastmasters, which she describes as the best thing she’s done for herself. Jennifer’s initial goal with Toastmasters was “to stutter,” and to be the best communicator she could be as herself.

Jennifer also explains what Toastmasters is for those who may not know, and shares how welcoming and supportive other members are. Nobody expects perfection, she says. It’s gentle and you don’t feel pressured but you do feel accomplishment and appreciation for what you’ve done.

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

 

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.

I’ll never forget the time at a Toastmasters meeting where we had a visiting “dignitary” with us to install new officers. It was the beginning of a new Toastmaster year and it is tradition in Toastmasters that a leader performs an induction ceremony.

I was so surprised when our Area Governor, whom I had not previously met, started speaking and I realized he stutters. In a way, I was kind of excited to realize there was another person in the room and in Toastmasters that stutters like I do.

I have often heard that people who stutter have a sense of radar when we hear other people who stutter. We can hear the repetitions, the breaks in speech, the blocks, all signs that a person stutters. I found myself hanging on this person’s every word as he completed the induction. He spoke slowly, deliberately, with repetitions and blocks.

After the meeting, I went up to introduce myself and congratulate him for a job well done. I also decided to disclose that I stuttered too, and that I was pleased to see a fellow stutterer do so well in Toastmasters.

Well, he became quite defensive and denied that he stutters. I remember this like it was yesterday. He got a little red in the face and adamantly let me know that he does not stutter. I felt foolish, as I had “outed” him when he clearly did not wish to be identified as a stutterer. I remember apologizing quietly and hurrying away, feeling embarrassed that I had embarrassed him.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it?

Another time, I was at a networking meeting and heard a woman talking about her organization and clearly stuttering. I remember having self-talk with myself, again excited to hear another person who stutters in a professional environment and feeling conflicted if I should say anything to her.

The negative experience I had at the Toastmasters meeting still hung over me and I felt it was best that I not “out” another person. Disclosing that you are a person who stutters is a personal choice that needs to be respected, despite the overwhelming inside urge to yell, “hey, over here, me too. I stutter too.”

I remember being introduced at a Toastmaster meeting where I was to be a featured speaker. A fellow Toastmaster was responsible for introducing me and I thought he would share my usual bio which I had provided to the club, as we were all asked to. He ad-libbed a bit and added some extra things to his introduction of me.

He included that I was a proud stutterer and an inspiration to the club. I remember feeling embarrassed that he said that about me. There were people in the audience who were new and didn’t know me and now knew something about me that was very personal. It didn’t bother me that I stutter because I do and am open about it in Toastmasters. What bothered me was not being able to disclose it myself – I felt like I had been “outed.”

Now I knew what I felt like to be outed, even in a very well-intentioned manner and in a moment of pride. Ever since then, I have been very cautious about going up to anyone I hear stutter and saying anything, even the “I stutter too.”

It’s a slippery slope, outing someone as a stutterer or being outed yourself in a way you didn’t expect.

What do you think?

Last week, I had the opportunity to emcee an awards event at my school. I call it an opportunity because I try to seize every chance I get to do public speaking. I enjoy it, while many of my fluent colleagues hate it and avoid it all costs. My co-workers were glad that I was willing to do it.

I have had years of experience with public speaking, through my association with Toastmasters and no longer dread it like I once did when I was really covert and afraid to stutter openly. But I still get a little anxious, like anyone would. My adrenaline gets flowing because like anyone, I want to do the best that I can at events like these.

As a stutterer, my biggest challenge is reading names aloud and introducing people. That was to be my primary role as emcee at the awards event – introducing each person and keeping the ceremony moving and flowing.

I was anxious about saying people’s names – as I knew I would stutter on them. And stutter I did. Some with light, easy repetitions, a couple with blocks.

No one seemed to care, as the event was about celebrating success and I was just a cog in the wheel to make sure everything went smoothly. The people whose names I was calling were getting certificates of appreciation – that’s what they focused on.

But it bothered me. It always does when it comes to names. I feel getting a person’s name right is important. Our name is our identity and it’s important. I feel bad when I stutter on a name and it “doesn’t come out right.” I feel like pronouncing someone’s name correctly is a show of respect.

I always worry about this – perhaps needlessly, as like I said, no one seemed to be bothered by it except me. It’s important to me that people get my name right, so I think I should get their’s right too.

What about you? Do you find it difficult with people’s names? Just your own name? Do you place importance on getting someone’s name right?

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!

This comment was left on my blog last night. I wanted to share it with readers, because, it has to be shared. This could be any of us!

I am considering joining Toastmasters, something I’ve been advised to do for years, but am now getting nervous because I’m finally going to do it. So..I’m here researching what to expect from Toastmasters and I came across your blog.

I have been a closeted stutterer most of my life and the fear of being exposed as a stutterer is often greater than the actual emotional pain of stuttering. Your blog is very inspiring to me and I hope that one day I can reach your level of acceptance. I think you make great points about how choosing not to hide your stutter can open up a new world for you.

For some reason, when I was approaching middle school, it didn’t bother me to tell people that I stuttered when they’d ask (usually with a grin or impending giggle on their face) “why do you talk like that?” It was nothing, back then, for me to respond by saying “well, because I stutter!”..a year later, my stutter went away for some reason.

I remember volunteering to read aloud, always thinking that my stutter might present itself–but I didn’t care, I spoke freely. I joined the Spelling Bee, I could show my classmates and teacher just how articulate I really am; I was confident, for real, for once. Then, for whatever reason, my stutter and all of its insecurities came back the next year.

I began stuttering when I was 9 and throughout the course of my life, thus far, my speech impediment has gone away 3-4 times in my life. I have finally reached a point, now that I’m pushing 40, that I am not trying to ‘make it go away’–I am merely trying to be the best person I can be. I am finally ready to eliminate my fear and conquer what I have allowed to hold me back in so many ways throughout my life.

I will not allow this to control me, instill fear in me or take hold of me any longer. I’ve “dumbed it down” and relaxed myself in slang because it proved to be an easy out for me. I could navigate that, and all the persona that comes with it much easier than I could master working on speech techniques and trying to overcome the only thing I needed to overcome–my fear of being laughed at. My fear of being pointed at. My fear of being rejected for something that is a part of me.

Your blog gave me the validation I needed to go ahead and join a Toastmasters chapter and work toward becoming that articulate person once more. Thank you!

 

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?

 

 

Last night at my Toastmasters meeting, I was surprised by how someone introduced me at the start of the meeting. I will also admit that I was a bit embarrassed.

I was scheduled to be the Toastmaster, or emcee, for the evening. Therefore, the club president had to introduce me. As the theme of the meeting was perseverance, he chose to tie perseverance into his introduction of me.

The president indicated that I was a person who epitomizes courage and perseverance, as it takes courage to be a person who stutters and a Toastmaster. He went on to say that I have risen through the ranks of Toastmasters and achieved the highest designation, that of Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM.) He asked people to take note of how I run the meeting, as I am a good role model for fellow members and guests.

He stated that it takes courage to stutter and embrace public speaking and that I am an inspiration to the club. He concluded that I am a hero to him.

When I stood up and proceeded to speak, I was aware that I was embarrassed. Both for the high praise and words of kindness, but also because he introduced me as a person who stutters. I don’t remember ever getting an introduction like that in my eight years in Toastmasters.

I thanked him for his hearty introduction and remarked that I hoped I could live up to his lofty words.

I was embarrassed because someone else was advertising that I stutter to people who didn’t know that about me. It’s not that I’m embarrassed that I stutter, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting this type of introduction and I felt a bit taken aback.

On the plus side, though, I found that I allowed myself to stutter more freely throughout my remarks during the meeting and even did some voluntary stuttering.

What do you think? How would you have felt if someone had given a surprise introduction like that?


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