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How to stay calm and stutter on

A list of baby steps you can use to get out of your speaking comfort zone

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a chance to reflect on the year that has been and you’re looking forward to the possibilities in the new year. What plans for 2015 do you have in terms of your speech?

January 1, 2015, also falls on a Thursday which is a day known as “Throwback Thursday” in social media circles. Every Thursday, people like to post photos from the past across social networks (mostly Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) and tag them with #throwbackthursday or #tbt for short (or sometimes both!).

In the spirit of both New Year’s Day and #tbt, I’m reposting the above infographic that I originally shared this time last year. Since the content is timeless, I made a slight edit this time around as last year’s infographic contained last year’s year.

The infographic offers ideas on situations you can put yourself into to practice speaking and speech tools. This way, you can build a thick skin and resilience to awkward reactions and stuttering openly. Building this resilience will help you prevent your stuttering from preventing you from doing what you’d like to do. Imagine, no more hiding, no more avoiding! But like most things in life, this is a skill which requires regular practice.

This post isn’t just for reposting a yearless version of my infographic. I wanted to explore each idea further. They aren’t listed in any particular order.

1.Make at least one phone call per day

The phone. Our arch nemesis. A scary one, too. I used to freeze and tense up every time the phone rang. But phones are everywhere – all over our house, in our workplaces, in our pockets. It’s in our best interest – particularly careerwise – to overcome any fears that we have with talking on the phone. After all, we can’t rely on text messaging in every aspect of our lives. Besides, if disaster strikes and all the cell towers are out, the last thing you want to have to deal with is being at the beginning stages of being able to deal with phone calls.

A phone conversation is simply another form of communication but one which involves only the voice. We don’t see the other person we’re talking to and they don’t see us. Could this be the reason behind our fears with the phone? After all, there’s no way for us to gauge non-verbal reactions to our stuttering aside from tone of voice, a chuckle, or a hang up.

Instead of fearing the phone, what if we looked at it as a provider of opportunities for us to practice the art of disclosing our stuttering, explain that we need a little extra time to say what we need to say, and maybe even practice a few speech tools when saying “hello” (saying hello used to be a very long ordeal for me)?

The practice phone calls we can make can be very simple. Call up shops and ask them what time they close or for the price of a particular item. You can also call up a friend. Or ask them to call you so you can get used to the idea of not freezing up when you hear the familiar ring. The possibilities are endless.

2. Ask a total stranger the time or for directions

What I like about the phone is no one can see my secondaries. But that’s not a good habit to get into. Like practicing the phone, practicing talking to strangers is also a great way to reduce speaking fears and getting the hang of catching and controlling your secondaries as much as you can, along with disclosing, etc.

It’s also a great way to build skills in striking up conversation with people you don’t know. This is very important in professional networking, first days on a new job, or asking a store clerk if they have a certain pair of pants in your size (another speaking situation idea!).

3. Tell someone that you stutter

To this day, I don’t know why I felt so strange in my younger years about telling someone that I stuttered. I wish I knew back then what I know now! I really do enjoy the conversations that form about my stuttering when I mention it to new people I meet. Some are curious about stuttering, some end up revealing other people in their lives who stutter, some have even asked me some really thought provoking questions!

The reactions I have always received have been that the person I’m telling is totally okay with it. Mentioning my stuttering gets rid of any thoughts I may have on what they must be thinking. Mentioning my stuttering creates opportunities to explain that stuttering is not an intellectual issue and I can also explain how it’s unnecessary to finish my sentences.

I feel the most important benefit is that the other person knows I’m okay with my stuttering and they can be at ease around me. They still hang out with me, and stuttering never was an issue. After a lifetime of worrying about stuttering, this is an awesome feeling.

You can start by telling a close friend that you stutter. Then another. Maybe a few family members. A couple of co-workers. A stranger you meet on the street when you ask for directions…

4. Challenge yourself not to switch words

This can be a tricky one! I remember when I started on my mission of getting rid of my habit of switching words, it took a few attempts to finally get the hang of it. It was scary to stand there and stutter (and keep eye contact). I felt vulnerable, awkward, embarrassed. “What they must think of me!”. But I knew that this wasn’t the way I wanted to live for the rest of my life. So I tried again and again after each “failed” attempt while my fear of “being caught stuttering” shrunk.

It is indeed true that you grow stronger every time you step out of your comfort zone. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from thinking something as being so scary to becoming a much smaller issue or no longer an issue at all.

5. Create polite canned responses to funny looks

Ever get into that situation where you don’t know what to say until hours later when you think of something you wish you had thought of back then? You can prevent that by coming up with some canned material which you can use to practice. I know it sounds silly, but it can really helped me come across as a confident person instead of someone looking like a deer caught in headlights. After all, you’d like to avoid any setbacks when you’re putting effort into stuttering openly and being exactly the person who you want to be.

As you get into these kinds of speaking situations more often, you’ll find yourself remembering your responses. In other words, you create your canned replies as you go!

Here are a few to get you started since I brought up the topic:

  • “I speak with a stutter”
  • If they are finishing your sentences and this annoys you, you can say “I just stutter. No need to finish my sentences” with a smile. People mean well and those in the service industry are there to serve you so naturally, they’ll feel the need to fill in any customer’s sentences regardless of speech fluency. It’s also a sign of rapport during a conversation. Though there is a fine line between this and trying to fill in a stutterer’s blanks.
  • Point to your mouth and say with a smile “I stutter”. Seriously, I have a friend who does this! 🙂 I use this method sometimes.

6. Replace your negative thoughts about stuttering with positive ones

This one helped me the most in overcoming my speaking fears. It felt so liberating to go from “I hate my stuttering” or “I wish I never stuttered!” to “stuttering is just something I happen to do” and “there is a lot more about me than just my speech”.

In fact, as I talked to more and more people about my stuttering, the more I received positive feedback towards my stuttering which, in turn, made me grow more confident in speaking and stuttering openly. As well as attempting more out-of-comfort-zone activities that I was interested in trying out (like podcasting and presenting). And the more I did all that, the more social and job opportunities came up!

This is what I’m referring to when I decided to name my podcast and book, “Stuttering is Cool”.

7. Make the choice not to avoid

Getting into the habit of not avoiding certain words, not avoiding certain items you’d like to order, not avoiding social situations, not avoiding getting a word in edgewise during work meetings, and not avoiding eye contact can certainly help you with achieving the benefits outlined in #6 above.

It may be difficult. It may be scary. You may avoid at the last second. Try not to be hard on yourself. Just try again. In fact, the more we try again, the more practice. Remember, you can only go at your pace and as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can do it. And thank goodness for #12 below.

8. Stutter openly

This one pretty much sums up this entire post!

9. Try something out of your comfort zone

Join a Toastmasters group in your area. Take an improv class. Talk to a romantic interest in a bar and ask them if they wouldn’t mind if you practiced your speech tools with them. Sky dive. Take a flying lesson. Explore a new city. Take up a new hobby.

Whatever it is that you’re interested in. It doesn’t even need to be related to speaking. After all, stuttering isn’t everything and pursuing our interests is fun! Plus, they also give us conversation fodder in social situations.

10. Maintain eye contact

Eye contact is a sign of confidence and sincerity. But it can get difficult to keep eye contact as we stutter. We feel vulnerable and looking away can feel comfortable. But then, we will give the impression of dishonesty or fear. And we all know how people tend to believe the myth that stuttering is caused by psychological problems.

I’ve found that maintaining eye contact while stuttering also helps me give the impression that I’m ok with my speech. And if I’m ok with it, so will be the person who I’m talking to and then stuttering won’t be an issue. This is especially important in the workplace.

11. Video record yourself

Recording myself on video allowed me to see my secondaries and learn when they happen. This also allowed me to catch myself and prevent or subdue my secondaries even a little bit when speaking with others. I also experienced this when I first started my audio podcast – I’d listen to myself as I did quality control after having put an episode together.

12. Talk to others who stutter

Stuttering can be an isolating experience since it tends to be difficult to meet others who stutter in our immediate geographical area. But thanks to the Internet, we are able to meet many, many, many others who stutter who can cheer us on as we try one or all of the speaking situations above. Or share new ideas. Or become inspired by those “who have been there”.

This is the best part, in my opinion. I’ve been inspired by so many who stutter to give certain situations a try. In fact, if it wasn’t for these great people, I wouldn’t have started my podcast, wrote my book, or even be the person I am today. This is also what I’m referring to by “Stuttering is Cool”. The experience of stuttering can suck a little less when you have company who completely understands what you have been and are going through.

The Internet enables us to not only meet new people who also stutter, by as we interact with them, they become our friends. Then relationships form and next thing we know, we’re meeting face to face!

I hope the above 12 ideas inspire you to give stepping out of your speaking comfort zone a try. Let me know how it goes! Please also chime in with your suggestions for speaking ideas.

Published in Featured stuttering