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There I was sitting in a focus group organised by my university, making contributions on how mature students could be better catered for. As the only international student participating, I was glad to be able to share my views and perspective. I was enjoying the conversation and had spoken several times but suddenly, as I was about to speak again, it became a struggle to get the words out of my mouth. I stuttered and eventually spluttered out some words. An uneasy silence filled the room, but the moment quickly passed, and I didn’t allow what had just happened to deter me from making further input.
You see, I had made up my mind long ago that I would not allow my stuttering to get in the way, no matter what. I really couldn’t afford to – I knew that as life progressed, I would have to give speeches and presentations, and I was determined to have no excuses. With this resolve, I have given several presentations and even impromptu speeches in front of various types of crowds. In fact, quite a few people who interact with me will tell you that they have no idea I stutter. It wasn’t always like this; at a time my speech was so bad that I could hardly complete a sentence without almost getting frustrated.
If you or anyone you know deals with stuttering, here are a few things that helped me:
Yep! You stammer, so what? You are in good company. People like Winston Churchill, King George VI, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Shaquille O’Neal, Eric and Julia Roberts all dealt with stuttering, and they didn’t allow it to stop them from speaking or achieving their dreams and destinies. As with all challenges, accepting the reality of this speech impediment is the first step to conquering it.
Many people who stammer speak fast, and this obviously makes things worse. No matter how excited you are to speak, consciously remember to breathe and calm down when speaking. Also remember to pause in between phrases and sentences. However, if your stutter is severe and has nothing to do with speed, just relax and this will help.
Don’t Be Anxious
Anxiety can make even the smoothest speaker stutter. So if you stutter, make sure you try to calm down. Being calm and relaxed will also boost your confidence. Consciously taking deep breaths before you speak will help you calm your nerves so the words can roll off easily.
Pick Your Words
As a person who stutters, you know the particular words and sounds that are difficult for you to say without stammering. For me, one of the most difficult things for me to say was my name (thankfully, this has changed). Even though my name is short and easy for most people to pronounce, it contains certain sounds that could trigger my stuttering. This made introducing myself at meetings or functions a chore. However, once I precede my name with words that I find easier to pronounce, I’m fine.
Practice speaking slowly and clearly. You can also practise with trusted friends and family members who are willing to help you improve. As a child, my Dad would take a tape recorder, ask me to speak into it and play it so I could hear. We would do this over and over again till my stuttering reduced significantly.
There are also speech therapists out there who can help. Remember it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and let your voice be heard!