Stuttering at the Conference

The conference is only two days away now, so I’m starting to get pretty excited. The NSA has been e-mailing us as well as posting an inside look via twitter for their preparation.

Since I’ve been covert for so long about my stuttering, I still don’t really know how I’m going to react to all this. I need to make sure that my initial reaction on social situations gets beaten back so I can say what I want.

With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking I need to do while there. I’ll also post an update on this after the conference is over to let you know how it went.

Things that I’m going to do at the conference in no particular order:

1. Go up to some hotel staff member and ask them where the bathroom/conference room/gym/elevators are, even if I already know. They’ll probably be hearing a lot of stuttering, so hey, might as well get my own practice in.

2. Go up to small groups of people and barge on in. Why not, right?

3. Call down to the front desk, tell them my name, room number and then ask what time checkout is. And maybe if I’m feeling up for it, what the hours are for the gym.

4. Introduce myself to as many strangers as possible.

5. I got invited to a panel discussion on online stuttering communities. So, no prepared talking points. No rehearsing what I want to say.

6. Ask any questions or make any comments during seminars that I might have. Right then and there. Not after the seminar or after a few days when I see the host again. Don’t rely on e-mail.

7. Above all else — listen. To the new people who I meet, and to the speakers at the conference. I’ve lived in a silo regarding my stuttering since I was 7, so it’s time to get some perspective on it.

Sunday Link Roundup

Again a little late. I’m in the States now, visiting friends and family. I came here to see them and of course head to the NSA conference.

For this past week in stuttering, there are a few items — thanks to Twitter, it’s easier to find items of note.

Let’s start with the NSA conference — it starts on July 2nd, and the program is available online now.

Carolina Pediatric therapy posted about children and stuttering — and what to look for during development:

As your child is learning to talk between 18 months and three years old it is common to go through a stuttering “phase”. In most cases it only lasts a few weeks or months and is no reason for concern. So, when should you become worried that your child’s stuttering may be more than a phase? There are a few simple questions you can ask yourself that may help you determine when to call a Speech Pathologist for an evaluation.

Of course you can find a speech language pathologist through the Stuttering Foundation’s site.

The Mighty Snail posted a little rant about stuttering at the workplace.

I enjoyed this tweet:

Do you stutter less when you have caffeine? I think if I have a lot of it, I get going pretty well and don’t stutter as much. But of course that’s a pretty subjective view …

I will admit that I need to start listening to way more podcasts.

That may be a focus of 2015 for me.

And lastly, please do head over to Reddit and check out the Stutter sub-reddit.

Tomorrow I’ll get into what I want to do at the NSA Conference. The rest of the week (and next) will likely be conference-heavy commentary. If you’re going, do send me a note/comment — we should meet up.

It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed things this past week due to travel and whatnot. So let me know!

Weekly Stuttering Roundup

Apologizes for the very late post. I was traveling all day Friday from Saudi to Philly, and then I spent today with family. Nonetheless, there was some stuttering during the past week … as usual.

One thing that did happen that I didn’t stutter on was not getting all my luggage in Philly. One of my two bags came through, and then they (British Airways) had a person make an announcement that well, a whole bunch of bags didn’t show up. Fortunately I didn’t have to speak — he just gave us a form. I always hate having to read off a number to someone behind the counter. The last time it happened they verbally asked for everything — name, address, phone number. Ugh.

What I did get nervous about during the trip was while standing in line for passport control in Philly. It’s always slightly nerve-wracking. I mean, it shouldn’t be — I’m an American citizen, so … here’s my passport, let’s keep things moving. But there are always questions — how long have you been out, what do you do, what are you doing here, who are you going to see, are you declaring anything? I do pretty well on the questions — keeping them short and to the point. Saying “two weeks” for the duration is tough, so I can get away with “ten days,” if need be. The declaration thing is a big issue, though — I always bring dates. That’s right. Dates with a big D on the front. Saudi dates are a favorite of my parents, so they always ask that I get them. And so if you’re bringing any kind of fruit, you have to declare it — otherwise if you get caught, it’s a huge fine. Not worth it. What I did this time was actually write “dates” on the form (there’s not a space for it, but whatever). I started stuttering out the “d” in dates, and then the passport control guy saw the written word — “dates?” Yep!

Also, the World Cup is going on as … pretty much everybody knows. And of course Luis Suarez was big news because of his biting incident. I would love to talk about this more, but Luis has a pretty tough name for someone who stutters — that L takes a long time to come out, and the ‘s’ of his last name is tied with a ‘w’ basically. Aaargh. So how to even refer to this guy? Just not … The other issue of course are the team names. I could say “Netherlands,” but man, “Holland,” is way easier.

Lastly I was talking to a colleague at work who’s from Sudan about dentistry. I wanted to tell him about how I had my wisdom teeth taken out. But of course … “wisdom” wasn’t going to come out. So I just said, “those teeth … in the back and up there.” He said he understood, but I was really more curious what other people in the world called wisdom teeth. Is that just an American thing?

Stuttering through 50 posts

This marks my 50th post here, and I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out so far. I’ve managed to cover a variety of topics, from elementary to high school to college. And of course the dreaded phone, and how I discovered and embraced the iceberg concept.

People from more than 30 countries have stopped by, and I’m bumping up against a thousand views. The plan to head off into a slow and steady direction is working very well, and I am confident this blog can continue easily for a long time. In the immediate future of course is the NSA Conference.

I’ve enjoyed “talking” to other people who stutter through their blogs or twitter. We are most certainly not alone!

I’m also participating on reddit as much as possible. If you haven’t already stopped by there, please do.

My goals for the rest of 2014 are fairly modest:

1. Put out a “college” guide for those who stutter who are going into college in the Fall. I’m hoping to have this out by mid-August. Basically like writing to myself as an 18-year-old who stutters. What would I have done differently? Sure things turned out well after it was all said and done, but it didn’t have to be so hard!

2. Clean up the resources part of this page with three areas — institutions/foundations/organizations, bloggers, and news articles. There’s a lot out there from the past few years, so I want to try to organize it for easier reference.

Other than that, just keep on posting six days a week. Saturdays will be a personal review of my speaking for the week, Sundays will be a link roundup, and I’m thinking of fixing a day to dip into the archives of other bloggers and commenting on one of their older posts.

As I’ve said before, going back and forth in time with my own stutter — or those of others — makes sense for the community because what you stuttered on yesterday I might stutter on tomorrow. How you felt today may have been something I went through weeks ago.

I want to be the site that my young self would have found invaluable.

Stuttering through some interviews

Yesterday I talked about how I didn’t know how to find a job. So what did I do?

I did manage to get one call from a company in Connecticut based on an application I submitted online. (By this time I was living at my parent’s house).

So I drove up there and back in the same day. I’m sure I stuttered through a few things, but otherwise just kept my mouth shut. It was a small engineering company that made … something. Can’t remember. Anyway, while I was talking to one of the managers, he was looking at his computer and reading e-mails. Right. Obviously that didn’t turn out well.

I had two more interviews thanks to … my dad. He was a manager of engineering at a pharmaceutical company and knew a bunch of people. One day he came up to me (after seeing that I wasn’t getting anywhere with this) and asked if I needed some help. Sure did! So there you go — family networking.

He helped get me an interview with a consulting company that had an office down in South Carolina. On the morning of Sept 11, I got up, turned on the news, and saw what was happening. I watched it all morning with my mom, and my dad came home early. I was really distraught about all of this — I had even been to the Towers back in March. That afternoon I got a call from the company in South Carolina. They wanted to fly me down for an interview. What was my availability? Um … yay?

Did I learn anything about interviewing in college (from going to career services)? Of course not. Did I practice answering any questions (Where do you see yourself in five years? Um, here?). No again. What about actually looking at my “resume” and being able to talk about it (So, what does all this work at the newspaper have to do with engineering?) Um … right. Again, I think a lot of this had to do with, ‘well, he’s smart, he can figure it out.’

The process ended up taking all day. I spoke with a half dozen engineers and managers. I think all they wanted to see was that I had graduated and could behave myself in an office environment. I told the same stuff to all of them. Years later when I had to interview people myself, I understood their enthusiasm for this type of thing. The best part of course was that I didn’t have to say my name to any of them, and by the end of the day, I had said the same thing so many times I wasn’t stuttering as much.

That evening a few of them took me out for dinner. Obviously I was terrified of this prospect. I’d have to talk and socialize and … who knows. Fortunately the guys who I went out with were all good friends with each other, and one of them was pretty talkative. So I could just sit and make the occasional small remark.

I didn’t end up getting that job (they eventually saw it as some sort of conflict-of-interest thing with my dad) but at least I got some interviewing experience.

The next “interview” that I got was with a smaller consulting company that was doing work in my hometown. One of the guys there used to work with my dad. I can’t recall any of the interview. But I have a feeling it was more of a “make sure he’s not some weirdo” and thus, “how soon can you start?” They were hurting for people, and especially young people to do a bunch of grunt work. So exactly three months after leaving my last final at Pitt, I started my first job.

A stuttering new grad tries to find a job

I’m sure I can think of a few more college stories over the next few months, but for now, let me move onto the next phase.

During the latter half of my senior year, I started searching for a job. I understood that I wasn’t going to graduate school — so obviously I needed a job.

I had gone to a nice large public university with plenty of job-searching resources. Did I know about this? Probably in the back of my mind. Did I use any of them? Of course not. That would involve going to an office in some building somewhere and … talking to someone.

A bunch of my engineering friends at the time had done co-ops. They had worked somewhere for a summer or a semester, and presumably that company would give them an offer of employment. Since I was busy at the paper — and being its editor — I didn’t do that. I considered it, but then thought it would mess up my chances of being editor. Nevermind that I was an engineering major and not a journalism major.

The other issue was that well, I was a new graduate. And I had no engineering experience. The only thing I could put on my resume was a lame senior project that I had to do for a class. I say it was lame because well, it didn’t really work. My partner and I worked on it alongside some people in the biomedical engineering department. But they didn’t seem to care much for it. And nobody cared if it worked. So we mostly just sat around and did nothing. During the presentation for the project, I stuttered like crazy alongside my partner. But none of the engineering students present seemed to care — you’re an engineer, of course you’re nervous going up in front of people!

Anyway, by now it was 2001, so the Internet was pretty helpful in searching and applying for jobs. So I did. And didn’t hear back from anybody. Of course. Because what does job searching actually entail? Networking. And what does that involve? Meeting people. And talking to them. And following up with phone calls. You see the problem.

The university also hosted job fairs. I did print up my lame one-page resume and go to these. Did I talk to any career counselor about what the hell to do at these things? No, of course not. I remember very well going to a job fair with my resume, going up to a company, and handing it to the lady standing there. I might have said hi. She just sort of took it, and … it was weird and awkward. That’s how I approached my job search in college. It was a little rough.

That summer I graduated (still with no job) and moved back in with my parents. The search continued.

Stuttering Reader E-mail

I got an e-mail the other day from a reader. Here’s the crux of it:

“I just now got off the phone leaving a message with a beautiful girl I met online. I must have re-recorded the message 20 times.”

Ah yes, the phone. I’ve talked about how much I dislike it before.

One nerve-wracking experience is getting a new job and a new phone — and then having to set up voice mail for it. For whatever reason even though I’m in my office by myself recording the message, I still stutter out my name. So I have to do it over and over again. Then there’s the rest of the message. I focus so much on getting my name out that I forget about the rest of it and end up bumbling through that, too. You’d think I’d just write something down and slowly read it.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a new cell phone and then opening the box when someone else is in the room (or in my office). So then you check out your shiny new thing — and somehow the realization that you need to set up your voicemail comes up. “Eh, well, I can do that later.” Why don’t you just do it now? “Um …”

The phone system that the reader mentions above is much better than before, of course. Before you had one shot to leave a message — and had to sometimes face the indignity of getting cut off (while you’re trying to stutter out your name) by the time limit. I always wondered what those sounded like when people heard them …

If you have a comment or story about stuttering, please do send it along!

Sunday Link Roundup

Lots of stories and links about stuttering from this past week.

Pam has posted over at Make Room for the Stuttering about an unfortunate turn of events at a recent meeting.

I shared this with some friends in a Facebook group and they asked me how I responded. I didn’t respond – I said nothing as I didn’t want to draw any attention to how embarrassed I felt.

I’m a pretty nice guy, but yeah, seriously, anytime anybody ever asks me if I’ve forgotten my name or some simple piece of information that I’m stuttering on, I want to punch them in the face.

I’m getting salty in my old age — I wonder if I wouldn’t have put that person in their place.

University of Iowa Summer Camp helps those who stutter.

He began enrolling in speech therapy twice a week for 20 minutes and made progress, but nothing has helped like the intensive one-on-one treatment he gets at the nine-day camp offered by the UI clinic. Therapists work with children for five hours daily — far more treatment than they would receive at school.

It has built up his confidence and helped him realize other children have similar difficulties. It’s helped his mother feel less alone, too.

And yes, I’m sure there are other camps around the country like this. I just happened across this one and started to wonder if my life would have turned out differently had I gone to a summer camp while growing up.

The American Institute of Stuttering had its 8th Annual Gala and handed out its Freeing Voices Changing Lives Award. The awards went to Jack Welch and Jes Staley. Vice President Joe Biden honored the gentlemen.

Both the Vice President and Jack Welch shared personal stories of their stuttering and how their mothers helped them overcome criticism in their lives. Each encouraged her son to meet their speech challenge head-on and echoed a similar message – “Stuttering does not define you.”

Here’s a video of Vice President Biden talking about his stutter — and how you shouldn’t let stuttering define who you are.

I get this, I really do. I think there are two parts to it though. One, that we should carry on with our lives and push through our stutter. Become more confident, find techniques that work, seek help when needed. Carry on with our lives and careers despite it. But the second thing is that well, some people should let this define them. Listen, if you asked me if I would like to be paid (as a regular job) to talk about stuttering and spread the word and educate people about it full time, I’d say yes. I’d say yes now, but maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t. Because while it can’t define most people, someone’s gotta take the lead in helping and educating.

When I first saw this video and saw Mr. Biden talking about practicing classic works, I thought, well, you know what, I can spend hours alone in my car saying my name and every word in the dictionary without any stutter at all. But then I realized, well, there’s more than just that. If I’m driving to an interview, I practice some responses out loud. Over and over again. I get used to the words coming out of my mouth. I hear what I might trip up on. I try to say things in a different way. I can pay more attention to my breathing. Does all this practicing always work? Of course not. I get nervous and forget to breathe just like any other interaction. But the preparation does help. It adds just a little dose of confidence that wasn’t there before, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

I’m not terribly afraid of public speaking per se, but doing something like comedy — where timing is key — does scare the crap out of me. But there are those out there doing it:

The people with the death wish are the people who are terrified of public speaking, but choose stand-up as a way to tackle their fear. Brian Baltosiewich, senior marketing producer at WBTV, grew up with a stutter and has performed at The Comedy Zone.

“Once I got into my career, I knew I’d have to do something to get out in front of it,” he said. “It’s the communication business and I have to communicate. I wanted to do something that was really going to scare the crap out of me. To speak in front of a crowd with my own material, not knowing how they would react, I thought that would shock me into being OK with myself and my stutter.”

Here’s a nice article about someone who had success with the McGuire program. Just a note — I have no experience with any stuttering-help programs or products. Tom over at Stuttering Brain does a much better job of reviewing them. But we’re all different — what may work for some may not work for all.

The word “Daysaver” proved so problematic that she would often overpay for a bus ticket to avoid saying it. She would also spend half an hour looking for tricky-sounding items in a supermarket, rather than asking where they were.

Oh, the countless hours I’ve spent wandering around Home Depot instead of just asking someone. This gets harder when you have kids — because they ask you — ‘can’t we just ask someone?’

Lastly, fellow stutterer and expat Geraint at Penguin Ponderings is talking about how he ended up in Saudi to begin with.

Weekly Stuttering Roundup

I’ve been writing about things that have happened in the past — high school, college, work meetings, etc.,

But I want everybody to know that yes, the stuttering still goes on every day. Not every hour, though. Sometimes I just like to keep my mouth shut.

I didn’t really want this blog to be just a rundown of my daily stuttering, though. Although I think sometimes that is certainly beneficial.

I think on Saturdays I’ll just start posting about a few stuttering incidents of the past week. And yes, I know this is a day late.

1. I continue to get ambushed at lunch. I had been having lunch with someone who’s very friendly and eager to meet people. When we got out, it’s always to the same place. And we see the same people. So if they’re eating alone, they get invited over. I like meeting new people. I just don’t like having to introduce myself. The other thing is that I’m sure they’ll forget my name (because we won’t see them every day). So there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll ask me for my name again.

2. I had to say the word “writing” to a close friend of mine at breakfast the other day. This took more than a half dozen attempts. The word just would not come out at all.

3. I was ordering donuts the other day for my engineers. I wanted 12 donuts. I could have gotten away with asking for ten — it’s easier to say. But I decided, no, I’m going to get a dozen, because that’s what I want. I stuttered out the 12.

Sunday link roundup is coming along. I’ll post that by the end of today.

Stuttering in College Part 8

I’ll wrap up this week with another post or two about my senior year at Pitt.

There is stuttering and the things we do — what we try to say, who we try to meet. But there is also a lot of fear and not wanting to engage. Just totally shutting something down before it can even happen. Despite the benefits, despite the pushing from friends or family.

During my junior year at Pitt, I was the assistant news editor. I went with the editor in chief, the news editor and the managing editor to interview the chancellor in his office. I don’t remember what we talked about. The state of the university, probably. Rising tuition costs, vision for the future, that sort of thing. There might have been some “tough” questions thrown in there.

So when I became editor my senior year, I should have done this. But I remember thinking, yeah, no, there’s no way this is going to happen. I’m not going to go in front of the chancellor and his staff and try to ask questions. And it’s not like the kind of thing that I could have just farmed out to my news editor, either.

This bothered me somewhat, but not too much. At this point I was a mechanical engineering major, and had no interest to pursue journalism after graduating. There were some of my editors who did, though. For this I did feel pretty bad.

I look back at that year of being editor and wonder if I couldn’t have done more — gone out more, talked to more people, engaged with the community a lot more. But I was afraid to. The stutter kept me back. I was content letting others do the asking and the conversing.

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