Reading to an Audience

IMG_0583I know I’m up on the second anniversary of the blog, so I’m cooking something up for that. In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to read at my daughter’s school. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago.

Things at work have slowed down enough that I had a chance to go in today and read to her class. She’s in pre-k, so that means a bunch of 4- and 5-year olds. I want to say that “I haven’t had time before” to go in and read because work has been so busy, but I think subconsciously I was afraid of reading in front of others — even if they are just kids.

The book that I read was Rosie Revere Engineer. I’ve read it at home to her a bunch of times. I don’t stutter at home when I read it. At all.

I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for reading to the class. I suppose I could have e-mailed her teacher, but my daughter said I could just come in. Right. So I did that. I took the kids to school and walked her to her classroom, book in hand. The teachers had been notified that I’d be there. We got there at 7:50, and she said I could read to them first thing, just after 8.

I didn’t really flip through the book the night before or have a practice reading in the morning, either. I had read it a bunch of times. I was feeling fine about it. I was happy to be doing it, and my daughter was really fired up about me being there. But when I got to the school and had to stand around for a few minutes, I flipped through some of the pages. I saw some words that … instantly triggered feelings for me. Things that started with l. Or w. I took a deep breath. This would be fine. I’d breathe, I’d play with my voice, I’d project to the back of the room. Maybe I’d stumble or stutter a bit, but no big deal.

It really felt like when you were a kid and could finally go on the big roller coaster at the park. You just say, “yeah, of course I do!” and you stand there in line with the adults. And you get closer and closer. And then you think, no, wait. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Stuttering is messed up because as I sat there waiting, the thought of abandoning the effort did cross my mind. But what would I say? Would it really matter? I could just leave. My daughter would be devastated, though. And really, it’s a quick reading, first thing in the morning. If you stutter a little, you won’t die.

Alright, I’m up. My daughter takes me by my hand and leads me to the chair in front of the room, There are about two dozen little kids, and half a dozen adults. I dove in, enthusiastically.

I got through a few words and then … stuttering. I got stuck on some words, but not for long. I got stuck on a w-word for a really long time, and heard a little murmur run through the crowd. As I was dragging out some other words and then taking a big pause to collect myself, the teacher remarked, “this is a pretty long book; do you want some water?” I said no, and pushed on.

(A word about this book. So … it’s probably a little bit above the audience that I read to. As a book, the message is really, really good. But it is a little confusing how it’s laid out. So even a somewhat astute kid might not “get it” the first few times. All that being said, it’s also a good message for someone who stutters — Rosie fails and is laughed at. She fails again, is laughed at, but then encouraged to keep trying.)

I got through the book. I was sweating a little, but otherwise in good shape. I did stutter. A lot more than if I was just reading quietly to all of my kids. I tried to remember to breathe and find my right pace. I did inflect my voice and make sure I was looking at the kids occasionally.

I think that I would do it again. Maybe not to her class this year, but next year or whatever. I think that with some practice I could certainly get better at it. Did not reading it in the morning hurt my fluency? Maybe, maybe not. But I think it might have made me even more apprehensive about signing up, seeing all the words that I think I’d stutter on.

 

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Not nervous at all

This will the first part of a story regarding a recent presentation at work. The presentation wasn’t that big — we were put into groups of 4, given 2 days, and had to present on the third to about 40 people. We only were given 45 total minutes, half of which we were supposed to speak. (the rest for discussion) So … 24 minutes of speaking, 4 speakers (well, five in my group) so five minutes a piece. Take out some transition time, maybe a single question here and there, and it’s really 3-4 minutes of talking.

Anyway, the morning of our presentation, I was chatting with our team leader. He said he was nervous. One of the people on the “panel” made him a bit nervous all the time.

I think most people who stutter have had this happen to them — a fluent person tell them about being nervous publicly speaking. And you look at them like, are you serious? You’re nervous?

But that’s the easy thing to do. Get pissed off. I just sort of dismissed it but saw it instead as an opportunity. I haven’t been advertising much at all lately. So I said, “oh, well, I’m not nervous at all. But I do stutter, so that just makes it a little harder to talk.”

And it was true. I really don’t get nervous about public speaking in a “getting up in front of others” sense. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve done it before. It’s the opening my mouth and betrayal that annoy me more than anything.

The other thing for this particular presentation was that I’d be speaking in front of all my colleagues — who I probably talk to at least once a week or more. So I was feeling fairly comfortable.

Tomorrow — just how did things actually turn out?

 

Looking for the right connection

I was at a meeting several weeks ago with a lot of people. It was an open kind of discussion, if there’s a problem, let’s get it out there, and let’s talk about it. So I had a problem. So I raised my hand (eff you, stuttering!) and stuttered away, stating my issue.

What I noticed as I tried to look around the room was that someone wasn’t interested. At all. Face sort of down, exasperated, get-on-with-it, whatever. We all know this look. Now, was this just because of me and my stuttering? In the moment, I certainly thought so. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen it enough to think well, that’s what that is.

But what else did I see? I saw neutral faces. Eye contact. And at the far end of the bell curve? A small smile, a nodding head. Agreement. Understanding.

I think for a long time I’ve been too focused on the wrong end of the bell curve. The dismissive looks and boredom. I need to focus more on those who are actually listening and engaging, those who don’t care about the stuttering and want to hear my message. That keeps me going. I may forget to breathe, to pace myself, to think clearly, but at least I have their attention for the moment, and I shouldn’t waste that.

I know if I have friends in the audience and start to smile a little, they will too. I can then hold their eyes for a little longer before going on to the next smirk or the next nod.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

Another sporting view of Stuttering

When you see a professional athlete, what do you see? (Aside from the occasional mistake, of course). We see performance at a high level. For play after play, game after game, season after season.

What do we think when we see a seasoned public speaker? The confidence, the eye contact, the message, the audience connection. It’s also performance at a high level.

Now think about how many professional athletes there are. And how many really good public speakers there are. Not many, right? We know by now that we can’t do even half the things a professional athlete can do. But can we still enjoy sport with our family and friends? Of course. Are you bothered when you can’t throw a football 50 yards or crush a baseball past the outfield wall? Probably not.

Shouldn’t it be the same for speaking? Why do we see people on television and think we need to be that eloquent and strong and fluent? Hardly anybody else is. The next time you hear someone fluent at work during a meeting, listen to their hesitations, their fillers. They’re all over the place. Are they bothered? Likely not. So when we’re not having the most fluent of days, should we really be comparing ourselves to such a high standard? Definitely not.

The other side of advertising your stutter

The way that advertising your stutter is supposed to work is that you’re put more at ease. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to avoid words, you don’t have to feel embarrassed — it’s all out there. And that’s great. That can work.

But there’s another side to advertising — the other person. Or the other people.

Imagine you’re someone who’s covert. You work at a larger company. There’s an all-hands meeting. A new regional manager is coming to talk to everybody about what’s going on, what changes are going to be made, and how everybody is affected.

And the first thing he says is that, well, “I might take a little longer to get my message across because I stutter.”

Then he dives into his spiel, a confident, fluent statement here, a few stutters there, and then by the time it’s over, everybody goes back to their desks. Your desk mate dismisses it all with, “Sounds like our department is fine. I dunno about those other guys though. Well, whatever, at least we got donuts.”

No mention of the stuttering, just another person coming in, talking, stuttering, getting the message across.

And yet, here you are, covert stutterer. If they can do it, why can’t you? That person stood against their fears and delivered a message to a room full of people. Maybe they’ve been doing it for years, but they’re still up there, still trying.

Something like this never happened to me. I don’t know what I would make of it. I’d like to think that if it did, I’d want to reach out to them and ask them about their stuttering.

But also, as I move up slowly at my own company, it makes me wonder about my own next public speech. About my next opportunity to advertise in front of strangers. Who knows, maybe I’ll shake something loose with someone who’s covert.

Stories untold

I think if you asked people who knew me very well, they’d say I was pretty outgoing. That I talked as much as anybody else, and am always up for a good time.

I think if you asked people who didn’t know me as well, they’d probably say I was pretty quiet and didn’t say much.

It’s that cliche of, if you get to know me, I’ll open up a lot more. And obviously that’s got everything to do with stuttering. I’m uncomfortable at first (and for a while, really) but once the initial hesitations are done, the stories will flow.

But not always.

I find myself [trying] to tell stories to friends. And I’m stuttering a bunch on them. Not just the introduction or a name here and there. Like every part of the plot. Names, places, times, relevant jokes. I’m bumbling around so much, that I think it’s not worth it. I’ll push on ahead, finish the story, and then store it away forever.

I think that there’s no way I can get through it again without stuttering, so I’m not going to bother trying with anybody else. It’s a once-told story. Then that same attitude goes toward a bunch of untold stories as well. I think about what I have to say, compare it to a mental list of Words I Hate, and well, nobody hears that story either.

On a related note, I suppose none of my friends really thought I stuttered much because often (in a group of friends) they’d defer to me to “tell the story.” Then it’s me on the spot. I have to get through it quickly and smoothly. Everybody is looking at me, expecting, smiling, wanting to laugh. Talk about pressure.

Stuttering in children’s books

Piglet

So what am I supposed to do with this? What do you do with this? This is from a Winnie-the-Pooh story. In this same book are stories about Mickey and Minnie, so we’ve only really read those. But I was flipping through to try to change things up, and I started reading this. I did a little bumble here and there, and then decided that my kid wasn’t paying attention so … let’s read something else.

As I’ve said before, I don’t stutter at all while reading children’s books to the kids. It’s pretty nice. I speak slower, pace myself, and breathe better. I guess I’m supposed to do the act and say the words that are printed? Does Piglet have to talk like that? I know he’s scared, but seriously, are the kids going to pick up on the difference?

So far this is the only time I’ve seen “stuttering” in a children’s book. But given how popular Pooh is, I’m sure it’s in every one of his books.

Online Stuttering Workshop

Next workshop that I attended at the NSA Annual Conference was a panel discussion — on online communities. And I was a panelist …

Katie Gore, MA, CCC-SLP, put the panel together. The point was to talk about what types of online stuttering communities there are, how they came to be, what their purpose is, and how they carry out their mission. There were very diverse representatives — a stuttering blog/podcast, a video blog, a podcast, a Google Hangout, and me with my blog.

Katie actually approached me through Reddit. She is active on there, and the stuttering discussion is growing.

She’s got a practice in Chicago:

Speech IRL was founded in the spring of 2013. I had spent the past few years working individually with adult clients, and realized that students and professionals have communication demands that go far beyond the usual scenarios targeted in a traditional speech therapy clinic setting. At the same time, I realized that most of the practices in Chicago were structured around a pediatric or hospital-associated rehabilitative model. My goal in forming speech IRL was to create a practice that could provide flexible, intensive speech therapy that simulates real-life challenges as much as possible. This allows us to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals– the city of Chicago is our clinic!

Daniele Rossi & Samuel Dunsiger were on the panel to talk about Stutter Social, which is a Google Hangout for people who stutter to meet up online and talk.

What is Stutter Social?

Stutter Social is an organization that connects people who stutter (PWS) through Google+ Hangouts. Participating in a Hangout is a fun, free, and safe way to connect with other PWS. Discussion often revolves around stuttering-related issues, but sometimes we just chat about our day or a good movie. We are a very welcoming and friendly bunch so don’t be shy and come join us whenever is convenient for you. We have a Hangout Calendar that lists all the different Hangouts occurring each week.

I also had a chance to buy Daniele’s book. I read through it almost non-stop when I got back to Saudi. I’ll post a review in a few days.

Daniele also talked about his podcast.

And you can participate:

Record an mp3 of yourself speaking and e-mail it to me. Talk about whatever you like! Your positive and negative experiences with stuttering, any tips you have, how your day went, what you day job is, your favourite colour, whatever you like. Send me your audio as often as you wish. You can even sing if you want to. You don’t even have to reveal you’re name. Then I’ll play your submitted audio on my podcast.

Pamela A. Mertz was also on the panel from Make Room for the Stuttering. Not only does she have a long-running blog, but also a long-running podcast, the Women Who Stutter Podcast:

Make Room For The Stuttering was created by me, Pamela A Mertz (initials: pam) after realizing that I have a story to tell. I was a covert stutterer for many years, and was afraid to stutter publicly. Life circumstances and maturity have helped me realize that I wasted a lot of time, and that I much prefer the authentic me. My defining moment was getting fired from a job that I loved and had held for more than 20 years, because I had stuttered publicly.

The final person on the panel was Jacquelyn Revere, who’s been blogging and video blogging about stuttering. Jacquelyn is very active on twitter and has a youtube channel as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m blown away by people who stutter who just put themselves out there. I do it, sure, but on my own terms and certainly not on video. But … it’s something I need to work up to. Maybe a podcast episode first …

I need to update the links and resources on this site based on the above. I’ve noticed there are a lot of people active on Twitter with great links and resources. Most of the Sunday link roundup information comes from Twitter. Speaking of which … I think I may move that to Friday once and for all.

So how did I do talking about this blog? Well, like I said before the conference, I was going to wing it instead of preparing a bunch of talking points. Not exactly wing it, I suppose. I thought about some main points pretty thoroughly before the panel as well as while sitting up there nervously. I really thought that I would be confident with this — it’s my own blog, I know why I want to do it, I had been stuttering and talking a bunch at the conference a lot already. Maybe this could be a nice smooth delivery?

Not so much. I stutter, so I stuttered. But anyway, I got my point across — that another voice in the stuttering blogosphere is good for everybody — and that’s what’s important.

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