How to confidently introduce yourself…stuttering!

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Hello! M-m-m-m-my name is Catherine! I am a mom and wife, a speech language pathologist, and an east coast dweller. I love cats and traveling and taking photos with my trusty digital DSLR as well as my little tiny Olympus and Leica film camera babies.

Now it’s your turn.

But wait. Your hands are sweaty and your heart is pounding. You try to breath deeply, let it out slowly. You start wondering if anyone would notice if you left the room for a few minutes.

Do you feel this way every time a teacher or boss or another group facilitator says these dreaded words: “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.” ?

I did. I remember the cold, sweaty palms and the pounding in my ears and the helplessness I felt, trapped in that moment of stuttering and struggling so hard to get out of it, causing so much tension. And the shame, the utter shame afterwards.

But that doesn’t have to be you anymore.

The person in the situation I described above does not want to show his or her stuttering. But what if that person didn’t try to get their message across fluently and simply let themselves stutter?

Here’s a healthier way to introduce yourself to a group, despite stuttering :

  • First of all, expect from the start that you are going to stutter. That way, the anguish of wondering whether you are going to stutter disapears.
  • When, when it’s your turn, make eye contact with someone.
  • Finally, keep eye contact and stutter. Aim for open stuttering, if possible. (See my big picture stuttering journey framework.)

Let’s unpack these three steps.

1. Expect you will stutter.

This seems like a given. But for some reason, we as people who stutter are always hoping that this time might be different; maybe this will be the day we evade stuttering. After all, sometimes we are fluent!

But, like any other fair weather friend, we cannot rely on fluency. Especially when we perceive to need it the most.

Expecting to be fluent is to set ourselves up for failure. Expecting to stutter is realistic.

And, whew, what a relief it is to not worry about the possibility of stuttering!

2. Make Eye Contact

In my experience, making eye contact before speaking and during moments of stuttering grounds me. It helps me stay in that moment of stuttering. And it helps me feel more confident.

It also give some me a connection to the person or people I’m talking to. Sometimes, being caught in a moment of stuttering feels like an isolating experience and making that personal connection makes me feel, well, connected!

3. a. Reducing secondary behaviors, a side conversation.

I will write a whole post on secondary behaviors. But here’s the general gist:

When we were young, we tried hard to get out words during moments of stuttering. And for this reason, we experimented with other behaviors, like tapping our foot or blinking our eyes heavily or jerking our jaw. And sometimes, those behaviors actually worked. Source

Intermittent reinforcement is a powerful thing. And because these behaviors worked sometimes at helping us out if moments of stuttering, we stuck with them until they became habit.

Fast forward fifteen or twenty or thirty years. We are still engaging in these behaviors, but they are no longer “helping” us out of moments of stuttering. In fact, it may seem as if they are just another part of your stuttering pattern, something beyond your control.

But here’s how I see it. Those secondary behaviors are under your control. But the pure stuttering is not. Reduce those behaviors and allow stuttering to show in its place and, voila, your pattern will be so much less tense.

I say voila, but I know this takes so much time, to identify our secondary behaviors, to experiment with eradicating them, one by one, to experiment with openly stuttering, truly openly stuttering. ( You may never have done that before!)

I went to therapy for a time only to help reduce my secondary behavior of blinking heavily.

3. b. Stutter! (The real third step)

Now, truth be told, reducing secondary behaviors, though a really really helpful precursor to step three, isn’t necessary. Because if you have to introduce yourself in class tomorrow and you’ve never heard of secondary behaviors before today, there’s little chance you will have eradicated your secondary behaviors by tomorrow (but I hope this will have inspire you to explore those behaviors in the weeks to come!)

The really important parts of introducing yourself are expecting that you will stutter, grounding yourself with eye contact and allowing yourself to stutter.

Now, what do I mean by allowing yourself to stutter? I mean that when you are in that moment of stuttering, don’t try to struggle out. The less you fight against that stutter, the easier it will come out.

I like stuttering on the word “my” when introducing myself. I mean, I don’t plan on doing it. But I always do.

Every week before my prenatal yoga class, then during new mom group then before Mommy and me yoga (which we can’t do anymore because baby is too mobile), I introduced myself. “M-m-m-my…” I looked into the eyes of the other moms and stuttered on that word until the stutter told me it was done. Then I said, “name is Catherine!”

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