Technique to help stutterers when public speaking

I accidently figured out that if I write a word when speaking then I don’t stutter when saying it.

I realised this a few weeks ago when giving a lecture for the summer school course I was teaching and I wrote down a phrase I wanted to find again and research when I got home. Almost magically I could feel the tension of speaking relax out of me when I started writing the word out. I have been experimenting with it ever since, andnow include underlining which also seems to help, especially with been able to speak with more emphasis and modify the rhythm of my speaking so I don’t speak at a million miles an hour. Now I am at the stage where (somewhat ironically) my lecture notes look like I have been taking notes on my own lecture.

Having to speak precise words in a precise way is a nightmare for stutterers. I often explained the frustration of stuttering in terms of having the capacity to spell a word in one’s head but simply not being about to speak it. Now I literally do spell the word out but on paper. The writing out technique really does help. (The title of this post is to help stuttering googlers looking for tips, which according to my blog site stats is very frequent.) I think it freaks the students out as they often look like they are wondering what the hell I am writing when giving a lecture. Yes, I work on my other papers in the middle of delivering a lecture…

I think it must have something to do with the affective dimension of expression and there being some sort of short circuit in the way I perceive myself speaking. I hear myself speak and kind of lock up. By writing down words and phrases I release the tension and open up the short circuit. Or, at least, that is what it feels like I am doing.

I’ll see how I go on Thursday when I deliver a quasi-academic paper to a group of design and architecture focused students and practioners.

3 replies on “Technique to help stutterers when public speaking”

  1. Hope your theory works to help you with your occasional stutter. Plenty of sleep and relaxation is also a proven method for you!

  2. One of the greatest orators of all time, Demosthenes, originally suffered greatly from stuttering, and apparently overcame his difficulties by rehearsing with a mouth full of pebbles.

    I wonder what the effect of speaking with a mouth full of pebbles and writing at the same time might be? But would people think you had “rocks in your head”?

    P.S. When I stutter badly, it means my epilepsy is getting worse, often from overstress or over-tiredness, so Jenny’s idea rings true for me.

  3. That’s interesting stuff. I know there’s a researcher doing a project on dancers and speaking in Sydney. Basically, that person’s interested in which bits of our brains do the talking and which the gross (or fine!) motor skills while we’re talking. And whether it’s possible to do complex thinking and talking when you’re doing complex partnered dancing/physical activity.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that most dancers don’t talk while doing particularly complex series of figures. But if you’ve been dancing a while it’s easy to talk and do basic steps. I find that as the complexity of the moves (or combinations of moves) increases, the less able I am to talk. And when I’m really in the zone, dancing like a demon, I can’t talk at all. I think that’s why I love it so much – I talk and listen and read all day, and dancing is about just communicating without language…

    I wonder if the physical act of writing is stimulating a bit of your brain and distracting you from the physical act of speaking…? I mean, is it perhaps the issue with your stutter being in the physical mechanics of speaking – ie you’re concentrating so fiercely on _not_ stuttering, or on pronouncing the words properly you forget how to do it naturally. Kind of like driving a manual car – when you’re first learning you have to consciously work though each step – clutch, gear, accelerator, etc. And then one day you just suddenly do the whole thing automatically. Dancers do it too. You spend months and months and months consciously working through each part of the process, and one day you can just do it all automatically.
    … with that it’s more a matter of muscle memory and training your body to perform certain combinations of movements and types of movements automatically in response to the right stimulus.

    Maybe that’s how it is with talking? Maybe you try to consciously do each step, rather than letting your body do it automatically?

    Being relaxed (or incredibly over tired, as I am right now mid-way through a long lindy exchange) really helps with these automatic movements, not necessarily because you’re less stressed (though that’s important), but because you’re relaxed enough to stop micro-managing your muscles.

    But that’d be trickier with talking (especially academic talk) because you have to do high brain stuff at the same time…
    I find I click over into a different gear when I’m really on a role, lecturing. It’s like the bit of my brain that consciously micromanages everything I say switches off, and the words just pour out. I get the same thing when I’m DJing – if I’m really ‘in the groove’ I make more instinctive (yet informed and intellectual) choices about songs, responding to the mood in the room unconsciously yet also making quite sophisticated judgements about artists, recording dates, song length, style, etc.

    Do you only stutter when you lecture and do public speaking for academic audiences? What about tutoring? In ordinary social settings?

    I’d just love it if you could do a dance experiment – try talking while you do more complicated dance steps. And see if you stuttered.

    I meet a lot of non-English speaking dancers, or dancers with only a bit of English, and they find it impossible to speak English while they dance. Or when they’re watching dance clips (isn’t that weird!). But then when we dance together, we communicate perfectly, even down to jokes or shared moments of humour or other emotions.

    ….sorry to make such a long comment on your blog, but it’s all very interesting. My partner stutters – I think I’m going to get him to experiment with all these things for me. He _never_ talks when he’s dancing. But he’s a lead, so it’s a bit different as he’s choosing the moves…

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