Doing something complicated is harder in a hurry. When you started tying your shoe laces you had to do it very slowly so that it didn’t go wrong. Rushing to speak can be the same – we don’t give ourselves enough time to think, to find the words, make the sentences, pronounce everything. Taking our time takes some of the pressure off.
Children - Tips that might help
No one wants to speak like a robot but just slowing ourselves down a bit might be worth trying. It can help all the systems in our brain and mouth synch up and sometimes everything comes out more easily as a result.
It’s tempting not to put your hand up, even when we know the answer, or to pretend we don’t know something, or have forgotten. Or we don’t join in a conversation or volunteer to have a part in a play. Stammering does not have to get in the way of us saying what we want to say. It might take us a bit longer but we are showing that we do know the answer, we have got opinions and it’s Ok to stammer as we share our opinions and answers.
We often think we are very good mind readers and we decide what our listeners are thinking. We predict that they are feeling impatient and don’t want to wait, but is that really true? If we are kinder to ourselves and encourage ourselves to say what we want to, we might just have a nice surprise. Try it!
Pausing for a nano-second before we start speaking and allowing ourselves a little pause mid-sentence, rather than racing to finish can also be helpful. Most speakers pause quite a lot, sometimes it makes people listen better, and it gives our system a chance to coordinate itself.
As well as mind readers, we also think that we are fortune-tellers. Before anything has happened we are predicting “I’m not going to be able to say it”, “They’re going to laugh at me”, “It will be a disaster”. If we predict disaster the chances are we will feel much more anxious and tense and it may well go wrong as a result. So instead maybe we can think “It might be fine”, “it’s OK to stammer”, “ It's great”. That will help us to feel better and the situation might turn out well too.
It’s really important to notice the good stuff and give ourselves a pat on the back. And having a go at doing something is something to celebrate! Making the effort is more important than everything being perfect, as it will help us to become bolder and more confident. We call it ‘expanding our comfort zones’, we are trying to do more, but taking small steps, not jumping in at the deep end. And we congratulate ourselves when we notice we have tried.
There’s something called a Chinese Finger trap which you put your finger into and then if you pull hard, it traps your finger. But if you relax, it releases your finger easily. Forcing words can be a bit similar. The harder we push the more tense we get and the more we get stuck. So sometimes we try to let the tension go before during or after a stammering moment. This tension can be in our mouth, our face, our hands or any other part of our body. Sometimes breathing out gently lets the tension escape, sometimes we just wait for it to pass. But fighting it with more tension often makes speaking more difficult.
We think it’s important to be good to ourselves and do what we can to make us feel better. That may be spending time with friends, playing a favourite game or whatever makes you feel good.
Keeping ourselves safe is a natural human reaction, so ‘bottling out’ of a situation is understandable. But having a go is usually worth the risk and makes us feel a whole lot better about ourselves. We can feel proud of ourselves for trying, knowing that we are courageous and strong.
Lots of people who stammer keep it to themselves, but this can be lonely and it can make us feel that we’ve got to somehow keep it a secret. Sometimes we hide it by changing words that we know we are going to stammer on. Although this may sound like a good idea, it can be very hard work and complicated and sometimes we end up not making much sense. Telling people that we have a stammer and talking about it openly can make us feel better and helps them understand stammering a bit more. So we just say to people “ Sometimes I stammer which means I get a bit stuck but I get there in the end and you don’t need to help me out, just wait”. We don’t have to try and hide it with word gymnastics and they don’t have to worry about what they should be doing. It’s a win-win.
At first, it may seem like a good idea to change the word we know we are about to stammer on to one that is easier, such a good idea in the long run. Firstly, sometimes another word does not get our meaning across quite as clearly, and people won’t understand what we’re trying to say. It can also lead to us having ‘feared’ words or sounds and this can snowball into a whole set of words we avoid saying. Above all, it can be really hard work – like mental gymnastics, and we can lose our spontaneity. So maybe it’s best to just persist with that word we want to say, even if it takes a little longer to say it.
Some speaking situations are more of a challenge than others. You don’t have to have a stammer to feel nervous of speaking to a big audience. The temptation is to avoid those situations, either by not going where they might happen, like a party or a group event, or by keeping quiet, as if we don’t have anything to say. We might choose our school subjects according to whether oral presentations and exams are involved, or ultimately we might choose a job that involves less talking. All of these avoidance behaviours limit what we do and limit us reaching our real potential. If we keep on avoiding, we will never find out what we are capable of. So maybe we can push ourselves a little bit outside our comfort zone and we may be surprised to see what we can do.
This is a common piece of advice, as stammering sometimes sounds like the person has run out of breath. But the trouble is that taking deep breath actually builds up the tension in the chest and throat, which can make stammering worse. Breathing naturally is a better option, and sometimes people find that breathing out is what releases the tension. Try it!
If we’re feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed it’s natural to look away from the person we are speaking to. The trouble is, eye contact is a really important part of communication. We use it to show we are talking, we have finished talking, we are listening – lots of information is transmitted just with our eyes. When we look away when we stammer our listeners may get confused about what they should do. Looking someone in the eye when we stammer shows confidence that we have something to say and we just need to be given the time to say it.
It is interesting that rhythm affects stammering. Speaking in time with a metronome or rapping will usually eliminate the stammer at that moment. So we might be tempted to ‘tap it out’ when we are speaking. This can make our speech sounds strangely like a robot, and our hand or foot tapping can also look rather unusual. So this ‘trick’ for fluency may end up being more noticeable than the stammer.
This is similar to tapping, as it may initially feel helpful, but may result in body movements that look rather odd. These types of ‘tricks’ can also build up into a whole series of movements which start as a way to manage the stammer but then become a part of it. If we can just let the moment of stammering happen and pass, our communication may be much more natural and successful.
Sometimes we use ‘starter’ phrases, such as “Well you know” as we feel that they can ‘launch’ us when we think we might get stuck. Or we use ‘filler’ phrases, such as “you know”. Everybody does this sometimes, but if we are using them a great deal to manage our stammering, our speech can become very lengthy and fragmented by all the fillers and harder to understand. In short, we may be making it harder for ourselves, when we were trying to help ourselves.