With a little encouragement they will grow – Grant Meredith

About the Author: Grant Meredith is an academic within the School of Science, Engineering & Information Technology at Federation University Australia, a digital disruptor and social media influencer. He leads the applied Technologies for Empowering People for Participation in Society (TEPPS) research program where he enjoys making “assertive technologies” to empower people (including people who stutter).

As a person who stutters, I see it as my duty to help other people to find their authentic voices, tell their unique stories and to express their opinions. But I am not exclusive with whom I help to find their voices and assist to build communication confidence within. This year’s conference title, “Growth through speaking”, resonates deeply with me as a university lecturer. People consider a lecturer on the surface level to simply be a teacher. When in fact, those of us who are “academics” know that the role is much more than the classroom alone. It is a role whose demands are often at the detriment to our social and home relationships. To be honest, I have no teaching qualifications at all. I believe that guiding and supporting the life decisions of students to be a very important part of my role from within the classroom and well beyond the lecture hall. Essentially it is about enabling the proud and loud voices of students to be heard and for them to gain the confidence to approach the “real world” beyond a degree path. One of my tools to assist such personal growth is to provide strategic targeted speaking opportunities to students. So you may be surprised how a lecturer who fluently stutters can enable the personal growth of those who do not stutter via “speaking”. I stutter extremely fluently and overtly. Even though I grimace and push through blocks as a lecture it is still seen as extremely effective and I do not care about it at all. Like Hugh Jackman is seen as a “triple threat” in the entertainment world with his ability to dance, act and sing. I am known as a “triple threat” within the stuttering world as I block, prolong and repeat. In my opinion my stuttering abilities are much stronger than most average people who stutter. My strategy of providing personal empowerment opportunities ties into trying to understand the individual needs of each of my students as much as I feasibly can and then provide speaking opportunities for them to encourage their personal growth.

Aside from my information technology-focused academic role, I am often asked to teach presentation skills to university-based leadership groups and first year students. These are always challenging sessions and you never know what will eventuate from them in terms of audience response, as per any class really. I never introduce myself as a person who stutters as I do not think it is relevant to the presentation and to be honest the audience will find out soon enough. I am a shameless overt stuttering academic. I remember such one session where I was the second speaker for the day and the first speaker was discussing presentation structure. I on the other hand was there to present about building presentation confidence. The first speaker asked the audience what characteristics they disliked about some public speakers they had experienced in the past. One young lady stood up and said that she hated listening to people stuttering. I immediately turned to the facilitator and said “well this is going to be an interesting afternoon” while high-fiving him. I actually felt bad for the young lady as my presentation would now perhaps be a little uncomfortable for her and I think she was actually referring to the behaviours of some overtly nervous presenters. Always after such presentations I receive personal thank you messages from students around how empowering simple techniques can be in terms of public speaking and that seeing a person who stutters presenting confidentially is inspirational.

But apart from the larger scale group presentations and sessions there are the little personal victories which make my career so satisfying in terms of witnessing individual student growth. I teach quite often overseas through a partnership between my university in Australia and a university in Guangdong Province, China. I lecture only using English to different class of Chinese students every year for whom English may be at least a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language. This is always a challenging circumstance for all involved and there is no consistent English-speaking competency level among the students that I would be teaching. One year I was teaching a female Chinese student, who I noticed was always very hesitant to talk in class and was overtly very reserved. One day all students were asked to prepare and present a two-minute public speech about themselves as a fun little getting to know each other activity. This girl was very nervous and upset about having to do presentation and began to retreat within herself even more. I spoke to her in private and explained to her that she could do the presentation in a private room with only myself or with a smaller audience if she wanted to. But that it was a presentation that she had to do. Ever since I had known her she used a speaking voice that was always only just above a whispering tone and wavered in an unconfident manner. But that day I told her that I believed that she could do a great job, that her classmates wanted to know more about her and that her story should be heard.

The next morning she arrived to class and looked a little different. She actually had a slight smile on her face and she was standing up straight with shoulders back. So the presentations began with each student taking their turn describing their home lives, hobbies, favourite foods etc. Then her turn came and to my surprise her voice was loud, her presentation was clear and she had obviously rehearsed. This was a life changing moment for us both. No longer was she this quiet little mouse hiding in the corner. She was loud, proud and expressive in a foreign language. She sat down after the class clapped for her and she had the largest smile that I had ever seen on a face. She was obviously so happy with herself and the reception that resulted from her presentation. For the rest of my three weeks lecturing onsite she was a different person and on the final day there were many tears shared at the leaving event. She expressed that no one had shown her such personal faith and care before and she did not want me to leave her and the class. She graduated the year after and now works for a major Chinese technology company. She had found her voice with just via a little faith and guidance. These are the moments for which my job has such meaning and satisfaction.

Another example of encouraging voice and empowerment occurred with one of my Australian students. Over the last three years I have been taking over groups of Australian students from my School as part of an Australian Federal Government initiative called the New Colombo Plan with me to Shaoguan, China. The New Colombo Plan aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region. I have taken 30 students in total so far on such trips and all of them change in some form by pure exposure to a very different culture to their own. But during these trips I find opportunities for each and every student to assist to build their character in some form. I have previously gotten to know each of these students via teaching them and also at various planning meetings for the journey. For one such student I saw a great opportunity to raise his confidence and pride. After classes one night we were invited to a very large English Corner event organised by a Chinese English language club from a different campus. When we are on campus these events are usually very large and highly attended as this university does not have a lot of foreign visitors. Plus the Chinese student club members are eager to practise their English language skills and learn more about different cultures. So I had learned that at the event that night we were going to be greeted by between 300-400 Chinese students and that a small concert had been planned in our honour. But I had a plan in mind for one of my Australian students and it was a big one. I had known this student for over a year and I had noticed that socially he was not overly confident or keen to interact. Just before leaving the main campus to go to English Corner via minibus I tapped him on the shoulder and said “There will be about 300 students waiting for us and I have nominated you for doing the welcome speech”. At first, he looked pale and shocked contemplating the thought of such a presentation which in fact would have been a little stressful for myself. I told him that he would do a great job and that if he needed help to just ask me. After a moment of contemplation, he nodded his head. On the bus ride over to the other campus he was began writing his speech.

When we arrived at this new campus, we were bustled into an upstairs classroom which was full of hundreds of screaming and cheering Chinese students. My students usually find this whole experience surreal as they are literally treated as superstars. I looked at the student who I had appointed and nodded at him. As the rest of my party sat down and the cheering reduced, he wiped the sweat from his head. He confidentially walked up to the front of the stage and presented a welcome speech to the captivated crowd and visiting Chinese lecturers. He was sure of his words, had a narrative running through his speech and maintained eye contact. In turn at the closing of his speech the crowd cheered even more loudly and wanted selfies with him. For a few minutes of that night he was the guest of honour and from that point onwards a very different person. For a year after that experience while he was still an undergraduate student, I caught up with him in the corridor from time to time and he was always so thankful for the overseas trip and the mentoring I had provided him. I am planning to catch up with him soon for a coffee and chat as a graduate. He is currently working for a web-design company.

These are but some of the empowering moments in my life that make the long hours and stresses involved with being an academic worthwhile. I hope that you understand not that it is not only people who stutter who need to find their voices. It is the need of all of us to find and use that empowering voice of self to show the world who we are and to share our stories. All that we all need from time to time is a little encouragement and self-belief. We have the opportunity due to our speech difference to show others a positive life-path forward.

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Comments

With a little encouragement they will grow – Grant Meredith — 38 Comments

  1. Wow, Grant, this is one of the best papers I have read from you over the years. You often come across with your playful, laughing side, that I’ve seen in stuttering groups, video hangouts, and in person that one time.

    You must in fact be quite humble. What you described doing for these students is incredible. You simply told them that you believe in them and pushed them into speaking opportunities they may have felt not ready for, but you knew they were ready and what the effect of the exhilarating success they each experienced would be like. They needed to feel the exact opposite of fear and insecurity and you provided that for them just by knowing them, taking an interest and noticing that this would be helpful. What if all academics were like that? How many uni aged young people would feel good about what they previously believed they could never do.

    And these were not students who stutter – rather vulnerable youngsters in university trying to find themselves and you make that happen, over and over, I strongly suspect.

    Thank you as always for a great contribution and making me/us think.

    Pam

    • Thanks Pam, A lot of my job really is pastoral care and pinpointed support. No really in the criteria, but naturally evolve. The degree in some ways is easy to achieve, but future direction sometimes not. I just plant seeds of thought and try to encourage the growth.

  2. This was a great read and it was fascinating to hear these tales from your class trips that you’ve told me about. I never knew what kind of impact you were making!

    Most of all, your paper is a great example of how us PWS can impact fluent people.

    • Always great to hear from you Dan. The trips, apart from a university course, are all about personal growth and international awareness. I try my best to facilitate the best experiences they can have within the budget 🙂 Each student is important to me and if I can I will try to give them a shot

  3. Grant, I have now seen another side of you after reading this paper. And yes, it’s a good side! I’ve always known on some deep level that beyond your humour and trying to be funny jokes, there was something more. This paper validates my suspicions that you are genuine and are living your life (and helping others live their life) despite a stutter. Our stuttering doesn’t have to define us, as you have clearly shown, but can simply be a characteristic of how we talk. Well done.

    • Hello Master Vikesh, I am seen as an Australian comedic legend. Stuttering is simply part of who I am and to be honest mostly only other people who stutter frame it to me as a negative in comparison to the wider world’s view

  4. Wow, what you do is amazing and inspires me. I wish I would have had a teacher like you.

    ‘..enable the personal growth of those who do not stutter via “speaking”’ made me think about a lot of people. I’ve thought about my brother like this. He is just as silent as me in social situations and he doesn’t have a stutter.
    There is also this girl in my class that is so extremely shy. Last year she was ‘sick’ every time she had to do a presentation. I on the other hand just did them, and the teacher told her about it, trying to inspire her. I don’t think it did, though. She didn’t say anything the entire year, hiding in the corner. But she would sit next to me and my friend group, and sometimes laughed spontaniously at my jokes. She would then quickly say ‘oh sorry’. Yes, she would apologize for being spontanious. She made me really uncomfortable because she didn’t make eyecontact when I asked her something. So I just started texting her instead. I just asked straight up why she was so silent and asked about her struggles. She texted me super long messages and was super open to me, about anxiety and therapy. That made me really happy.
    This year she is actually talking and making jokes to me. She makes eyecontact. She connected with me because we have the same fears, and we joke about it. It helps her be more open. I’m super proud of that!

    • Willemijn I wish I had students and teachers like you! You are doing an amazing job helping to open people up. I find some simple effort in getting to know someone, even just a little, opens social and personal doors widely. Only recently I had a nice chat to a student and high-fived them for having autism and opening up about it.

  5. Grant this is such an amazing paper. I love that through your work as a professor and a public speaker you are able to empower so many people. You do such a great job encouraging your student’s growth without pushing them too far. You allow them to believe in themselves and believe in their authentic voice. I am currently a graduate student studying speech language pathology and this paper has inspired me to implement the ‘authentic voice’ in my future clinical practice.

    • Thanks for the encouraging words Kristen and I do try to individualise each student the best I can. I am lucky enough to work in a university with a reputation for smaller class sizes and lecturer contact

  6. Thanks Grant! This was an amazing paper and the thought that sticks with me most is we need “to help other people to find their authentic voices, tell their unique stories and to express their opinions.” However, more important that you are not “exclusive with whom I help to find their voices and assist to build communication confidence within.”

    Our world could do with a little more inclusion–it is the greatest kindness. Thanks for stating this so eloquently.

    • Thank you for the kind words Rita. Everyone has a story to tell and the right to do so. Also no student is exclusive. Support their growth and the future will be more assured 🙂

  7. You’re a very talented writer Grant! My experience may be similar to yours in that the need to find our voice is a human trait not a stuttering trait. Keep up the good work!

  8. Hi Grant

    Thanks for writing and sharing your experience with us. It’s exceptional that you see your role as a lecturer to include being an enabler, a guide, for your students. They are fortunate, indeed.

    Take care,
    Hanan

    • thank you Master Hanan. To be honest the course content is secondary to overall life guidance. To plant the seeds of inspiration and change is the goal. To develop life-long learners and passion to explore, try & succeed is key.

  9. Hello Grant,

    Thanks for a wonderful paper and an inspiring message. What really sticks with me is, “I hope that you understand that it is not only people who stutter who need to find their voices. It is the need of all of us to find and use that empowering voice of self to show the world who we are and to share our stories.” Your students, those who both do and don’t stutter, are fortunate to have you in their corner as they discover and evolve their voices!

    Rob Dellinger

    • Thanks Rob & I hope all is well. We all need to take pride in our messages and our names. I have to enable my students for the real world beyond university and give them confidence in doing so. Usually when I meet a new class of students one of the first things I say is..”never lie to me. Always tell me the truth and for what ever pans out together we will do our best to solve the problem with integrity”

  10. I really enjoyed the stories you shared about pushing your students out of their comfort zones. I found it really inspiring and as a college makes me wish I had a professor like you to push me socially because I sometimes struggle with public speaking confidently. You said that you do not care about your stuttering, where you always like that or did you grow to have that mindset over the course of your life?

    • Hello Erin and great to hear from you. I was raised in a small country town and my stuttering was never framed as a negative or a point of difference. To me it is basically just normal speech. The larger world of course is not as understanding, but do I care? No. To be honest the most criticism I get about my speech come from some other people who stutter.

  11. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and examples on building communication confidence. I am a graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology and this plays an active role in all the populations we serve. I am currently studying fluency disorders in children and adults as part of my course work. We have been discussing social-emotional aspects of stuttering including the impacts of stigma, the importance of therapeutic alliance, and building confidence and comfort as both individuals and speakers. Your paper reiterated the importance of these principles as becoming a natural part of my therapeutic approach to treatment and servicing individuals with communication disorders. I appreciated your examples of challenging individuals while providing support, encouragement, and an element of fun. All of your stories demonstrated that the student speakers felt empowered and confident at the end of each challenging experience. As a more reserved person myself, I even find little moments in which I am hesitant to present those challenging situations to my clients because I know how uncomfortable that would make me, even when I know that’s where we need to go in therapy. Your presentation of these experiences helps build my toolbox for ways to help my clients succeed in these moments. Do you have any additional advice or comments for me as both a future SLP and educator that you have found helpful or important?
    Thank you,
    Jenna

    • Hello Jenna and thank you also for the feedback and questions. I think one secret is “baby steps” and this takes time understanding the student/client. Time in which some of us do not always have. So I work on active listening in terms of their verbal communication skills and also social. I try to learn something about each individual student. Then I can look for opportunities and support. One student once has extreme social anxiety. Refused to do any form of stand-up presentation and I was going to teach them in 2 joined courses across 2 semesters. So my plan behind the scenes was to try to have them do a stand up presentation by the end of the 2nd semester. So begin with a presentation only to me, then suggest to a group of friends and me in a private room for the next one. Then to a small group of strangers in a comfortable room. Finally to the class. The student was still nervous and apprehensive, but they worked up to it. May never again do it, but this time they did.

  12. Thank you Grant for sharing, as well thank you for empowering others and giving back to your community. I wanted to ask you two questions as a speech language pathologist student and someone who is completely scared of public speaking and can benefit from your advice. Do you believe that becoming vulnerable and letting yourself go through these experiences have molded you into a more confident person? Do you still experience hard times with yourself and do you have any advice for people who have hard time letting go of the idea of not being perfect?

    • Thank you for your questions. In response:

      1) Do you still experience hard times with yourself? Not really speech-wise to be honest. I am overt and shameless. I do not wake up as a PWS or go to sleep as one. Sometimes I have to remember that I do as stuttering has become basically my normal speech pattern. I am often reminded that I stutter by other people who stutter.
      2) Do you have any advice for people who have hard time letting go of the idea of not being perfect? Wow and interesting I never frame stuttering or other differences/disabilities as being imperfections. In fact, just traits really. But we know that perfection is impossible to achieve. So I guess I focus on the goals of the individual In terms of stuttering some want more fluency and control and yet others do not. The idea is to listen and work with the individual at their level while being realistic about needs and goals. Great questions!

  13. Hello Grant, Thank you so much for sharing this I really loved and gained form reading this.The that itle appealed to me because I am just a new comer at realising the benefits of being encouraged to speak out. It took me 65 years of having a stutter to do this, the discovery of stammering communities, face book pages, and patient mentoring support, the support of my friends in New Zealand the discovery of my friend Alexis Parker so I loved your paper .You probably changed that girls life for ever .Thanks again
    Phyllis.

    • Thanks so much Phyllis. Wow after 65 years I bet you have some great stories, words of advice and so much more to share. Cannot wait to see you more on social media!

  14. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story. The way you encourage others to use their voice with confidence is absolutely amazing. It truly makes a difference in someone’s life if they have someone who can help ease their worries of how they may sound.

    I am curious about the lady that stated she hated listening to people who stutter. Do you think her feelings and opinions changed after listening to you speak?

    • Great question and I do not know. I would hope so. But I also think perhaps she was misinterpreted. I think she meant “stuttering” as in a nervous and/or unprepared speaker as opposed to a person who stutters. But I felt for her after she put the answer out there.

  15. Grant,
    I am a first year student studying to become a speech pathologist and enjoyed reading about your story! Do you have any tips or advice as to how I can help a struggling student become more comfortable with their stutter?

    • Wow very interesting question and hard to quickly encapsulate. I think a discussion at least in terms of how the student would like to interact with you and the class, including if and how they may want to challenge themselves. You can also discuss if the student would like to disclose to the class their stuttering. I think it is important to also frame stuttering as not being “illegal” and that the student has a right to speak regardless of fluency. You need to empower the student and give them a sense of ownership over their interactions and educational journey

  16. I think this article hits a home run with the idea of encouraging kids. Being able to do that goes a long way and should be taken seriously. Many children especially if they have some type of difficulty need to be reminded that they are great, smart, hardworking, creative, and so much more. Instead of the fear and apprehension they feel from participating the gift of encouragement will make all the difference.

  17. Mr. Meredith,

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this story. And, most importantly, thank you for shedding light and encouragement on your students! This absolutely touched my heart. As a current college student, the advice and empowering messages you gave truly resonated with me. I love and appreciate the confidence you project and that you allow others to feel accepted and welcomed in order to gain their own confidence too. My favorite part of your writing is when you said “But that day I told her that I believed that she could do a great job, that her classmates wanted to know more about her and that her story should be heard.” This is so important and so awesome. Thank you for taking the time to validate and acknowledge her; something that we all need. Is there a certain instance that you remember where someone gave YOU the encouragement you needed and allowed you to feel like you were seen?

    • Thanks for the kind words, in the answer below I discuss the influence of my father. I try to learn something about each student and time permitting then work on confidence in some area of each life. Vocal communication is not always the aim. A little encouragement & advice here and there in their studies, interests, hobbies and at times, if they disclose, their personal lives helps to foster growth.

  18. Hello Grant,
    I am a third year SLP student. Your stories were so inspiring and it was amazing to see how things that seem so small make such a huge impact. Whenever I have a patient with a stutter, do you have any advice on how to help them if they are not wanting to speak or struggling with confidence? Is there something significant someone has ever told you that changed your perspective on your stuttering?

    • Great question and I really need to think. Honestly there was no one single teacher in my past that would have been a large influence on me. I was lucky enough to have different teachers encourage me in different ways. But my father did sit me down when I was very you and basically said to never use my stuttering as an excuse not to try things or to succeed.

  19. This was an amazing paper! The work you do and seeing the lives you’ve touched is truly inspiring. When I read “One young lady stood up and said that she hated listening to people stuttering,” I was really shocked. I honestly could not believe someone would be okay with saying something so hurtful, even if she did not know you stuttered. But after reading “’well this is going to be an interesting afternoon’” I could not help but smile and admire how even when faced with rudeness, you did not let it phase you one bit. Your message is so incredible and encouraging. Please keep up your hard work!

    Renee

    • Thank you for the encouraging words Renee and indeed is was interesting afternoon. I guess my response ties into my personality. It takes a lot to insult me and I am very forgiving lol. But at least I think her opinion set may have changed a little after my speech and maybe she learned a little about public speaking also?