You Only Grow by Growing – Pamela Mertz

About the Author: Pamela Mertz is an active member of the world stuttering community. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Association in the USA and is team leader for the NSA’s new workplace stuttering initiative, We Stutter @ Work. She is a founding member of the global initiative 50 Million Voices that seeks to share best practices and collaborate to create better career outcomes for people who stutter. She just finished a 3-year term as a Board member of the International Stuttering Association. She is a blogger, podcaster, activist for women who stutter and an international speaker. Pam lives in Albany, New York, USA.

I love the theme of this year’s ISAD conference, Growth Through Speaking. We only become better communicators by taking chances and trusting that the world really does want to hear what we say.

I have grown quite comfortable with public speaking and public stuttering over the last 10 years or so. I have had jobs that required regular daily presentations to groups of 5 or 500. Facing my fears and just doing it paid off for me in dividends. I’ve been generally fearless about speaking and stuttering publicly.

What remains hard, though, is sharing things publicly that are very personal. I have always enjoyed writing and believed I expressed myself better in writing than I ever could with my voice. My words on paper matched the fluent voice in my head. I’ve written poems and reflections and took them to the most public of public spaces, the Internet. It’s safe, because unless someone leaves a comment on the blog, I don’t know what people think. I can’t see or hear their reactions.

I’ve always wanted to do spoken word at Open Mic events, but just never could muster up the courage. My head chatter always told me that I wouldn’t be good enough and that as a stutterer, I would not have the requisite cadence or rhythm to “perform” spoken word, rap or poetry.

That changed in July when I heard that the National Stuttering Association of the USA was trying an inaugural “Stutter Slam” at the annual conference. When I heard about it, I knew immediately it was something I wanted and needed to do.

The requirements for the Slam were simple: spoken word only, no music and under three minutes. I could do that. I wanted to do that. But still I obsessed over it and procrastinated molding my piece until days before leaving for the conference.

It amazed me that when I finally sat down to flesh out the words, it only took moments. The words flew from my fingertips to the page with almost no thought. The words were just waiting for my inner voice to give my outer voice the permission to let go and speak.

The NSA “Stutter Slam” was held on Friday night, July 5, in a small room with a crowd of about 50. The organizers called us randomly, pulling our names from a hat, so we had no clue when we’d be called to the podium. This was quite brilliant, because then there was little time for worry and rumination.

There were 18 participants. At the end, we all came to the front to have audience cheers help determine winners. I dreaded that, because I immediately remembered how it felt when I was younger, and I stood in front of a room to awkward silence after speaking. But that wasn’t the case this night – everybody cheered and clapped for everyone. And then my name was called for first place.

This was “Growth Through Speaking.” I was humbled and proud. Since then, people have asked for a paper copy of my poem. I don’t want to give that away. It was what it was because I dared to speak.

Here is the original piece that I shared that night.

693 total views, 2 views today

Comments

You Only Grow by Growing – Pamela Mertz — 54 Comments

  1. Welcome to my contribution to the 2019 ISAD online conference. I’m interested in your thoughts when you hear me speak my words in the poem I shared on that special night.

    • Hello Pam, you are such an inspiration. I am a freshmen at The University of Akron studying to be a SLP. This fall I have had to take one of the most challenging courses I have ever endured, public speaking. Not because of the content but because of my level of comfort with who I am and my own words. Growth through speaking, nothing says it like that. Every time we speak something from our heart we are being vulnerable. You spoke straight from your heart and I can’t tell you how much I admire that. When you said “her voice is her crown,” I got goosebumps. I hope and pray that someday I can relay that message to my clients everyday. Your voice is so much more than communication, it is such a huge part of who we are and how our hearts feel.
      So incredibly proud of you for taking that step and being courageous!

      • Hi – wow, thanks for such kind feedback. OK, so you’re now the fourth person I think who has said that the line “her voice is her crown” really struck a chord and resonated. It’s funny, when I put the words on paper, I did not intend for any one line (or stanza, if I were to consider myself a poet!!) to be any more significant than another. I’ve listened back to this a few times and I guess I hear a bit more emphasis or tone in my voice when I said those words.

        I can so totally relate with you on the fear of public speaking. I always doubted myself and figured I just couldn’t do it because of stuttering. And then I joined Toastmasters and spoke in front of a bunch of people who didn’t stutter, week after week after week. I was the only person in my Toastmasters club who stutters but definitely not the only one who dreaded public speaking.

        Turns out, everybody in my club was petrified of public speaking and not one of them stuttered. I learned pretty quick that fear of speaking is universal – people fear judgement and rejection. Everybody second guesses themselves, feels their heart racing and gets sweaty when we desperately wish the floor would open up and just smother us up. But that doesn’t happen, right?

        We still have to get up in front of that class, or speak off the cuff when a boss asks you a question at a staff meeting, or you’re participating in a conference call. Lots of people try to hide behind a PowerPoint presentation.

        I remember hearing Seinfeld once quip, “I’m that guy who’d rather be in the coffin than up there giving the eulogy.” Most people dread and fear public speaking more than death. Amazing, huh?

        Here’s something that helped me so much when I first starting to “dare greatly” and speak up. The audience wants you to succeed. They want the time spent listening to you, to matter and for you to convey your message, your words. They want to hear what you have to say. They’re there in the audience for a purpose. To learn something that you can teach them or for you to persuade them to try something different. They want what you’ve learned. And they want to understand it from your lens. We’ve all heard drop dead awful speakers, right? And they’re mostly fluent people. They get so nervous, they hide behind the podium, never look up and read all the words on the PowerPoint slide, verbatim and as fast as they can. Those speakers are unbearable, but we’re react politely and clap when they’re done, because, THEY ARE DONE. They won’t remember a word that person said.

        But if you, or me, speak like we care about what we’re saying with some emotion and actually look at people as we speak and say something that matters, they’ll remember. And that’s important, for each of us.

        I’m glad this spoke to you and glad you shared your thoughts.

        Pam

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing this beautiful piece of work!

      I had chills from beginning to end of your spoken word. You truly showcased “growth through speaking” through the entirety of your poem and the juxtaposition that was presented. It really struck a chord with me.

      From the beginning starting out with:
      “What do I do, what do I say, please Pam don’t walk away… I want to curl up and pretend I’m dead”

      To the end:
      “The journey’s long and I’m still walking, but I’m strong and I’ll keep talking and you should listen because what we say is worth repeating every day”.

      Above you mentioned that public speaking has become easier over the years but publicly speaking about personal things is still very challenging. What facilitated your change from feeling a lack of courage to deliver something personal, to getting up in front of a crowd of 50 and absolutely nailing a very personal poem?

      • Hi – I guess the reason that sharing things that are of a very personal nature is more challenging for me simply that there are emotions attached to a personal piece. And I wear my emotions all over my sleeve, face, toes, you name it!

        And expressing emotions was a big part of me that I denied when I tried so desperately for so many years to hide my stutter. I mastered avoidant behavior, and it spilled over to all parts of my life. I grew up in a tumultuous, chaotic household where none of us (I have 5 siblings) ever felt safe enough to share our emotions.

        I can stand up and give a talk on “how to properly dunk an oreo cookie” (which I really did a speech on that years ago) with no problem, because it’s safe and impersonal and I’m not attached to it. But when I talk about how it FEELS to be made fun of, to be laughed at, to be misunderstood, to be dismissed, all of that is/was real and so I have emotions attached. I think in one part of my poem you can hear a little catch in my voice where I started to feel choked up.

        I do that a lot – get choked up when I am sharing something real and authentic because for so long I didn’t, couldn’t, and believed that what I had to say wouldn’t matter to anyone.

        When I saw that the NSA was hosting this at the annual conference, I wanted to do it immediately, partly to feel the real connection I get and feel when I share and partly to accept the dare my “head voice” gave to my “Outer voice.”

        I wanted to do it, and not let myself down. Like I said, I was humbled to share and worried that people wouldn’t get it or care. But they did! And that felt/feels good.

        Pam

    • Hi Pam, my name is Lexi, and I am studying to become an SLP. Let me just start out with saying how inspirational your stutter slam speech was! I am such a fan of spoken word, and I just loved everything about yours. I loved the flow, the words and especially the message your words gave. Even though you said you were nervous in the beginning of the speech, it seemed as if you exuded confidence by the end. I could tell that the words you were speaking all came straight from your heart, so it probably felt a little exposing at first, but you rocked it! Since it seemed like you were pretty confident in yourself, are there any specific tips or tricks that you used to feel more confident before giving your speech?

      P.S. I absolutely loved your last few lines! “The journey’s long, and I’m still walking, but I’m strong and I’ll keep talking”. I think that was absolutely beautiful!

      Thank you so much for sharing!
      Lexi

  2. “Listen to her voice, it’s her crown”
    Love it!

    Pam your courage and self-expression inspire me – to dare with courage and strength to say what I have to say.

    After all, our voice is our crown – each and every one of us.

    The words we share are the windows into our essense.
    Through our words, we can shape worlds around us.

    My father has often said, when we wake up and look in mirror, we may see clear complexion, or we may see blemishes. But it’s still us.
    If we woke up and saw another eye color, or different hair, we might be surprised, but we would still be comforted to know the man in the mirror, it’s still me.
    But if we were to look in the mirror and hear another voice coming out of us, we would be shaken to the core, for it would not feel like it was me.

    Pam your poem makes me think of this deep reflection; our voice is more of our identity than our fingerprint ever could be.
    Our voice reveals who we are and what we care about.
    The greatest speech impediement is silence – https://www.instagram.com/p/B1w1BnYhgLX/
    And to me, the strongest voice is the one spoken, even when it does not come easy.

    Pam – thanks for sharing!

    PS
    I’m pleased to share perfomed words by one of my other heros – Rebecca https://www.schneiderspeech.com/blog/communication-courage-poetic-speech-stuttering-and-musical-performance

    As well as my own (yet unperformed) poem about words – “Speech in Noice” https://www.instagram.com/p/B2kpG-zBB3B)

    • Uri,

      Thank you so much. Your very thoughtful response, that told me you really “heard” me, means so much. People often say to me, “oh, you’ve grown so much,” “you’re so good at speaking now” and I still get the occasional, “oh, you’re so inspiring.”

      As I mentioned in my words describing how I felt doing this, speaking on relatively “safe” topics has become easier, stutter and all. But when it comes to something deeply personal and from the heart, as this was, it’s harder. I still fear judgment, or simply that someone won’t get how meaningful it is to me to share from deeply within.

      “Her voice is her crown” – definitely a favorite line of this piece that literally wrote itself and spurred the keyboard as if on autopilot, once I gave myself permission to really let go and just share. I was so nervous in front of that room, thinking no one would get it, or worse, not feel it.

      I knew people felt it, as the audience reacted in just the right places that I hoped would resonate such.

      Thank you for sharing the work of one of your heroes (and it did not escape me that by saying “other” that I am included in that, perhaps, and for sharing your own words too.

      It never ceases to amaze me where I’ve come from and how much I have made room in my life for something that previously just completely shameful.

      I hope we get a chance some time to sit and properly have a conversation. It’s long due I believe. Perhaps the next time I get to NYC.

      Thanks again,

      Pam

  3. OMG that was awesome! You really spoke from the heart. It’s one thing to talk to a large crowd about stuttering in general, but to talk about it in such a personal and vulnerable way is a whole other level. Great job, I wish I had been there in person to see you! I’ve linked the video to my blog, AArielRenee.com. I’m so proud of you Pam, you’re fantastic for taking that leap out of your comfort zone! It clearly paid off 🙂

    • Ah, thank you Ariel. Life is full of courageous opportunities and we’re better off choosing them, even when we are afraid.
      Pam

  4. Thank so much, Pam, for sharing your Stutter Slam speech.

    I feel that you are showing people, by doing, how we can grow through speaking.

    There is an element of abandonment, with the associated trauma, when we stutter and the Other does not listen. That’s perhaps part of why a part of us feels like it is missing. Thanks for bringing awareness to this.

    Hanan

    • Thank you Hanan – yep, this was deeply personal for me. Making something out of moments when I felt made fun of or dismissed was powerful to me.

      And “I’m glad you “get” the whole thing about feeling something is missing when we’re not listened to. Our stuttered voice is part of our identity, like it or not.

      Pam

  5. Dear Pam,
    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal experience and for sharing your Stutter Slam speech! The line “Her voice is her crown” resonated with me. As a second year graduate student, I find that it is important to bear in mind that everyone has a voice and some may express in different ways. Thank you for bringing to light the inner-most feelings that stutterers experience when they are speaking. Oftentimes, people who have not encountered a person who stutters neglect to see things from the perspective of the person who stutters. The world may be cruel at times, but it is through words and actions that we grow. Aside from the reactions of others, what would you say was the biggest challenge you faced when deciding to share your piece at the Stutter Slam? How did you overcome the feelings of “not being good enough”?

    Again, thank you so much for being brave enough to share such personal experiences.

    Kind regards,
    Sherry

  6. Dear Pam,
    You’re experience and story about how you conquered public speaking is inspiring. I’m currently majoring in Speech-Language Pathology to become a Speech Pathologist. As i’m going forward, is there any advice that you can give me regarding how to properly help someone be confident in their speech if their speech impediment is holding them back?
    Thank you,
    Lohgan

    • Hi Lohgan,

      I’d first ask you to consider not calling stuttering a “speech impediment.” To me, that denotes negativity and makes it harder for a person with any difference to feel they can do x, y, or z anyway, even with a stutter. Impediment implies our ability is impeded somehow and for people who stutter, we can still talk, it’s just different than the norm that we are all accustomed to, and take for granted.

      If you want to really help someone deepen their confidence, “dare”them to try one or two of the things that scare them, not even scare them the most, but are just scary. Have them do it, and together talk about what it was like: what did it feel like? what went through their mind? how did others respond? what did they learn from the experience?

      I think the very best thing a therapist can do that wants to help a client who stutters is to help them navigate their stuttering and lead their best life with it, and stop focusing on trying to correct and/or eliminate it, because if they’ve stuttered for a while and are a teen or adult, they’re likely going to continue to stutter. So perhaps focus on exploring things that they can feel good about and process those good feelings. The more we do that, the less opportunity we have to ruminate on “bad things.”

      Pam

  7. Hi Pamela,
    Thank you for sharing your story. Reading about how you had jobs that required public speaking and how you still struggled with presenting at an open mic night allowed me to understand further the multiple dimensions or layers of stuttering and self-stigma that exist. I am a student in speech-language pathology, and your paper helped me to better explain to families that stuttering is a continuous process. With that said, becoming comfortable and accepting their stutter isn’t going to immediately apply to every situation by the end of the treatment period. As a future clinician, I feel like it is essential to be able to not only discuss this but also be able to provide them with the tools and steps to take when seeking discomfort in novel situations. With this said, what are some of your recommendations for someone who stutters who is also wanting to try something new that may be scary for them (ex. A child ordering their food at a restaurant)?

    Thanks,
    Viviana

    • Viviana,

      I would suggest you ask your client that stutters what are some of the things they are afraid or think they cannot do because they stutter. Quoting from Brene Brown, gently urge them to consider “daring greatly.” For me personally, each little things I have done that I have previously self judged myself to be not capable enough or worthy enough or smart enough and I did it anyway, a buried part of me came rushing back. Owning the feeling of accomplishment, no matter how tiny, can add up to improved self worth and open pathways that we didn’t think were possible.

  8. Dear Pam,
    Your voice is very powerful and I appreciate your willingness to share it with us. Have you taken part in any other spoken word events or open mics since the “Stutter Slam”? Has the emotional barrier to such events diminished since your first performance of spoken word? What other benefits have you seen in your life that have occurred as a result of your willingness to publicly speak about personal feelings and experiences?

    Thanks again for sharing your story and your poem.
    Sarah

    • Hi Sarah – no, I have not participated in any other spoken word events since the July Stutter Slam. I know now that I can and would do it if another opportunity presented itself.

      You asked about other benefits I’ve gained from allowing myself to be more free and open with sharing deeply personal things. I have gained a deep appreciation of how other people react when we are vulnerable and authentic. Doing so invites the listener to perhaps do the same. I’ve had numerous people share with me that I make it easy for people to open up about their “thing” because I dared to do it too.

      Pam

  9. Hi Sherry,

    Thanks for reading and watching and leaving a comment. It’s funny – you’re the 3rd person in this comment thread who said they were moved by the line “her voice is her crown.” That really makes my heart sing, because for so many years, I wouldn’t have dreamed saying that or thinking that.

    Coming to terms with “being good enough” has been such a long process. I felt that way about a lot of things, not just my stuttered speech, but it was the stuttering that I imagined people were judging, because you can see and hear that. My own feelings of not being smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough were all constantly choked back because of stuttering.I had a pivotal event in my life which lead to major changes happening in my life. I sought counseling with a wonderful therapist who happened to understand stuttering (most psychologists don’t – unless they studied that specifically.) He helped me peel back the layers of all the things about me that wasn’t enough and stuttering shame was at the top of the list.

    The biggest challenge I faced in deciding to share such personal feelings doing something I’d never done before, was shoving back the fear that the audience wouldn’t “get it.” Wouldn’t get the sense of how very personal it is/was to me to share instances of being belittled or made fun of in public. And I was afraid that because I stutter, I wouldn’t be able to pull off the “cadence” needed to “perform” a poetry slam like this.

    I just said to myself, “you know what, I’m just going to do it. The worst that can happen is that people won’t get it but pretend they do anyway, like how that has happened to me many times. But if you could tell from the audience reaction, they “got me” and that was so special for me.

    And I am so glad when my name was randomly called to come up and perform that I handed my phone to a table mate and asked her to record it!!

  10. Thank you for your awesome take on stuttering. I was able to relate to the words you used in my own life and they were very powerful! I am currently a graduate student studying speech language pathology and am enrolled in a fluency course and still gaining knowledge on the topic. You say that now you are comfortable with public speaking, so I am assuming this hasn’t always been the case? Do you have any advice for helping children get out of their comfort zone? It can be so scary as a child when doing something for the first time and I can only imagine that adding stuttering onto the list of things to worry about can feel suffocating. Thanks for any advice you can offer!

  11. Pam, your words speak a heartfelt truth. Your courage is admirable. The line, “…and you should listen, because what we say is worth repeating everyday’” leaves a powerful message for everyone, especially those who stutter. Your words and feelings are important and I thank you for expressing them. As a future speech-language pathologist, I take your words to heart and hope to empower my clients to speak their truth. My question is, what advice can you offer to adolescents who may be struggling with accepting their stutter?

    • Hi – for adolescents, I think it might be helpful to persuade them to see the “cool factor” in having something that only 1% of the population is lucky enough to have. It took me a long time to reach that belief, and trust me, it wasn’t easy as a teen trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m different. But differences exist so that the world isn’t boring and so that perspectives and ideas get seen through different lenses.

      Sometimes young people are able to, even want to, embrace their uniqueness. Stuttering is unique and makes us stand out from the rest of the pack. If you, as a SLP and the teen’s friends and family can see it as normal, and just a different way of talking, that will help the teen gravitate to acceptance on this level.

      Also, meeting other kids or teens their age that stutter too can be life changing. Many people who stutter grow up thinking their the only one. When I found a whole community of people who stutter and “get it,” my life was forever changed. These days, with the ease of technology, kids and teens can Skype or video chat with each other any time. That goes a long way towards normalcy.

      Pam

  12. Hi Pam,

    I really enjoyed reading your story and listening to your video. I especially enjoyed your phrase “her voice is her crown” that line really spoke to me in many different ways. How long did it take you to become comfortable with public speaking? I am currently a graduate student studying speech-language pathology and am enrolled in a fluency course and still rapidly gaining knowledge about the topic. Our voices can have a very powerful impact on many different aspects of life, communication being number one. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.

    Joelle

    • Hi Joelle – thank you. It’s interesting to me that people keep saying that that one line, “her voice is her crown” so resonated. I did not intend for one line to stand out more over another.

      But I keep hearing that, so there must be something to it. Our voice is ours, it’s unique, it’s how people can tell it’s us. I remember the days before “Caller ID” I’d call someone and they’d know it was me just by my initial words of “Hi, is so and so there?” It always struck me that my voice identified me. And I would wonder is it because they heard the stutter or was it just purely the uniqueness of my voice.

      I am glad you got something from this. Thank you.

      Pam

  13. Thank you for sharing your experiences of growth. Your poem was authentic and powerful. I am pleased to see that you posted it on YouTube for others to watch. By doing so, it may promote awareness and raise appreciation and empathy for people who stutter. I am a graduate student currently studying speech language pathology. As a future clinician, I hope to guide my client’s in finding their voice. You mentioned that you have grown to be comfortable with public speaking. What gave you the courage to face your fears? Do you have any advice for SLPs in helping clients move out of their comfort zone?

    • HI- thanks for looking at my video and reading my introduction. I would say that the biggest thing that helped me become more comfortable with public speaking was joining Toastmasters, http://www.toastmasters.org

      Toastmasters is a public speaking club for anyone that wants to get better at public speaking and just communication in general. I joined a club of about 25 people and I was the only one who stuttered. No one cared because they were all there for the same reason – being petrified of public speaking. In the very supportive club environment, you get practice at two things – prepared speeches, which you sign up ahead of time to do and also practicing impromptu speaking. Any speaking role you take at a meeting, you get evaluated on. Honest feedback from other members so that we all learn how to give and receive constructive feedback. That is extremely helpful. There is also a section of the meetings called “Table Topics,” where a Table Topics master for the night asks questions to anyone in the room, completely random, so you have no idea that you’ll be called on, and completely random questions. The point is so that you get used to speaking on your feet, because we are all called on to do that everyday.

      It seemed terrifying at first, but because everyone was terrified, not just me, the person who stutters, there was a genuine sense of support for everyone participating in that part of the meeting.

      There is also a whole leadership track in Toastmasters, where you take on assignments such as mentoring new members, mentoring and coaching new clubs, and serving roles in your club, such as Treasurer, Education Chair or President. I did all those things, plus became an Area Governor that meant I oversaw 5 clubs in my area, visiting them and giving them feedback on how to maximize the experience for each member.

      I completed both the Communication track and Leadership track to earn the highest distinction you can in Toastmasters, the Distinguished Toastmaster, or DTM. I was the only one in my club to earn that and go that far. My years in Toastmasters helped me gain the confidence and courage to communicate anywhere and everywhere without being afraid of what others might think. You have to be at least 18 to join, but many clubs sponsor Youth Programs to help teens begin building comfort with public speaking.

      Other advice I’d suggest to help clients move out of their comfort zone – work with them on real things in their life. It never did nothing for me in therapy to read some totally random passages that
      had nothing to do with what I was doing at work or in other aspect of my life. If your client is a student, maybe practice a presentation they have to do, or if it’s an adult, same thing, practice a presentation they have to do, or practice participating in conference calls, or calling places on the phone that the client would really go to and practice asking questions.

      As much as work in therapy can be fitted to what the person’s real day to day life is, the more successful it will be, and in practical terms, the more useful it will be.

      Hope that helps.

      Pam

  14. Hello Pam,

    I loved reading your story, and watching your stutter slam video. I find your story very inspiring and helpful. I am a student studying to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. Do you have any advice that I could give to help future clients how to be more confident with their speech? Also Is there anything that helped you become more confident along your journey of sharing your personal writing and speeches?

    Thank you in advance.

    Isabelle

    • HI- thanks for looking at my video and reading my introduction. I would say that the biggest thing that helped me become more comfortable with public speaking was joining Toastmasters, http://www.toastmasters.org

      Toastmasters is a public speaking club for anyone that wants to get better at public speaking and just communication in general. I joined a club of about 25 people and I was the only one who stuttered. No one cared because they were all there for the same reason – being petrified of public speaking. In the very supportive club environment, you get practice at two things – prepared speeches, which you sign up ahead of time to do and also practicing impromptu speaking. Any speaking role you take at a meeting, you get evaluated on. Honest feedback from other members so that we all learn how to give and receive constructive feedback. That is extremely helpful. There is also a section of the meetings called “Table Topics,” where a Table Topics master for the night asks questions to anyone in the room, completely random, so you have no idea that you’ll be called on, and completely random questions. The point is so that you get used to speaking on your feet, because we are all called on to do that everyday.

      It seemed terrifying at first, but because everyone was terrified, not just me, the person who stutters, there was a genuine sense of support for everyone participating in that part of the meeting.

      There is also a whole leadership track in Toastmasters, where you take on assignments such as mentoring new members, mentoring and coaching new clubs, and serving roles in your club, such as Treasurer, Education Chair or President. I did all those things, plus became an Area Governor that meant I oversaw 5 clubs in my area, visiting them and giving them feedback on how to maximize the experience for each member.

      I completed both the Communication track and Leadership track to earn the highest distinction you can in Toastmasters, the Distinguished Toastmaster, or DTM. I was the only one in my club to earn that and go that far. My years in Toastmasters helped me gain the confidence and courage to communicate anywhere and everywhere without being afraid of what others might think. You have to be at least 18 to join, but many clubs sponsor Youth Programs to help teens begin building comfort with public speaking.

      Other advice I’d suggest to help clients move out of their comfort zone – work with them on real things in their life. It never did nothing for me in therapy to read some totally random passages that
      had nothing to do with what I was doing at work or in other aspect of my life. If your client is a student, maybe practice a presentation they have to do, or if it’s an adult, same thing, practice a presentation they have to do, or practice participating in conference calls, or calling places on the phone that the client would really go to and practice asking questions.

      As much as work in therapy can be fitted to what the person’s real day to day life is, the more successful it will be, and in practical terms, the more useful it will be.

      Hope that helps.

      Pam

  15. Hi Pam,

    My name is Gina, I’m currently attending graduate school to become an SLP. I just wanted to say you’re speech was so moving and inspirational. I recently did an assignment for school where I had to go out into the public and order something with a stutter. When you said the line about the person in the drive through giving you a hard time, I could relate to that so much. Feeling like they are treating you differently from everyone else but you are just the same. You’re voice is your crown and you should wear it with pride! I also loved how you ended your speech, “The journey’s long, and I’m still walking, but I’m strong and I’ll keep talking”. So powerful. My question for you is how do you block out the negativity people portray at you? Any advice for the future to help others who stutter. I really enjoyed your story, thank you for sharing!

    Sincerely, Gina M.

    • Hi Gina,

      Thanks for the feedback and great question. I don’t really “block out” negative reactions. There are times when someone says something really hurtful and I try to gauge whether it was intentional or said with malice. 99% of the time that’s not true. So, I pick my battles wisely. If there’s a chance I’ll never encounter that person again because it’s a brief retail encounter, I’ll just ignore it and move on.

      But sometimes I just can’t do that. When people who stutter are laughed at or teased or mocked, it sort of perpetuates the cycle of stuttering being something funny or used for comic relief like in movies or TV. I think sometimes it’s important to take a stand.

      In March, I had an encounter with a nurse from my primary care physician’s office who laughed twice and make a hurtful remark when I stuttered on saying my birth date. I stood up for myself and said “hey, don’t laugh at me, that’s just stuttering that you are hearing” and she turned it back around to me as if I was at fault. She didn’t apologize and I knew I would feel super uncomfortable when I ran into her again because I’d certainly be going back to my doctor’s office. I wound up taking it a step further and contacted someone in the Diversity and Inclusion office of the large medical group and went on to be able to do some education about stuttering to medical associates. Here is the link to that information:
      https://westutter.org/wp-content/uploads/medical-profesionals.pdf

      I also worked with the NSA to design a brief one page fact sheet about the importance of medical professionals being front line allies for people who stutter. I did all that because I imagined that someone not as strong as me, who encountered a similar response from a health care provider, might be devastated by something like that. It takes courage to self advocate and not everyone is ready to do that, but I knew this was one of those moments where I need to take a stand and educate.

      Hopefully this will help you with clients you may encounter you might have similar experiences.

      Pam

  16. Hi Pam!
    That was a very touching poem. I really got a sense of how impatient and unaccepting people are. How do you get through your day if people are not as patient as most? Do you pay no attention to them or does it get to you sometimes? You are very courageous and I respect you so much. Stay strong Pam, you are great the way you are.
    Sincerely, Cadyia

  17. Hi, my name is Jessica, and I am a speech language pathologist graduate student. I enjoyed listening to your stutter slam speech. It was very inspirational. I felt every word spoken and could tell that it was all from experience. You showed confidence and faced your fears. Thanks for sharing!

  18. hello Pam I was thrilled to hear that you overcome a fear of expressing yourself publicly, Your stutter slam was highly inspiring. Have you ever found journaling to be a helpful growth tactic while living with stutter? has stuttering impacted your life in a negative/positive way or both?

    • Hi KDB – thanks for watching and for the great question. I have found writing to be very helpful and therapeutic. In fact, for a long time, I thought the only way I could express myself was through writing.

      I started a diary of my stuttering experiences and made the ultimate decision to share that diary with the world, in a blog. I am the author of Make Room for The Stuttering over at http://www.stutterrockstar.com I began that blog in February 2009 and I still manage to find things to say and share.

      Journaling or writing in any format is a wonderful way to share our deeper most thoughts, because we don’t stutter when we type or write. In fact, the voice in my head is always fluent, that’s why it offers some comfort to me to write because my written words can match the fluent voice in my head.

      I hope you visit the blog, for it’s title is exactly what I think of stuttering – we just have to make room for it in our life.

      Pam

      • Thank you so much for the reply and I cant wait to check out your blog this has been truly inspiring!

  19. Hi Pam
    I have joy and hope to see people who stutter celebrate their victories over the fear of stuttering like you. I am a person who stutters living in Cameroon working as a health specialist. I am still trying to put my stuttering under control and hope one day i will be like you. Thank you for the great work you are doing to help PWS.

    Nerry

    • Hi Nerry – how wonderful to hear from you all the way from Cameroon. It’s a joy to hear from another person who stutters on this forum, as the majority of our visitors are students who do not stutter.

      You mention that you are still working to get your stuttering under control. Can I ask why? Is it because you would feel better? Or are you trying to meet societal expectations? It took a long time for me to realize that I shouldn’t have to adjust the way I speak to make it more comfortable for everyone else – the only person needing to be comfortable was me.

      You are working as a health specialist so you must have to do a great deal of communication. I bet your patients don’t care so much as to how you talk, but instead are interested in what you are saying, because they come to you for help and want to hear what you say, not how you say it.

      Realizing that for me was also a big step some years ago. Good luck and thanks again for stopping by.

      Pam

  20. Hi Pam!
    Thank you so much for sharing, I really enjoyed reading your article and listening to your Stutter Slam! I am a first year at the University of Akron, studying Speech Language Pathology and am always interested in hearing the different stories people have on their journey of growth. However, yours had really stuck out to me! I really liked how you had said at the beginning of your article that we need to “trust that the world really does want to hear what we have to say.” I feel that that is so important for people to remember. I know that many, along with myself, have a fear of speaking in public or that nobody cares to hear what we have to say but, I feel like this reminder is so refreshing. I did want to ask, do you have any advice for someone who wants to take the big step towards growing (in a public speaking sense) but is too afraid to take that initial leap?
    Thanks in advance!

  21. I’m not good with public speaking, and it makes me really nervous, but it’s inspiring to know how far you’ve come! Your poem was really good too, I enjoyed listening to it.

    Isabella

  22. Hello Pamela! I love your story! I am not a PWS, but I have a fear of public speaking. I admire your confidence. The conference title, Growth Through Speaking is exactly how growth happens. The only way that others can learn about you or what is important to you is if you tell them how you feel. Stutter Slam was an awesome idea, I especially love the way presenters were randomly chosen to present, in my opinion that minimizes anxiety. I know that you mentioned that your head chatter gives negative feedback, my head chatter often provides negative feedback when I’m not confident about something. The way that you pushed yourself to present speaks volumes and I applaud you for being the voice for PWS.

    • Hi – thanks for commenting! Isn’t it amazing how petrified of public speaking so many people are? It’s not just a stuttering thing. All of us crave acceptance and we fear putting ourselves out there and risk judgment, embarrassment and most of all, rejection. We fear we’ll look stupid when the stakes are high. I think it’s at those moments when we dare to be vulnerable that everyone respects because we all know how it feels to get all clammy and sweaty, feel our face flush and our hearts pound.
      That’s when we grow, fluent or not.

      Pam

  23. You only Grow by Growing is a great article know how to challenge yourself and develop skills that you never knew you had. The author of this article talks about how public speaking was one of the hardest task to do. On top of that have a stuttering speech. Through growing and consistently speaking before others it caused her to become an excellent speaker.

  24. Thank you for sharing! This is definitely something that can educate anyone who takes the time to read/watch. I have a hard time with speaking in public or large groups and i do not stutter. my issue is mainly anxiety, so i can’t imagine the amount of courage it would take to actually attack your fears and decide you want to grow and not let this hold you back. continue to be you because believe it or not you are touching many lives of people.

  25. Hey Pam,
    My first thought after hearing your spoken word was “wow!” Hearing this poem reminded me of a song from Mali music titled “Walking Shoes”. I love how you ended your poem expressing that ‘what you say is worth repeating everyday’. That truly resonated with me. In the song “walking shoes” the artist paints a picture of expecting the unexpected, and that despite the everyday woes of ups and downs, you continue to walk. Your spoken word was very enlightening and exuded optimism. Thanks for sharing!

    Lana

  26. Your poem, “When I Stutter and You Don’t Listen Parts of Me Feels Like It’s Missing” is a poignant yet powerful. It tugged at my heartstrings as I listen to internal dialogue that was in the poem. In order to grow, one must be courageous to take that first test by releasing all inhibitions to get his/her goal. I like the idea that you took the reigns of stuttering, and not let stuttering take over you. Like a pheonix rising from its ashes, you have shown that you are more than just a PWS. I like the idea that you took the reigns of stuttering, and not let stuttering take over you. I can see the journey as a PWS was not easy, however, you studied, practiced, and performed and I see the rewards . Whoever thought of the “Slam Stutter” is a genius! I can see that this event gave you the confidence to continue in your advocacy. You are a true inspiration to all PWS.

    Wendy

    • Hi Wendy – thanks for the insightful feedback. I really didn’t want for this poem to come off as me needing pity or reassurance, but rather acknowledge that moments of listener judgement, sometimes negative and hurtful, is part of the story.

      You captured it right by referring to some of the lines as “internal dialogue.” It was a great release to share these lines in an empowering piece vs. what I might have done years ago and remain stuck in the indignity that we who stutter, or have any difference, often experience. To harness my thoughts and feelings into something that feels like “art” is quite therapeutic for me.

      Pam

  27. Wow Pam, I loved this poem! It really explains to people what it feels like to be disregarded, ignored, not taken seriously.. etc because of a stutter. I am a student at the University of Akron studying to be an SLP and I am currently learning more about stuttering at this time. My professor has a stutter and is so very intelligent and has talked so much about the emotional side of PWS. We want to hear you. We are listening and you will not go unheard. I enjoyed this poem so much because it really captured the emotion that you have and I loved how you ended in on a positive “I am strong” note. I would love to hear more poetry from you!

    • Thank you for your feedback. I meant for the poem to speak to the pain that we who stutter often feel, but also to end on a hopeful note.
      I wrote a lot of poetry early on in my journey to being more open with stuttering. All of my writing and musings can be found at my blog, Make Room for The Stuttering over at http://www.stutterrockstar.com

      I’ve been blogging since 2009 and many of the poems are in the earliest posts.

      I love to write as I always believed that I could express myself more effectively in writing. Well, now I’m seeing that I can dare to risk my stuttered voice as well.

      Pam

  28. That was such a beautiful poem! I could feel your pain, hope, and pride as you expressed day-to-day encounters with people who do not understand or respect your stuttering. I really admire your ability to face your fears head on and challenge the stigma surrounding stuttering. You truly are an inspiration!

    Renee

    • Thank you Renee – it has not been easy and I’ll admit that I still feel stung when someone laughs or mocks me, and sometimes tears come even as I try to push them away.
      It has been very validating to me to share these harder moments and let other people in on how it can feel to be laughed at or made fun of as an adult. Putting my own spin on these things and winding it into a story of pain and triumph has really helped me.

      Pam

  29. Wow! Thanks for sharing! Your poem really gives the listener a real sneak peek of what is occurring in the mind of a person who stutters. It gives us a visual of those behaviors that do not positively support the stuttering moments. This poem will serve as a great representation of the appropriateness that needs to be normalized in our society to develop more positive treatment of persons who stutter. I hope that you continue to be an advocate for stuttering and encourage our community.

  30. Your poem was so beautiful as well as your story! I’ve had a stutter since I was little and it was really inspiring to see someone else with a stutter publicly speak because that’s something that I’ve always struggled with. I was just wondering how you became so able to face your fears with your stuttering so head on? I definitely hold back especially with talking in class and in front of large groups of people and this was so inspiring! Thank you so much!

    • Hi – I guess what helped me most was realizing that even if my worst fear – rejection – came true, that there would always be another chance, day, tomorrow. It took me a while to reach that and some really good therapy, with a psychologist, not a speech therapist. When I began a concerted effort to risk showing my true self, “real Pam,” I kept taking risks and realized that no, I wasn’t being swallowed by the imaginary quicksand or being struck by lightening.

      Taking chances and dipping more than just my tow into new waters, I began to desensitize myself. And, I learned that I allowed stuttering to take up far too much head space. Fear was renting a room in my head. Peeling back the layers of fear, shame, and realizing that I could still be lovable, despite not having “perfect” speech was really powerful. But I had to be willing to examine all that, and feel the feelings of pain and fear.

      I also read a lot on my therapy journey. One book I’d highly recommend for anyone who stutters is Suzanne Jeffer’s “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” That was so helpful, as was Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child.”

      And as I began to find my voice, I wanted to share it and create a space for women who stutter to share their stories too. Because sharing and listening to other women who stutter talk about the same feelings I deeply struggled with, was so cathartic.

      I host a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories,” and it has been such a gift to share my voice and lend space for others to do the same. The podcast can be found here:

      https://stutterrockstar.com/category/women-who-stutter-podcast/

      Thanks for sharing your own authentic feelings.

      Pam