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.

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Comments

You Only Grow by Growing – Pamela Mertz — 16 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

  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 🙂

  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

  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

  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!

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