|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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