Addressing a crowd, holding their attention, and introducing or explaining an idea is frightening as it is. But, for someone who stutters, their anxiety about their speech can amplify the fear and difficulty.
After all, despite numerous public figures acknowledging their disfluency, the sense that stuttering is less than permissible in public persists. Whether speaking on stage at a conference or presenting a project in a classroom, public speaking can be a daunting task.
How to Stutter Less During Public Speaking?
1. Don’t try to hide your stutter
What happens when you stutter publicly? According to Lon L. Emerick, he once worked with a student in Lansing, Michigan. She had a debilitating stutter that kept her from speaking in a group.
He told her to find and approach as many people in the next week and show them her stutter. Essentially, it was a voluntary stuttering exercise. By the end of the week, she had approached 947 listeners and she had stuttered as much as she could.
She was exhausted, yes. However, her stutter had completely evaporated too. She could no longer stutter involuntarily!
According to Emerick, trying to keep your stutter a secret from the audience is a burden. The harder you try, the more difficult it becomes to proceed with the speech smoothly.
2. Note the reactions of listeners
When you are approaching new listeners, you will notice a wide range of reactions.
Studies show that most people may feel visibly uncomfortable when the speaker begins to stutter, but they are also empathetic. As per the experience of speech-language pathologist (SLP) Nichole Lowenbraun, when she followed her professor’s instructions to stutter on purpose in a public place, she found that listeners were encouraging, helpful, and patient.
Overall, people showed tremendous empathy and patience.
If you ever decide to try this exercise, you will realize that listeners don’t care that you stutter as long as you have something meaningful to say to them. They may even try to help you by completing your sentences or trying to find the right words. It’s not an insult, especially, when you are talking to a stranger. It shows how much they are trying to understand the daily struggle you face during communication.
3. Own your Stutter
Even when all eyes are on you, you are the one in control of the room. Acknowledging your stutter allows you to relax into the presentation or speech without the fear of losing the audience’s attention.
Audiences, small or big, want you to succeed when you have the floor. You can capitalize on it.
Show them that irrespective of your disfluencies and pauses you will say what they have come to hear. Don’t feel guilty if you need a moment to gather yourself. Everything good in life comes after a brief period of waiting!
4. Passion Trumps Fear
A great idea that excites you is infinitely easier to talk about and discuss than something prosaic and irrelevant.
Being passionate about a subject doesn’t mean that your stutter won’t resurface. However, it can ensure that the conversation will be more enjoyable. It shall certainly be memorable.
5. Ashes to Gold
What is the worst-case scenario? A slip of the tongue, a mistake in your speech, or a hostile audience can be handled with humor and sincerity.
Get comfortable in the room where you are to give the presentation (or speech) and practice in it.
Good communication skills are more than just fluency. It is about eye contact, voice modulation, posture, and confident body language. Fluent speakers aren’t necessarily good communicators. When speaking in public, people with or without speech strive to engage their audience.
6. Practice Positive Visualization
Positive visualization can help you overcome stage fright before a big event.
Several studies show that when PWS visualize themselves giving a smooth performance on-stage, they are more likely to talk with higher fluency than those who don’t use positive visualization.
You may try another form of positive visualization that’s similar to Sherlock’s “Mind Palace” technique.
Create a mental space that makes you feel safe, comfortable, and confident. It can be the visuals of your pets, children, or friends. Anything that can calm your nerves before the speech can help in positive visualization.
7. Practice Giving the Presentation
When at home, create an audience for yourself. Ask your friends to give you 20 to 30 minutes per day. Request your family to be present when you speak.
Most of us who stutter, don’t stutter while speaking alone. So, we need an audience, whether real or virtual to create the right ambience. Speaking in front of more than one person can trigger our stutter.
You can get constructive feedback on many things such as the contents of your speech/presentation as well as your body language and communication style. . You can also ask for feedback on your fluency after you have rehearsed your speech for a couple of days.
Asking for feedback right away might dampen your spirits, because none of us can truly give the perfect speech on the first try.
Our suggestion is - practice a couple of times out aloud before you go on Zoom or Duo, or invite your family for a sit-in.
8. Record Yourself Giving the Speech
Are you curious about how the audience may perceive your speech? The best way to test it is by recording yourself at home.
Once your speech is almost ready, whip out your phone and turn the video recording on. It may feel a little weird at first. However, it is one of the best ways to evaluate one’s speech and delivery style.
Record yourself after you have rehearsed your speech a few times.
Go through the recording to identify the words that make you hesitant/nervous and trigger your stutter. Apply techniques like easy onsets, light articulatory contact, and deep breathing to make your speech more fluent the next time.
Record yourself once you have applied these techniques. Mark the differences.
Make notes in your speech which detail the pauses, inclusion of pacing or rhythmic speaking and other fluency techniques.
9. Familiarize Yourself with the Presentation Space
‘Winging it’ is something even the best of the best speakers and stage personalities DON’T do during events.
Everyone tries to squeeze in a “dress rehearsal” just like the old times in the theatre. It is not paranoid to want to check out the presentation space before the big speech.
When you stand on the dais, you know exactly how many steps to the right or left will make the audience feel seen. You will know how to utilize the entire stage especially if it’s big and you are expecting a larger than regular audience.
Nothing is worse than sound problems on top of speech disfluencies. When you have put in so much of hard work to smoothen out your speech, then why not make sure your sound equipment doesn’t malfunction while you are addressing the crowd?
10. Exercise Patience
On some days, stuttering seems to be worse and each person who stutters knows that.
If you are having such a day, just remember to be kind to yourself. Have a little patience.
Do some breathing exercises, meditate and do something that relaxes you. You can take your dog for a walk, cook or bake something at home, read your favorite book, or watch an inspiring movie.
Don’t just give up right away.
After you have relaxed a little, get back to practicing stuttering exercises.
Once you have finished your exercises and warm ups, try rehearsing your speech again!
11. Practice Body Movements That Channel Nervous Energy
Even when you have your speech memorized and the kinks in your speech smoothened out, you may get the jitters.
Nerves can take over irrespective of how well you have prepared your speech. You may realize that even when testing your speech in front of your friends and family.
Butterflies in your stomach. Blood rushing to your face. Cold and clammy hands. These are the typical signs of feeling tension before a performance. And that’s perfectly alright. Even the best speakers and performers get them!
So, what can you do to stop your nerves from interfering with your speech?
Try channeling your energy through movements instead. Practice pacing, and using one or both hands (depending on the type of microphone you will be using) to let the excess energy flow out.
Getting a little exercise every morning, and some meditation can also help you channel the nervous energy right out of your body before it interjects your speech.
12. Get Enough Rest on the Days before the Presentation
We have all pulled all-nighters before our finals in high school or grad school. However, that was quite a while ago.
If we try the same today, we will be tired and that will reflect on our speech.
Studies show that our fluency depends on how much rest we allow ourselves the night before the event. Nothing can replace 8-hours of sound sleep. No amount of coffee can make up for a jittery night that you have spent going over your speech time and again.
Make it a habit to go offline as soon as you finish office work. Don’t drink caffeinated drinks after 7 pm. Rest your eyes by keeping the TV switched off and using a blue-light filter on your phone. You can also get blue-light blocking glasses for yourself.
Minimizing your exposure to blue light will help you fall asleep faster. You will sleep more soundly than before.
Keep an alarm exactly when you intend to wake up and refrain from hitting snooze too many times.
You will be amazed to see how much of a positive impact a good night’s sleep can have on speech fluency.
13. Keep Notes Handy When You Go on Stage
No speaker goes on stage without a set of notes. You may have your speech memorized, but keeping cue cards handy can help you pick up if there’s an unexpected interruption on-stage.
Highlight the important portion of your speech, and print cards out for each slide. Using images, slides and videos during your presentation will keep the audience engaged.
Keeping your notes handy will help you minimize the effort of memorizing every small bit on your part. You can focus on your fluency, body language and delivery since you know you have the cues to fall back on!
Which Exercises Can Help You Speak Fluently and Confidently During a Public Speech or Presentation?
Out of the several exercises you can do to reduce your stuttering, these are a few you can master and practice regularly at home. These are parts of any treatment for stuttering and they can help you stutter less during your big speech -
1. Deep Breathing or Costal Breathing
Costal or deep breathing can help you relax. It can reduce the tension in your vocal cords and articulators.
What we typically do is breathe shallowly. Only our shoulders move when we do so. Costal breathing means you take a deep breath in and exhale slowly.
One of the easiest ways to master costal breathing is by placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
When you inhale, you should feel your belly rise significantly. This happens because the intercostal muscles expand.
Exhale slowly. Try to feel your belly fall and chest rise when you let the air out.
You can apply this technique during easy onsets, continuous phonation, and other stuttering techniques to maintain fluency during your speech.
Dedicate 10 minutes every morning to practice deep breathing. It will induce fluency and it will calm your nerves by enabling you to focus on your breathing pattern.
2. Speaking After Exhaling A Little
Couple your costal breathing exercises with this technique. When air is naturally flowing from your lungs through your larynx, your vocal cords should be relaxed.
It is much easier to speak with fluency when your vocal cords and articulators are relaxed.
Try to inhale till you feel your belly rise to its fullest extent. Then exhale a little bit slowly and begin talking.
Practice this every time after costal breathing.
Include pauses and breaks in your speech where you can breathe deeply, and begin speaking once you have exhaled a little bit.
3. Rhythmic Speaking
Speaking with a rhythm is a popular technique among many speech therapists and speakers who stutter.
It’s almost impossible to stutter when one is singing. Rhythmic speaking is similar in concept. You need to find and apply a constant rhythm to your speech while speaking. You can choose to add a subtle melody as well if you think speaking in a sing-song voice is something you can pull off.
You need to maintain a regular beat. You can tap your foot, hand, or even a finger to each syllable. It is a fluency-inducing exercise that can help you reduce or even overcome your stuttering while speaking.
Practice this every day during your speech. Mark the syllables and feared words, if necessary. Putting some rhythm into your speech may be all you need to remain fluent and confident during your speech.
4. Easy Onsets
Easy onsets are particularly useful for words that begin with a vowel. When saying a word that begins with a vowel, you can try to add a small /h/ sound before it. For example, instead of saying, “apple” you can try saying “hhh-apple.”
When you do that, you will notice that you need less force to get the word out. That happens because when you add the /h/ sound your vocal folds are far apart, allowing you to phonate easily.
Gradually shorten the /h/ sound like this – “hhh-apple” to “hh-apple” and eventually, “h-apple.”
Adding the small /h/ sound can make all the difference. It will allow the air to pass from the lungs through your larynx.
You should also try this when you are exhaling after a deep breath. It will help your vocal cords relax and make vowel sounds with lesser effort. Keep practicing this and soon you will see that you can apply easy onsets to particular words in your speech that you find difficult to pronounce.
5. Light Articulatory Contact
Light Articulatory Contact (LAC) is a useful technique for pronouncing words that can stop the airflow. For example, words with b, p, d, g, t, and so on.
You can apply LAC to words that begin with a hard consonant like Permit, Top, Dump, Gut, and Bottom.
You may get stuck on a word like “permit” if you press your lips too hard. Try to take one deep breath and initiate the word while making a light contact on “p.”
LAC should work on all words in your speech that begin with hard consonants. You may even be able to pronounce your most feared words without any block during your public speech.
Bouncing is effective as a stuttering modification technique that you can use on-stage. People who stutter often repeat words or parts of words with hard consonants.
For example, while saying “tomato” you might get stuck on the initial “tuh” sound. Such that the word comes out as “tuh-tuh-tuh-mato.”
As per this technique, instead of avoiding the stutter, you gain the impetus from the repetition to move forward. All you have to do is instead of making the “tuh” sound you need to try to make a “taa” sound.
Combine it with speaking while exhaling to successfully say “taa-taa-taa-mato” instead of becoming stuck on “tuh.”
This technique will help you slide into difficult, and feared words effortlessly, even when speaking in front of people.
7. Use an App to Monitor Your Speech and Progress
Stamurai uses analytics and machine-learning algorithms to offer users customized training plans. You can use the exercises daily to improve your speech.
Stamurai is a speech therapy app that allows users to track their progress.
It is a state-of-the-art stuttering therapy app that features practice sessions, breathing exercises, customized training plans, and guided meditations.
Join group video calls to test your improvement and gain valuable feedback on your progress. Stamurai can help boost your confidence before the big event.
You can also opt for online speech therapy for stuttering if you want one-on-one therapy from the comfort of your home.