Stuttering consists of involuntary repetitions, prolongations and blocks. Some people who stutter (PWS) are conscious about their trigger words and they avoid saying those words to hide their stuttering.
No matter how much we try, those of us who stutter moderately to severely, almost always fail to hide our stuttering. The pressure of hiding our stutter often sends us into a spiral of anxiety, fear and anticipation that makes our stuttering worse.
What is Self-advertisement or Self-disclosure of Stuttering?
So, what’s one way to take the power away from stuttering? According to accomplished clinicians and speech-language pathologists, self-advertising or self-disclosure is a powerful way. It can be as simple as telling someone that you stutter.
In many cases, we find ourselves worried about what others might think of the way we speak. Since there’s nothing wrong with how we speak, it’s just better to accept and address our stutter before we begin our conversation. Doing so can help eliminate the fear and anxiety.
According to Michael P. Boyle, there are three more effective anti-stigma strategies that work for stuttering –
1. Contact (self-advertisement)
This includes hearing stories from a first-person perspective. You can introduce yourself as someone who stutters at the beginning of an interview, meeting or presentation. A significant number of college professors, lecturers, and job applicants make a favorable impression by owning their stutter at the beginning of a crucial conversation.
This method works best for adolescents and young adults. This is when people are exposed to brochures, books, e-books, online presentations, or videos about stuttering. The content is directed towards telling people what causes stuttering and replacing the myths related to stuttering with facts.
It has become a popular tool ever since the Stuttering Foundation stood up against the 15 September 2015 Saturday Night Live sketch that ridiculed stuttering. The foundation called it a “huge step backwards” for the entire stuttering community. The idea is to discourage discrimination and humiliation of people who stutter.
Interpersonal contact is a method of self-advertising or self-disclosure. It may involve someone sharing a personal life-story about living with the speech disorder. It is one of the most effective methods since it depends on the grassroots efforts from people who have lived with the disorder to change the public attitude about the disorder.
When Should You Self-advertise Stuttering?
The next question that almost always follows is “what’s the right time to disclose stuttering?”
On the effects of self-disclosure of stuttering, E. Charles Healey notes that in order to understand the effectiveness of self-advertising, we need to first understand the three main scenarios –
- The speaker may disclose stuttering at the beginning of the dialogue
- The speaker may disclose stuttering at the end of the dialogue
- The speaker does not advertise stuttering at all
The moderators played monologues from people who stuttered for the listeners. Listeners in the Healey study reported that they were equally comfortable listening to all the recordings with or without disclosure. However, studies also showed that listeners reacted slightly more positively towards the monologues of people who self-advertised their stuttering at the beginning.
However, in many real-life interactions, you may find self-advertisement unnecessary. For example, self-disclosure isn’t needed when you are traveling and someone asks for directions or asks to borrow your phone. As soon as you respond, the person might be able to figure out that you stutter. But, does that matter? Since it is a transient interaction and it will have little to no impact on your life in the distant future, is it at all necessary to advertise your stuttering to a stranger?
You will notice that in several instances like these where you interact with complete strangers or acquaintances for a short duration, the topic of stuttering will never come up organically.
Should you volunteer to inject the topic in the conversation? Should you make stuttering a topic of every conversation you have in the future? Well, that doesn’t seem very practical or pleasant for the speaker or the listener. More importantly, you will probably have more interesting things to talk about. So, why not talk about other things and let the conversation take its course.
If the topic of stuttering or disfluencies and disorders ever come up, you can always acknowledge or self-advertise. It is always about striking a balance – the balance of talking about other things and discussing stuttering.
Just as Russ Hicks puts it “the world does NOT revolve around stuttering!”
Why Should You Self-advertise Stuttering?
Now, as someone who has stuttered for more than a decade and probably will stutter in different intensities throughout life, we have the right to ask “Why should we self-advertise our stutter?”
In many cases, a listener’s negative perception about a speaker who stutters can stem from the lack of knowledge about the person’s speech disorder. To avoid confusion, one can always begin a possible conversation by saying “I may take longer than usual to finish what I have to say because I stutter”.
Acknowledgement and advertising has two main goals –
- To lessen the sensitivity of the listener towards the speaker’s disfluencies and promote acceptance of their stuttering during a speech or conversation.
- To reduce the negative biases towards the speaker by eliminating doubts about their communication skills and articulatory prowess.
It is untrue that PWS are bad at communication. The act of acknowledgement and self-advertising can reduce the effects of both tension and anticipation in an adult who stutters. They don’t feel the need to hide their stuttering while addressing the listeners.
In a 1990 study by Collins and Blood, listeners had to watch video tapes of one out of two adults with severe and moderate stuttering. The video consisted of adults who stutter answering questions during a mock job interview.
The acknowledgement of stuttering came at the end of the interview in one video. Next, they were shown another video that didn’t come with a self-advertisement of stuttering. When the listeners were quizzed, results showed that a significant number of the listeners would prefer to interact with people who had acknowledged their stuttering.
One of the biggest reasons you should self-advertise your stutter at the beginning of a job interview, presentation or speech is to let people know that you are comfortable with your stutter and soon they will be too.
How Should You Self-advertise Your Stutter?
Acknowledging and advertising stuttering takes more courage than fluent speakers think or believe. Since a majority of the society still, sadly, perceives stuttering to be a “flaw” it takes immense nerve to accept it in front of people who will probably judge you, employ you and/or give reviews.
So, here are the basics of self-advertising for anyone who has speech disfluencies like stuttering –
If you stutter, use the word “stutter”
Famous comedian Drew Lynch almost always introduces himself as someone who stutters. Although you are definitely more than a speech disfluency, self-disclosure will help out your listener(s) by telling them that you are not in denial of it and that you are comfortable with it. It exhibits a sense of confidence that is necessary for job interviews, lectures, and presentations.
Do not be apologetic
Don’t begin by saying “I’m sorry for the interruptions, but I stutter”. There’s nothing to be apologetic about! It’s not your fault that you stutter. You may need to practice this a little since we have been taught that ‘how we speak’ is important no matter what we have to say! It becomes a knee-jerk reaction sometimes.
Don’t complicate it
Don’t put in big words and stats. Simply tell your listeners that you are aware that you stutter. Stuttering doesn’t diminish your talents, skillset, or experience. Simply talking in a different way should not influence their attitude towards you.
What are Some Examples of Self-disclosure?
If you follow Nina G or Drew Lynch, on Twitter or YouTube, you may have come across some great one-liners on stuttering. Humor is necessary because it reminds us that despite the discrimination, negative attitudes, and discomfort some of our listeners throw our way, it’s important to laugh.
You can think about incorporating some humor in your self-disclosure statement to rope in your listeners and lessen their discomfort.
You can say something like, “Before I begin, I’d like to take this opportunity to state that I stutter. That means I may take longer to finish what I am saying, but that doesn’t affect my ability to meet targets, as you can see from my resume”.
You may have to disclose your stutter over phone calls at times too. For example, if someone asks about your birthday or address, you can always say, “I stutter, so thanks in advance for your patience”.
You can be a teacher, professor, dental hygienist, doctor, motivational speaker, comedian, author, actor, cashier, accountant, or Uber driver. Regardless of the profession you are in and the kind of people you meet on a daily basis, self-disclosure for stuttering shouldn’t be hard or awkward especially when it’s necessary.
Use the available context to advertise your stutter if that’s necessary.
Understanding Public Reactions to Self-disclosure of Stuttering
We may expect people to be sensitive and supportive when we muster the courage to acknowledge and advertise our long-term speech disfluency. However, the reality can be quite different and you need to be prepared.
If you have been stuttering for a while and receiving therapy, there might be days where your stutter is barely noticeable. We have all experienced those “lucky days”.
After you self-disclose, you may hear comments from your listeners like, “Are you sure you stutter? Your speech was smooth”. Some of them can be outright rude like the ones famous comedian Drew Lynch receives. People may accuse you of faking a stutter!
Well, it’s important to remember that most people do not know what it’s like to not be in complete control of their words and voice. That also brings us back to two of the three anti-stigma strategies – education and protest.
Sometimes, education is not enough and we understand that. Days of bullying and mistreatment can take a toll on mental health and productivity of any adult who stutters. So, if push comes to shove, you can reach out to WhatsApp support groups, stuttering foundations and organizations for additional support.