The Stuttering Presenter

It’s funny. I stutter but I make a living speaking at conferences. A stutterer isn’t supposed to get up in front of people and talk. But I do.


It’s funny. I stutter but I make a living speaking at conferences. A stutterer isn’t supposed to get up in front of people and talk. Yet, that’s what I do.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have is when someone from the audience comes up to me afterwards and tells me their story about overcoming stuttering or their story about how they still struggle with stuttering. It’s always a tearful moment for me when a parent shares that their son or daughter stutters and that I have given them hope of a more fluent life for their child.

Hope is what people who stutter and parents of stutterers need because all too often people affected by stuttering feel hopeless. This feeling of hopelessness comes in the form of shame and guilt. The stutterer feels shame because she gets laughed at, rejected, deserted, and riddled with unworthiness. And parents of stutterers experience guilt by thinking they somehow caused it or perpetuated it. It’s a vicious and traumatic cycle that leaves deep, emotional scars for everyone.

TP_175TURNING POINTS, a just-published book, shares 15 life-changing stories of courage and perseverance from people deeply affected by the shame and guilt of stuttering. (My story is included in this short anthology.) Collectively, our voices give hope to people who think stuttering will forever compromise their life.

If you know anyone affected by stuttering, please let them know about the book and share this excerpt.

So how can I, as a person who stutters, make a living as a keynote speaker?

The TURNING POINTS excerpt shares my story of how I faced a do or die situation in my early twenties that forced me to make a major decision. The result of that decision ultimately led to me becoming a public speaker.

For too many years, stuttering stifled my voice and stunted my growth. It wasn’t until I reached a very low point in my life that I decided stuttering wasn’t going to manage me. Instead, I was going to manage my stuttering. Meaning, I wasn’t going to allow the shame and guilt of stuttering to silence my voice. I was going to use every tool I had learned to minimize my disfluency and actively seek opportunities to speak, even if I stuttered. It was simple. For me to stop stuttering, I had to start talking.

Over the years my wicked good stutter has become less wicked good. I still stutter. A lot. Every day is an exercise in failure whenever I open my mouth to speak. However, on stage giving presentations, my stutter is greatly minimized.

A few years ago I gave some advice for how I, as a stutterer, approach giving presentations. This advice can help people who stutter and people who are reluctant to give speeches.

5 Tips for More Fluent Presentations

1. Advertise your stutter.
Stutterers know that stuttering happens as a result of trying not to stutter. We focus so much of our mental and physical energy to not stutter that it only heightens our anxiety when speaking. And that results in stuttering. I’ve found it very helpful to mention my stutter at the start of every presentation I give. Not only does it disarm the audience, it also allows me, the stutterer, the freedom to stutter without shame.

2. You are in control.
Out in the wild of impromptu conversations, there are many unexpected pitfalls that can prompt stuttering. Delivering a presentation on-stage is most times a planned conversation. You, the stutterer, are in complete control. You have the microphone. You have the floor. Being in control of the speaking situation can free us stutterers from the fear of the unknown. The unknown can cause us stutterers to not feel comfortable and thus, stutter more often. HMHB has a good guide on reducing anxiety.

3. The audience wants you to succeed.
Stutterers need to remember when giving a presentation on-stage, the audience isn’t there to heckle you or laugh at you. The audience wants you to succeed. The graciousness of the audience is something too many presenters forget exists.

4. The audience will pay more attention to you.
The audience recognizes the importance of your presentation. A stutterer must have something important to say; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on stage risking so much. The audience understands this and I’ve found people pay more attention to my message solely because I stutter.

5. It’s less what you say and more how you say it.
Too many times stutterers focus on sticking word for word to the presentation script they’ve written. That’s a recipe for failure. If you, the stutterer, get off track from the script, it can prompt even more stuttering because you scramble to get back on script. That scrambling can increase anxiety, resulting in more stuttering. Instead, I’ve found success by focusing more on commanding a confident stage presence and less on the words I use. When I keep eye contact with the audience, display good posture, make purposeful hand movements, etc.) I experience greater fluency on stage.

Those are a few ways I approach giving more fluent presentations despite my disfluency. If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments section.

And again, if you know a person who stutters or a parent of a child who stutters, please share the following TURNING POINTS excerpt with them. Thanks.

EXCERPT of Turning Points: Inspiring Stories of Personal Change from the National Stuttering Association by Mona Maali