For those of us who stutter, speaking in a group setting can be a quite an “experience.” The other day I was addressing my co-workers in a meeting when I started to stutter on a word. When this happens, I usually know what I’m going to say; I just need the people around me to be patient and allow for the word to come out. That’s not what happened this time. Instead, everyone transformed into the studio audience from The Price is Right, shouting and suggesting words for me to pick from like it was the frickin’ showcase bid. I don't wish to speak for all people who stutter (we get enough of that already), but I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us prefer to finish our own sentences. It’s hard enough to say the words I’m trying to say without the added distraction of people suggesting a million other words I’m not trying to say. Imagine having to play Mad Libs every time you wanted to talk to someone (insert your own humorous word into the following sentence: "I want p-p-p______").
Besides the extra stress, being interrupted all the time takes an emotional toll. When people are always guessing your words, you begin second-guessing yourself. Are they impatient with my speech pattern, or are they impatient with what I’m saying? Are they impatient with me? All these questions were swirling in my head as I struggled to complete my sentence during that meeting. When it was over, I spent much of the day contemplating what I could have done differently. Should I have said something when I was being interrupted? Should I have educated these people about stuttering etiquette? Should I talk about this experience in my stand-up act and make it a bit about The Price is Right and the universal sex appeal of Bob Barker?
That’s the answer... Bob Barker! When the audience starts screaming and howling like a pack of hyenas threatening to devour some little grandma on stage, Bob steps in with his commanding manliness and shuts up the crowd so grandma can play at her own pace. If someone else in that meeting had chimed in with something like, "she's got this, let her finish," it would have made all the difference. As people who stutter, having to constantly defend our speech patterns can be exhausting. If someone were step in now and again to help share the load, it would mean so much to many of us.
So this is my message to you, all the non-stuttering people reading this: the next time you see someone stuttering and being interrupted, disrupt the interruption! You can be someone else’s Bob Barker! You don’t have to be a silver fox retired game show host; just stand up for the person being interrupted and let them finish—let them know that their voice matters. When I’m on job interviews, I usually take control of the situation by telling the interviewer, "I stutter and you’re just going to have to wait for all my brilliant ideas." This directs them on what to do and lets them know that I have something important to say. I would love for my listening allies to have my back and embody the spirit of this message.
What people who stutter have to say is important. Our voice is our own; please don't let others trample on it.
*October 22 is International Stuttering Awareness Day. It is a great opportunity to share this and other articles to educate the general public about stuttering. Below is my TEDx talk, The Everyday Ally, where I talk about what allies can do in situations like the one I described.