Tips for people who stammer on using the phone, asking for things in shops, saying your name and more.
Speaking situations can be more challenging if you stammer, or stutter as it's called in other countries. Not knowing how strangers will react to your speech can make you feel anxious. Here are a few pointers that might help.
Call our free Helpline on 0808 802 002 if you want to talk about them or practise some of the ideas. Give us a call to warm up before making a difficult phone call. Or, why not try out these things at a local stammering group? Groups are safe, friendly environments where you can speak without fear of stammering.
On this page:
Your right to speak
Before we start with the tips, remember:
- You have the right to take all the time you need.
- You have the right to ask for what you want.
- What you have to say is worth waiting for.
- If someone responds negatively to your stammer, it reveals more about them than it does about you.
Being open about your stammer upfront can take the pressure off you. It can help the listener know what to expect and make them more comfortable. That can give you the space and time you need to talk. Studies have shown that it can also boost the listener's perception of you*. But try not to apologise for your stammer. Instead, say something like, "I just want to let know that I sometimes stammer. It's not something you need to worry about. Just give me time". Try doing it at the start and then move onto what you want to say.
Also, the more you practise something, the more confident you might feel and the easier it gets.
Using the phone
Using the phone can be very difficult if you stammer, mainly because the person on the other end can't see you. Because of this, they might rush you, speak over you or even hang up on you mid-block, thinking they've been cut off.
- Notice any areas of tension in your body and try to relax them. Maybe look in the mirror while you're on the phone.
- Practise, practise, practise. Make loads of easy phone-calls to gain confidence. Phone family and friends. Then try phoning a list of shops and restaurants and ask them what time they close, for example.
- Jot down the main points you want to make before a call, so you're clear about what you want to say.
- You can choose when to pick up the phone when it rings. Leave it for a few rings if that helps to steady your nerves and take a breath before picking up.
- Be kind to your listener. Try not to rush through what you have to say so they can absorb it more easily.
- Your tone of voice makes a difference. Keep it warm and friendly if you can.
- Make use of any speech techniques you've found useful. The more you practise them, the easier they might become.
- If asked for specific information (eg name or address) give yourself the time you need. Go for the words you need to say.
- Make the other person aware, if it feels comfortable. Try telling them that you stammer at the beginning of the call. If they are aware that you speak differently, they are more likely to give you time to speak.
- Focus on what you want to get out of the call, rather than if you stammer or not. Did you end the call with the information you wanted? Did you get your message across to the other person? Focus on that.
If you use the phone at work, you can ask your employer for 'reasonable adjustments' so that it's less of a worry for you. Download the 'Reasonable Adjustments: a guide for employees' document below. See Stammering At Work for more about adjustments.
Text Relay is a service that allows you to type instead of speaking on the phone. Some people might not like the idea of others talking for them. But, if you are really struggling to speak on the phone, then Text Relay can help make it more accessible. See our article Text Relay service if you stammer to find out how to use it, or visit Ofcom's website.
You can contact Emergency Services by text. Find out how it works on our Contacting 999 & First Aid page.
In shops, restaurants, pubs etc
If you're ordering in a coffee shop or restaurant, or asking for something, here are some tips:
- Smile and make eye-contact. 9 times out of 10 the other person will smile back and that'll make everything more relaxed.
- If you're in a queue, focus on what you need to communicate rather than anyone standing behind you. Let them wait!
- As the customer, you have the right to ask for what you want in the time you need.
- It can be so tempting to ask for something that's easier to say. For example, ending up with a flat white when really you wanted a salted caramel mocha with whipped cream. Go for what you want — you'll feel justifiably proud of yourself and it might be easier the next time.
Check out the website scenariaid.com. It has video simulations to help people who stammer practise different speech situations. These include ordering at fast food shops and restaurants, and asking for things in shops. Also, buying train tickets, making emergency calls, hotel check-ins and job interviews. It's free if you register.
I Stammer cards
Wear a Sunflower lanyard from Hidden Disabilities. This UK-wide scheme lets staff and health professionals know that you have a non-visible difference. They will then know to be thoughtful when they are interacting with you.
Saying your name
Lots of people who stammer struggle saying their name. Probably because you can't substitute it for another word. Have you ever been asked that irritating question "Have you forgotten your name?".
- Practise introducing yourself in easy situations. Rope in your friends and family. Stammering groups are ideal opportunities to practise in a safe supportive environment. If you're having speech & language therapy you could ask to practise there too.
- Build up to real situations which feel manageable. For example, saying your name when chatting to one other person face-to-face. Or when meeting someone new in a relaxed environment.
- Go into the first sound of your name gently and keep moving forward. Focus on what it feels like to move from one sound to the next, rather than what it sounds like.
- If it helps, add a phrase before, like "My name is...", or "I'm...".
Our 'I Stammer' cards can help here as well. Download or order them and show them to people. They explain that you stammer and need more time.
Does your job involve meeting new people and introducing yourself? Download our 'Reasonable Adjustments: a guide for employees' below. It has tips for asking your employer to make your job easier. See Stammering At Work to read more about adjustments.
Alexa & Siri voice commands
Do you have a device that uses voice commands such as Alexa or Siri? You can set them to give you more time to speak before they respond. Here's how you can turn the feature on for each device:
- Open Settings in the Alex app.
- Then go to Accessibility and enable 'Adaptive Listening Mode'.
- Open Settings on your Apple device.
- Select Accessibility.
- Under the heading 'General', select 'Siri'.
- Then tap on 'Pause Time'.
- Choose 'Longer' or 'Longest'.
If you normally activate Siri by pressing the side button instead of saying 'Hey Siri', keep it pressed until you finish speaking.
Meetings, presentations & video calls
See Stammering At Work for tips on coping with these situations.
See our Job interviews page for tips and reasonable adjustments to ask for.
See our article Dating, stammering & disclosing. In it, people who stammer talk about whether they mention it when dating.
When voting in elections, officials might ask for your name and address. Our article Don't let a stammer stop you from voting has a list of things you can do.
First Aid in emergency situations
Our Contacting 999 & First Aid page has tips on communicating with people around you in emergency situations.
Apps & fluency devices
There's a range of apps available which aim to increase fluency if that's what you're looking for. You can download these to smartphones and use them with earphones in speaking situations. There are a couple of fluency devices as well which do a similar thing. See Stammering Apps & Devices to find out all about them.
Been discriminated against?
If you feel that you've been treated badly or unfairly because you stammer, contact our Advocacy Service. We can help you fight it.