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A man standing and demonstrating something on a laptop, watched by a man and a woman sitting either side.
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Christine, Towshik & Forbes

Stammering At Work

A guide for anyone who stammers for getting on and succeeding in your job.

The world of work can create great new opportunities. But it also creates new speaking challenges which can be pretty daunting if you stammer. There's talking to colleagues and clients, making and taking phone calls, or speaking in meetings and video calls. Not to mention having to make the odd presentation. Read on for tips and ideas for making things easier.

If you have an issue at work or with job hunting, contact our Employment Service and we can help.

On this page:

Telling colleagues you stammer
Reasonable adjustments
Using the phone
Meetings 
Presentations 
Video calls
Working from home
Start a support network 
STAMMA's Employment Service 

Telling colleagues you stammer

Your colleagues may or may not have noticed that you stammer but it can help to talk to them about it. They probably have no idea what it's like to stammer, how it feels or the impact it has on your daily life. If you can, help them understand.

Maybe start with a sympathetic colleague or talk to your manager. Be honest about areas of work you have concerns about. They could include things like using the phone or giving presentations. Let your manager and colleagues know how they can support you. Send them links to In Conversation With Someone Who Stammers and Supporting Staff Who Stammer. You could also put up some STAMMA postcards on noticeboards or wear one of our lanyards to start a conversation.

The next section explains how 'reasonable adjustments' can make your job easier. They could also help your employer create better working environments for everyone.

Reasonable adjustments

Your managers should want you to feel comfortable in your job so that you can fulfil your potential. If you're willing to tell them about your stammer, they can make changes to help you.

As a person who stammers, you have the right to ask your employer for 'reasonable adjustments'. These are changes employers can make to your job or ways of working to accommodate your stammer. This is set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act. Under these laws, stammering can be legally seen as a disability. So, they protect you from discrimination. The Acts protect you even if you don't view yourself as disabled. See Is Stammering a Disability? for more.

Different adjustments work for different people. Ask for changes that you would find helpful. Examples of reasonable adjustments you can ask for include:

  • The option to work flexibly and from home when speech is difficult.
  • The option to have 'non-speaking days', where interaction is mainly via email or Teams chat.
  • Having a mentor or senior champion to check in with and reverse mentor.
  • Understanding that good communication skills are much wider than just fluency.
  • Getting your colleagues or manager to introduce you to new clients.
  • Getting extra training, such as a public speaking course.  
  • Disability leave to attend speech & language therapy or related therapy.
  • Option to ask for speech therapy costs to be covered by the employer.

Download our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employees' document below. If you'd like to discuss getting reasonable adjustments, contact our Employment Support Service.

Using the phone

Even if you communicate mostly via email, there are times when you just have to pick up the phone. This can be especially daunting if you work in an open plan office with others listening in.

Tips for making a phone call

  • Plan what you're going to say in advance of the call.
  • If it feels comfortable, try starting the call by saying that you stammer and tell the person to bear with you.
  • Begin with easy calls. Phone a friend or family member before making more difficult ones.
  • Practising calls can help reduce anxiety. Phone random services and make fake enquiries or practise with someone on our helpline.
  • Do it anyway. Pick up the phone and make a call. It can boost your self-confidence.

Tip for answering the phone

You can choose when you want to pick up the phone. Leave it for a few rings if that helps to steady your nerves and take a breath before picking up.

Things to remember

Don't judge the success of a phone call by how fluent you were. What others think of you and your stammer is their business; don't let it interfere with yours. Instead, ask yourself if you got your message across and said what you wanted or needed to say. Focus on that.

I decided to try rewording the opening line to make calls less difficult for me. My employer was understanding and receptive to my needs."

Read Jamie's article on getting a reasonable adjustment for phone calls.

Download our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employees' document below for ways to get help with phone calls.

Meetings

"Let's go round the room and everyone can introduce themselves." Do these familiar words fill you with dread? If so, you're not alone. 

Meetings come in all shapes and sizes: face-to-face, virtual, one-to-one or in a group. Whatever the type of meeting, they can be challenging if you stammer. You have the right to express your views just as much as everyone else in the room. Here are some tips.

Before the meeting

  • What do you want to get out of the meeting? Set yourself some goals to review afterwards.
  • Preparation is key. Get familiar with any information sent out before the meeting and jot down any points you want to make.

During the meeting

  • Be proactive and volunteer to speak first — if you can — to get your turn over with. 
  • If it feels comfortable, mention your stammer as part of your introduction. For instance, something like: "I stammer sometimes so it might take a bit longer to say what I have to say".
  • If it's hard to break into the conversation, use a gesture to show that you'd like to speak. Or just say "Excuse me".
  • If people interrupt you when you stammer, ask for more time to speak.
  • It's OK to say less; it's the quality of your contribution that counts, not the quantity.  

After the meeting

  • Review your goals: what went well? What could you do differently next time? Be kind to yourself, talk to yourself as you would a close friend.
  • Ask for feedback from a trusted colleague.
  • If there was an important point you didn't manage to make in the meeting, include it in an email to the Chair.

Download our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employees' document below for ways to get help with meetings. Watch a webinar on 'Participating in meetings successfully'. It's from the US-based National Stuttering Association.

Presentations

Presenting 'well' isn't about how fluent you are. Lots of people who don't stammer bore, confuse, irritate or patronise their audience. Audiences will be engaged by the content and thread of your presentation, and how you treat them.

Tips for giving presentations

  • Prepare what you want to say. Structure it, use visuals and infographics. Let the presentation do the hard work. 
  • If it feels comfortable, mention your stammer at the start — this can take the pressure off you. 
  • Look at your audience. They want to hear what you have to say. Their body language and expression will let you know that you have their attention.
  • Find a friendly face in the audience. When you've found one, talk to that person as you would in a one-to-one conversation.
  • Pause between sentences and give your audience plenty of time to absorb what you're saying.
  • After the presentation, ask for feedback from someone whose opinion you trust. Identify what you think went well and one or two things that you would do differently next time. 
  • Practise. Present to a small group of people at first, or with a colleague. A local stammering group might be able to help with this. Or, call our helpline and practise with one of our volunteers.
  • Join a public speaking club. See if there's one near you. Try the Association of Speakers Clubs directory. Or there's Toastmasters, a not-for-profit organisation for developing presentation skills. If you're in London, the Kings Speakers Toastmasters group is just for people who stammer.

The success of a talk rarely depends on how much you did or did not stammer. It's more about what you said, rather than how you said it. A bonus of stammering is that it can make the audience listen more closely to what you're saying.

Download our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employees' document below for ways to get help with presentations.

Video calls

Video calls and meetings using Zoom or Teams can be difficult when you stammer. People speaking over each other and technical issues can add to the anxiety. Seeing yourself stammer on screen might be difficult to watch.

Tips for video calls

If it feels comfortable, telling others on the call that you stammer can take some pressure off you. Explain that you might need more time to speak. 

You might want people to know you stammer but would rather not tell them face to face. One option is to download one of our self-advertising backgrounds that says it for you. Or, ask the person chairing the meeting to tell others beforehand.

Use the hands-up function. This way, if you are finding it hard to break into a conversation, you can show you have something to contribute. 

Seeing yourself stammering on screen might feel uncomfortable. Or it might feel like all eyes will be on you if you stammer, making you anxious about their reactions. You can hide your self-view so that you don't have to see yourself, while others still can. Hover over your video then click on the three dots (...) to display the menu. Then click 'Hide self-view' or 'Hide for me'.

Download our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employees' document below for ways to get help with video calls.

Working from home

With more people working remotely since the pandemic, you might not be speaking as much as you once were. This might be a godsend for some but others may feel more isolated. You might miss being able to chat with colleagues. Or feel like you're not expanding your comfort zones or getting a chance to practise a technique.

If you feel like that, why not see if there's a stammering group in your area. Or, you could call our helpline and speak to one our volunteers.

Join or start a support network

Stammering support networks are becoming more and more common in the workplace. This is when someone who stammers sets up a group to connect with others who stammer and get support. Find out if there is already a network in your workplace. Or, email communities@stamma.org to find out how you can start one in your workplace.

You can also join the STAMMA at Work Facebook Group. It's a space where you can discuss issues relating to stammering and employment.

STAMMA's Employment Service

Do you have any issues about stammering at work? Do you want your organisation to become more inclusive for staff who stammer? We can help. Contact our Employment Service. We'll discuss your concerns and explore ways we can support you. Email us at employmentsupport@stamma.org Or phone our free helpline on 0808 802 0002 or start a webchat.

Bullying & discrimination

If you are experiencing workplace bullying, see Bullying At Work. If you think you have been discriminated against, see our Advocacy Service.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
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