You might have a noticeable stammer at work. You might control your stammer so no-one notices. You might talk about having a stammer or it might be the elephant in the room.
People will follow your lead – if you don't want to talk about it, they probably won't ask. If your stammer gets in the way of day to day work, and you disclose your stammer to your employer - or if it's obvious - then you have the right to ask for 'reasonable adjustments', and you have recourse to the law if you face discrimination. See the legal advice at the foot of this article.
Your work colleagues may or may not have noticed that you stammer but it can help to tell them. It can help them understand your behaviour better. Misperceptions of long pauses, 'um's and 'er's, slow responses and assumptions of anxiety can be overcome if people know what you face.
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. Send them links to our Talking with someone who stammers page or Resources for employers & HR professionals. Leave some Stamma postcards around (email email@example.com for some). If your stammer is more hidden, then link them to our information about covert stammering so they understand what this means. If you are open about it, it will allow them to explore more about what they need to know so that it’s an empowering experience on both sides.
Maybe start with a sympathetic colleague or talk to your manager about your stammer. Be honest about areas of work you have concerns about, like using the phone or giving presentations. Let your manager and colleagues know how they can support you and any adjustments which would helpful, such as:
- a quiet space to make phone-calls
- extra time to contribute in meetings
- presenting with a colleague
- your colleagues or manager introducing you to new clients
- additional training, i.e. a public speaking course.
We've a whole section on Reasonable adjustments, head over there to read more.
While there are many other channels of communication, there are times when you just have to pick up the phone. It gets easier with practice.
- Plan what you would like to say in advance of the call.
- Try starting the call by saying that you stammer and ask the other person to be patient
- Begin with easy calls before making more difficult ones.
- Practicing calls can help reduce anxiety. Make random enquiries and appointments or use our helpline!
- Do it anyway. Pick up the phone and make a call, it can boost your self-confidence.
- What others think of you because you stammer is their business; don’t let it interfere with yours.
- Judge the success of a phone call not by how fluent you were but whether you said what you wanted and needed to say.
- If you work in a busy office and find the noise around you distracting or you’re aware of other people listening in, you have the right to ask for a quiet space to make calls from. You can also ask for others to take calls – see Reasonable adjustments section.
- Where a job involves saying set phrases or following a set script, ask your manager for some flexibility around this to make your life easier.
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 things you can do to make your life easier.
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 and jot down any points you want to make.
- Talk to the Chairperson about how they can help you. For example, they could agree to a system where everyone raises their hand when they’ve got something to say.
- Change the format of the meeting: if you’d find a face-to-face meeting easier than a phone call, see if you can negotiate this.
During the meeting
- "So let’s just go round the room and everyone can introduce themselves" – do those words fill you with dread? If so, you’re not alone. You could:
- Be proactive and go first – job done!
- Mention your stammer as part of your introduction, such as "I stammer sometimes so let me finish what I have to say".
- Ask the Chair if they could introduce you and everyone else or ask a colleague to introduce you.
- If it’s hard to get your turn, you could use a gesture to indicate you’d like to speak, or just 'excuse me’.
- If you're being interrupted when you stammer, ask for more time.
- It’s OK to say less; it’s the quality of your contribution that counts, not the quantity.
- 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.
Watch this great webinar on ‘Participating in meetings successfully’ from the US-based National Stuttering Association.
Presenting well isn’t about how fluent you are. There are lots of people who don't stammer out there who lose, bore, confuse, irritate or patronise their audience. An audience will be engaged by the content and thread of your presentation, and how you treat them.
Your manager should want you to succeed, and it’s their job to help develop your skills, so ask for help.
- Prepare what you want to say, structure it, use visuals and infographics. Let the presentation do the hard work.
- Mention your stammer at the start – this will take the pressure off you.
- Present to a small group of people at first, or perhaps with a colleague.
- Look at your audience. They want to hear what you have to say and their body language and expression will let you know that you have their attention.
- Find a friendly face in the audience and when you’ve found them, talk to them 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.
Ask for feedback from someone whose opinion you trust after the event. Identify what you think went well and one or two things that you would do differently next time. And practise. Your local self-help group might be able to offer this, or suggest it to them.
Join Toastmasters, an international not-for-profit organisation which helps people develop their presentation, communication and leadership skills, for a regular fee. If you’re in London, join the Kings Speakers, a Toastmasters group specifically 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.