I've developed ways to relax my listeners

21st April 2022

Chris Barton tells us about starting to see his stammering from other peoples' perspective.

'I knew that if I had my chance/That I could make those people dance' (Don McLean, American Pie).

I eventually talked for a living, teaching law, probably getting my first job because I was having a day when I was stammering less. I call myself a 'recovering' stammerer now.   

I've got my stories — and can see the funny side of them now — about asking the bus conductor for a ticket to the wrong stop, or writing down the right stop on a piece of paper and handing him to him; and giving a false name or pointing to my mouth pretending I couldn't speak at all. 

After swearing at a mocking teacher, I knew immediately that he couldn't do anything about it. But it was a few days before I realised the effect on the other boys; I was the one who told Mr **** to **** *** and got away with it.


Yet that teacher was one of a mere handful who has been anything other than kind and thoughtful about my stammer. So, after years of feeling sorry for myself I see it differently now. I'm not the only one who feels awkward; the people I'm speaking to can do too. They didn't ask to listen to me. After that split second of realisation they break eye contact and look down, wondering what to do next. Do they supply the word I can't say? Start counting under their breath? Say something themselves? Selfishly, I don't like hearing others stammer: 'Is that what I sound like?' I think to myself.

I've developed ways to relax my would-be listeners. When the chairperson says, "Shall we go round the table and introduce ourselves?" I say, "Bear with me – I stammer and I can't use a synonym* for my name so you may have to be patient". If reading from a screen, or when everyone's got a copy of a handout, it's "If I get held up, you carry on and I'll catch up with you before the end".

I hope this may be of use to others touched by stammering.

*The late Julian Critchley MP said that the search for synonyms gives us good vocabularies.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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