By Geoff Johnston, Regional Director, The McGuire Programme (Aust)
(as printed in the Australian Speak Easy Association’s magazine Speaking Free)
Stuttering on Purpose
Stuttering on Purpose? You must be crazy! Geoff’s getting senile in his old age! Why would I ever do something that I’ve been trying to avoid all of my life!
Many of us have spent our lives trying very hard to be fluent, to NOT stutter! Has it worked for you? If yes, well done and good luck to you. However, I suspect for the rest of us, it has failed dismally! If this is true for you, please read on.
The psychological model System Theory tells us that if we zero in on our ultimate goal (ie fluency) we can in fact make things worse because we deny the complexity (feelings, emotions, thinking processes, and context) in which stuttering arises; e.g. you can’t pursue happiness directly but rather we do things that may result in happiness long-term.
The old saying that “only a fool continues to do what one has always done and expects a different result” is true with our stuttering behaviour. If what you’ve been doing isn’t moving you forward to your satisfaction why not take a risk and do something different?
There are many things you could try but the topic of this article is about voluntary stuttering or deliberate dysfluency as we call it on the McGuire Programme. I personally prefer to call it “fun stuttering” because it defines the attitude we must apply to the strategy; i.e. have some fun with it.
Voluntary stuttering is not new. In fact it’s been around since the early 1950’s with Joseph Sheehan and Charles Van Riper. I put to you however, that the psychology behind it is still valid today.
A good part of the reason we stutter is “holding back” behaviour, being torn between the desire to express ourselves freely and the fear that if we try to do that we’ll stutter and be perceived by others as abnormal, incompetent, disabled, whatever.
We spend our lives pretending, trying to present ourselves to the world as fluent speakers. Whether we like it or not, by doing that we’re not being true to ourselves. We aren’t fluent speakers. We’re people who stutter and assertive acceptance of that fact will release us from the anxieties that get in our way of improving our speech. Please note that I’m not saying we just accept that we stutter and give up trying to do anything about it. I’m saying that at this point in our lives we do stutter for complex reasons of which anxiety plays a part but we may have an action plan to change that over time.
Denial and avoidance are the things that fuel and perpetuate the stuttering behaviour. By not being true to ourselves as a person who stutters, we create confusion within ourselves and hence the holding back of emotions and our speech leading to stuttering.
The fear that we might stutter and make fools of ourselves is always there.
How then can we release ourselves from the fear of stuttering, the denial, the avoidance? How can we project to the world the true person? How can we unmask ourselves and look the world squarely in the eye rather than dropping our gaze and avoiding eye contact?
By doing the thing we most fear. By stuttering on purpose, the main difference being that we control the stutter rather than allowing it to control us! To overcome any phobia, and I believe that stuttering is essentially a social phobia, we need to face our fear and do exactly what we’re afraid of. We need to “kiss the dragon” if you like.
Stuttering on purpose achieves a number of benefits including being in control of our speech and desensitizing ourselves to the reactions of people when we do stutter.
Are you game enough to give it a go? If you are, I promise you it will be one of the bravest things you’ve ever done. The benefits though are enormous and will show you that controlling your fear and anxiety around speaking situations is achievable.
HOWEVER, it must be done correctly with the following technique.
To voluntary stutter by just r-r-r-r-repeating the first sound with almost certainly result in a real uncontrolled block. The technique is to say the first sound of the word assertively then release all your air, pause for around two seconds, then take a big breath and say the entire word assertively.
By P … release … pause … big breath … practising this form of V… release … pause … big breath … voluntary stuttering with a great smile on your face you show your listener that you’re very much in control.
Drop a couple of those at the start of a feared conversation and the fear will drain away. You’ve “disclosed” right up front that you have a speech problem so there’s no need to try to hide it anymore. You can then be the true self! The emotional release is enormous.
Just who are we doing this for? Not our listener. We’re doing it for ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to be who we are!
Another method of voluntary stuttering is called the slide or long hit and hold. This method involves ssssssssaying the first sound of a word and holding that sound for say wwwwun second and then fffffffffinish the word. It must be done assertively with “attitude”. It’s not a method I personally favour or use because I think it’s not overt enough. The success of voluntary stuttering is all about disclosing and demonstrating to your listener that YOU AREN’T a fluent speaker so then you can stop trying to be one.
McGuiries world-wide via our email discussion group arrange several times a year to have a DD Day. People contract with each other to do 1,000 deliberate dysfluencies within a nominated 24 hour period. People who achieve the goal feel bullet-proof for weeks after!
So there it is…a short description of voluntary stuttering. Are you game enough to give it a go? And not just once or twice. Like any skill you need to practise it to be able to use it effectively.
Above all, choose to be in control and have some FUN with it!
Read Anna Margolina’s response to this article. She adds some really helpful information as to how to use Voluntary Stuttering to your benefit.