It's absolutely fine to be emotional and feel excitement about speaking. Heart starts beating fast, your body's generating additional energy. Especially when you're speaking in front of many people.
But stuttering brings in a whole new universe of fears, worries, negative emotions and avoidance behaviors.
How can we reduce or even eliminate stuttering anxiety?
Even before we start to speak, a lot happens in our mind and our body.
There are many things where we can concentrate our focus. Where we can put the emphasis. And our mind tends to focus on things that it treats like "danger." Thoughts like, "I will stutter. I will look stupid. I will feel horrible. Everyone will laugh at me. I will be taunted. I will be mocked." All sorts of bad stuff. And the problem is we cannot turn it off. We cannot force our mind not to think about it.
What we can do is try to focus on something else because our mind cannot focus on several things at once. So we kind of try to outplay it. And at this point I can tell you that you are wonderful, you are brilliant. And yes you are, but it's not quite helping at that point.
First off. It's not about you. It's about them. Why are you speaking? Probably, you have something to say, something to share. Maybe you want to persuade that person to do something. Maybe you want to share some feeling or you want them to feel some way. Or you want to give some information.
So what is it you want? What is your message?
Maybe you struggle with this, maybe you say, "Andrey, I really don't know" or "this is just the first time I see this person." In this case, what you probably want to do is at least you want to build an emotional connection with that person.
I always say that maybe this is the real, true reason why we're speaking - because we want to connect to other people on a deep, emotional level.
And that shifts your focus from your ego to really serving, helping people, to building that connection with other people, and this reduces anxiety. And afterwards, after you spoke with the person, it leaves you with a positive feeling even if you didn't do so well with your speaking.
Now, we can feel very differently about the same thing depending on how we treat it.
When you choose something, when you really want something, and you do it, usually it doesn't matter that much how actually you did it. You anyway have some sense of accomplishment.
It's not only about them, but it's also about you getting better.
And when I say "getting better," it doesn't mean the number of impediments you’re having, or how severe they are. It can be the criterion if you're working on improving your speech, but the main criterion is your message. How did you deliver your message? Did you have a message at all? Were you open and transparent with that person? Did you manage to build an emotional connection?
When you start looking at it this way, you see that it's a valuable experience. You are learning from it. It's a challenge that can make you better.
So, when you add this new criterion to your speaking, it becomes something that you can choose, want, and anticipate.
This, in turn, reduces anxiety, and again, once you've done that speaking, it leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment. No matter how you did with your speaking technically.
To the contrary, when you don't choose it, if you don't want it, if you only have fear and a lot of negative emotions - in this case, it adds up a lot of anxiety, and it doesn't really matter how well you actually did. You'll find something that spoils the whole picture, and you'll feel like a total disaster each time in this case.
So, before we start to speak, we've done some mental preparation. Now, how can we help our body to reduce anxiety?
Well, we can't control our heart which starts beating fast, right?
But we can control our breathing. So, you just take deep long breaths and breathe slowly. This way we set a pattern for our heart to follow and slow down and reduce anxiety this way.
Another thing we can do - we can try to relax.
Our body gathers a lot of tension. So if you have a moment, in the corridor, in the elevator, behind the scenes somewhere, before you enter that room, before you start speaking, you just gather all your tension, become very tense and then let it all out in one exhale. Let yourself be loose, and then you go to speak.
I was absolutely amazed one day by one speaker. She came to the room, came on stage and she took a long pause. Just looking at people, looking at the audience. Smiling and saying "hello" with her eyes. Establishing eye contact.
Why do we need eye contact? Everyone is talking about the importance of eye contact.
But only then, at that moment, I realized what that is actually. It's not about staring at each other. It's not about keeping your eyes open or how long you can do it. It's about establishing that connection that we talked about in the previous tips.
So, that woman made all people become silent. Everyone became attention, all ears. She got a complete emotional connection with her audience, and after that, only after that, she started to speak.
That reduces anxiety because here we hit our main goal - to connect with that person in front of us. And once we already reach that goal, that main goal, we feel much better, we feel accomplished. It's much easier to continue this way. And we also can use that during our speaking. We can make a pause and reconnect with that person in front of us.
When I made a poll among people who stutter, 80% of them said that the best way to reduce stuttering anxiety is to simply let others know that you stutter.
And that makes sense. Because people expect us to be fluent. Or we think they expect us to be fluent. So we try hard to be fluent. "I'll do my best, but I know I won't do it." People often times don't know how to react, they feel pretty awkward about it. So I kind of fail, they kind of fail, and it creates even more awkwardness and adds up to our shame and desire to stop it and avoid speaking the next time.
So by simply letting other people know we eliminate all this stuff and put the stage for more confidence and self-esteem because other people see that we take responsibility for ourselves including our speaking. We have the courage to own all of us, including our stuttering.
Once I saw in a book: "The best way to reduce stuttering anxiety is to eliminate speech impediments."
And I really like that. It's self-explanatory. If I know that I won't have speech impediments, I won't stutter, actually, then I don't have stuttering anxiety, right?
Well, the idea is very simple. Yet, it's not that simple, not that easy to actually do it. One of the options for you here: go to my Improve Program where I share my vision of how you can do it. It's absolutely free.
This flooding principle was originally used to overcome phobias.
Phobia is a fear that you shouldn't have. Something you worry about, and you don't need to worry about. It's like fear of height, fear of water, fear of darkness, stage fright.
So for example, if I have stage fright, they would tell me, "Come on, Andrey, go and make speeches every day." You kind of flood yourself with this. You do what you're afraid of, and the fear goes away, and the anxiety is reduced.
With stuttering, it's not that easy. It's tricky actually because I do have, I do feel my speech impediments, blocks, prolongations, repetitions and they do cause tension, fatigue, and internal pain, I would say.
It's not just a phobia, it's something real. Something unpleasant that I feel.
Some people say that the "flooding" method is great anyway. They say it reduced their anxiety and improved their fluency. Some experts say that you shouldn't use this flooding thing because the more you stutter, the more stuttering experiences you collect into your muscle memory, so the stronger your stuttering gets.
But let's leave this argument aside.
It's clear that if you use some technique to eliminate speech impediments, then this flooding principle is something that you have to use, you need to use because the more you use your new speaking technique, your new speaking skill, the better. And if you don't use it most of the time, there is just a big chance that it won't work for you.
I am a big fan of simplicity. So if you want to make it simple and seven tips is too much for you, remember just the last two: eliminate speech impediments and flood yourself with speaking and using your new speaking skill. This is the way to build, what I call, a new automated speaking pattern.
Join the discussion. Say what comes to your mind. Please leave a comment - would love to know what you think!
If you are a person who stutters and you're not quite satisfied with how you feel at the moment of speaking interaction and if you want to go deeper into what we can do about stuttering I invite you to my free Improve Training - 10 Immediate Steps I challenge you to take right now!
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If you have thoughts or observations, anything that comes to your mind - let me know in the comments!
Thank you so much! See you soon!