FRIENDS Stuttering Presentation
Guide by John Ahlbach
Stuttering Presentation Guide, written by John Ahlbach co-founder of FRIENDS:
An Association For Young People Who Stutter is reproduced below with permission.
FRIENDS wants to encourage and guide
you in talking about your experience with stuttering to your class, your church
group, your Boy or Girl Scout troop, or any other group of which you may be
a part. What follows is why and how to do that. What if our hair turned green
periodically? Imagine if we had a unique disorder that caused our hair to turn
green every once in a while. Perhaps it would happen once a week, or once a
day, or five times a day. In any case, we rarely knew for sure when it would
happen. The question is, should we keep our green hair disorder a secret? Could
we keep it a secret? Should we wear a hat all the time? Could we wear a hat
all the time? Should we not talk about our green hair to anyone, neither our
parents, our siblings, our relatives, our friends, nor people we happen to meet?
Would that draw more or less attention to it? Would that make it easier or harder
to be who we are in spite of this hair problem? I think it is obvious that talking
about our green hair would make things easier. First, we could talk about what
the causes and nature of it were: that it may be genetic, for example; that
it happens more on some days than on other days; or that it may be the result
of the lack of a certain chemical in our brain. Second, we could describe what
it feels like to have this happen to us: how hard it is sometimes to have the
disorder; how embarrassing it is sometimes; and, last but not least, we could
describe some of the humorous aspects of it, and tell some funny stories about
the green hair experience. Stuttering is much like this. It only happens to
a few of us, and it is as much our fault as hair that spontaneously changes
color. It is a challenge life has given us, and we just don't have control over
it all the time.
Also, stuttering strikes many people
as strange -- perhaps not as strange as green hair, but strange nonetheless.
And it makes as much sense to try to keep it a secret! Why should you make a
presentation about stuttering.
- There is nothing good about hiding
your stuttering. While stuttering is a scary experience, and it is only natural
for us to want to avoid doing it, we only makes things worse for ourselves
when we try to hide it.
For one thing, it doesn't work. We cannot avoid it all the time. It does not
make sense to live in fear that someone "will find out that we stutter." They
will find out sooner or later, so why should we not be the one to tell them
honestly and openly that we stutter. Then we can relax because we do not have
that "secret" to keep anymore. It won't take the stuttering away, but it will
make it easier. If the people we are talking to know that we stutter, and
especially if they know because we have told them, it takes the pressure off
of us. We don't have to pretend we talk just like everyone else anymore, and
it gives people a chance to understand us and our stuttering.
And, hey, if you get up to present a report on stuttering, you don't have
to worry so much about stuttering before that group. You can feel free to
do it -- you're, in effect, just modeling what you are talking about.
- Stuttering is the thing we know
the most about. One thing we can say stuttering does for us is it gives us
an experience we can "teach" others about. We can become experts in it because
we already know what it feels like. We cannot say this about our knowledge
of insects, the American Revolution, or any other subject we might report
- People will respect us after we
present our stuttering to them. The young people we know who have given presentations
about their stuttering report that the most common reaction their peers have
is one of respect for them. "Wow!" many have said, "you have a lot of courage
to get up and talk about your stuttering like that. I don't know if I could
do that." They will respect your honesty and your knowledge about the problem
- It will most probably silence
anyone who has teased you about your stuttering. Teasing is tough to deal
with. You can try to ignore it but that doesn't always make the person stop
teasing you, at least right away. If you, however, get up and openly talk
about your stuttering, it does not leave much for that person to tease you
about, does it? We are teased because some person feels lousy about who he
or she is, and wants us to feel bad or embarrassed, too. They also want to
make public something we are trying to hide. Well, once you have "announced"
your stuttering to your peers, it should take all the fun out of teasing you
for that person.
AND, you might gain allies in your battle with that teaser. It is very possible
that your other peers will come to your aid when you are teased. They might
say to the person trying to tease you: "Hey, Freddie, didn't you listen to
Tom's report? He cannot control his stuttering all the time. We think he's
pretty cool because he knows so much about it. What do you know a lot about?
Maybe you should try stuttering so you would know what it feels like?"
- Stuttering is a fascinating subject
young people --and old ones, too -- will be interested in. Besides liking
your presentation because they will respect you for doing it, your audience
will also be interested in what you have to say. There are some very interesting
aspects to the experience of stuttering. You can talk about the many famous
people, past and present, who have stuttered, for example. (See the "What
to Talk About" section below.)
What to say in your presentation
As we said above,
you can make your presentation to just about any group you are involved in,
but most surely to your elementary or high school class. What is very convenient
is stuttering can lend itself to just about any subject. You can make a science
report out of it because it has to do with how our bodies work; you can make
an English report out of it because it is an experience you have; or you can
work it into a social studies class because it is a universal aspect of human
behavior -- every culture we have ever studied has had people who stutter
in it, and stuttering goes back at least to ancient
Babylon -- and because so many famous people have had the problem.
1) The most important and effective topic you want
to cover is your own experience with stuttering and how it feels to stutter.
This will help you lessen your fear a lot, and you will be speaking from your
heart. Talk about when you first began to stutter. What thoughts went through
your mind at that time? What are some of things you did -- or did not do --
because you stuttered? How hard is it for you to give this report? (You might
begin by admitting the most obvious thing: "I was really scared about getting
up here.") How do you want people to act around your stuttering? Talk about
things you may not like people to say: "You know, if you slow down and just
relax, you'll be able to talk better."Talk about what things are hard for
you to do.
2) Talk about the interesting aspects of stuttering.
If you are working with a speech-language pathologist, he or she can help
you with this. Here are some points to present:
3) Talk about the famous people who have stuttered.
We encourage you to use the FRIENDS poster in your presentation. In fact, if
you are doing a presentation and do not have a FRIENDS poster, we will send
you one FREE. Just contact Lee Caggiano at 145 Hayrick Lane, Commack, NY 11725
(516-499-7504). Not only that, but we will send you one FRIENDS postcard (each
depicts one person on the poster) for everyone in your audience. You can give
everyone a souvenir of your presentation. Lee can send you those, too. You can
talk about the people on it and quote from their messages for young people.
One thing to point out is how many different walks of life are presented there,
from actors to writers (a lot of writers) to poets to athletes to photographers
to film producers to artists. Here is a list of some of the famous people from
the past who have stuttered. You might type this out and pass it out to your
class or group:
Moses (Read the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus)
Demosthenes (famous Greek orator)
King Charles I of England
Erasmus Darwin (an eminent physician and grandfather of Charles Darwin)
Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland)
Kim Philby (British spy)
Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross)
King George VI of England
Contemporary people who stutter include:
Mrs. Annie Glenn (Wife of senator and astronaut John Glenn)
James Earl Jones (The voice of Darth Vador was "almost mute" until he was 10
years old. He still stutters when, for example, he is giving an interview.)
Greg Luganis (American diver)
Lester Hayes (former NFL defensive back)
Senator Joseph Biden
Rep. Frank Wolf
Peggy Lipton (Actress)
Jimmy Stewart (Actor)
John Updike (perhaps America's most respected novelist)
Rowan Atkinson (the actor who portrays Mr. Bean)
Chris Zorich (NFL lineman)
Ken Venturi (golfer who won U.S. Open in 1964)
Ron Harper (guard for the World Champion Chicago Bulls)
John Stossel (ABC 20/20 reporter)
Dave Taylor (former L.A. Kings star)
Bob Love (five-time NBA All-Star with Chicago Bulls)
Robert Heinlein (great science fiction writer)
David Shields (gifted young American novelist)
Sam Neill (Australian actor - Jurassic Park)
Jake Eberts (producer of such films as Dances with Wolves and Gandhi.
Margaret Drabble (British novelist)
Bill Walton (NBA star and now sports broadcaster)
P.F. Bentley (Time-Life photographer)
There is a more complete list in the back of the Listen
With Your Heart book.
4) Take a survey of the attitudes about stuttering of
your class or audience or any group of people. Either a couple of days before
your presentation or at the end of it, have people fill out a survey, the results
of which you can report on in Reaching Out. You may also just pass it
out to a random group of people before you present and make the results part
of your presentation. People are always interested how their attitudes relate
to those of others. Your survey may also highlight some of the myths that people
have about stuttering (for example, that it is a "psychological" problem that
"nervous" people exhibit). Here are some sample questions you might ask:
- What do you think causes stuttering?
- Do you think it runs in families?
- Do you know someone who stutters?
- What percentage of the population stutters: 10% / 5% / 1% /
Less than 1%?
- Who stutters more, boys or girls, or is there no difference?
- Can you name any famous people who stutter?
- Do some cultures or ethnic groups stutter more than others?
- Has stuttering always been around, or did it just start happening
in modern times?
- Do all people who stutter, stutter in the same way and to the
- Do people who stutter, stutter when they sing, too?
- If you stutter, are there some jobs you cannot do?
- Could a person who stutters become president of the United
- What advice would you give a person who stutters?
- Does Porky Pig make people who stutter seem stupid, clumsy
and not very coordinated?
- Can you think of a film that had someone who stuttered in it?
If so, what did you think of that person? Was it realistic?
- Can stuttering be cured?
- Is stuttering a disability, like being visually, hearing or
5) When you are finished with your presentation on stuttering,
write us about it so we can put your experience in Reaching Out. This will
encourage others to make such presentations. Tell us what it felt like to make
the report. Were you very scared beforehand? How did it feel during it? What
were the reactions of your class or group? What did your teacher or leader say?
How do you feel now compared to before the presentation? If you took a survey,
what were the results and what did you learn from them?
6) Suggested Readings: In order to prepare for your
stuttering presentation -- or to ease your mind about it -- we suggest the following
from Listen With Your Heart:
- "A Speech to Fifth Grade" by Alyssa Young
- "I Slowly Got Up" by Vlad Tchekanov
- "I Chose Stuttering" by Gino Sarti
- "What I Taught My Teachers About Stuttering" by Maggie Hansen
- "Levi's Math Teacher" by Debbie Zorn Further, we suggest you read the articles
in the December, 1998, Reaching Out by Peter Reitzes and John Ahlbach.
Remember: We will send you a FRIENDS poster and as many FRIENDS postcards
as you want for your presentation.
A Final Note: We at FRIENDS encourage you to make such
a presentation on your stuttering, but we also want you to know that we respect
you if you do not feel ready to do this. If you are like most of us, you have
been hiding your stuttering a long time. It is not easy to change these feelings
overnight. So give yourself time. You will know when you are ready to do it.
added February 14, 1999, with permission of John Ahlbach co-founder
of FRIENDS: An Association For Young People