Stammering may seem like a simple speech impairment that does not have serious implications but to someone who is usually caught in this reflex, it can be so devastating.
In most cases, it arises at birth and continues until later life. In some people, it reduces as they grow older but in others, the reduction is insufficient to totally eliminating the condition.
One major question one would ask is 'what causes stammering?'
What Causes Stammering at Birth
The cause of stammering may be explained in different ways. It has been attributed to a delayed in the development of the speech areas on the brain at infancy. Another postulate put it that it arises as a result of the psychological impact of the child to desire to speak too early. Any of these reasons have not been justified scientifically. However, in cases of subtle impairments like stammering, both genetic and environmental factors play a role.
Genetic factors include any inherited abnormality in the constitution of the genome or sequence and composition of the DNA in the body cells. I won't be able to exactly pinpoint the gene locus/loci that is/are affected but a recognition of the fact that there is a genetic component is just sufficient.
The postulation that the child's desire to communicate verbally too early may predispose him/her to the maldevelopment of the speech areas and in turn lead to speech impairment will be acceptably grouped under all things belonging to the class of environmental factors.
Other explanations may also exist but the lack of substantial evidence in support of any of those hypotheses has made it difficult to specifically characterise the causes of this congenital/early onset speech impairment referred to as stammering.
What Triggers Stammering
My little experience with stammering has revealed certain environmental and social conditions that can trigger the uncontrollable episodes of stammering. In some, it is a perpetual thing but in a few other people, it is often transient.
Stammering has also been noticed in people who seem not to have any speech impairment at any point in their lives. And the principal trigger in these group of people is often a stressful, frightful or tense physical and psychological conditions.
In these normal people, the following could be responsible for triggering off the episodes of stammering:
- Stage fright:
To people who are just stepping on stage for the first time, the intense feeling of fear and loss of confidence usually reflects in the quality of speech they produce. Here, the predominant factor is fear. However, this is quickly overcome when the sufferer becomes more confident as time progresses.
- Exam tension:
You may be in for an oral examination and you just uncontrollably mutter disorganized words. For most people, a few seconds is usually sufficient to restore good communication. If it persists then it's one of the things I will talk about shortly but for now, it is worth noting that exam tension can be one of the triggers for stammering.
This is similar to what you experienced the day you did your first presentation. It all stems from the feeling that you might be wrong before those watching or judging your presentation.
The relationship between hunger and stammering may not be directly put but no one can disagree that we also need the energy to speak. The fluency of our speech is hinged many times on our energy balance. People talk loudest when they are not hungry and vice versa. This may also relate to fluency of speech like some people have observed.
- Serious interaction with a member of the opposite sex:
I'm sure you know what I mean with this. When a guy is interested in a lady, even the simplest line of conversation can become filled with stuttering gaps. This is usually not a big problem as the mutually interested lady would quickly understand and help the guy out. However, if it becomes undesirable, watch out for the tips I will drop as we move on.
- Interaction with someone of a higher class than you:
Sometimes, it takes only a few dogged people to speak with a professor they are meeting for the first time not to do that without stammering for once. This may just be a harmless cause of stammering as the other person may not really see it as anything serious. Everyone would fall for this especially when they have not gotten many social exposures. However, it is not one of those congenital causes of stammering as I earlier talked about.
- Dry mouth:
Have you ever wondered why public speakers would go upstage with a bottle of water? This point should probably have come first because unlike hunger that has no direct relationship with speech fluency, thirst and dry mouth directly impact on the quality of speech. This has been proven by establishing that the speech machinery of the mouth, tongue, vocal cords and the airway need to be constantly lubricated to enhance proper speech control and ensure good quality.
For those who are born with the inability to maintain speech or who are often caught switching between normal speech and stammering, anger has always been a very important trigger. Even people with no obvious speech impairment still experience moments of stammering when they are somehow jolted into anger. Knowing this alone will not help you handle anger or the stammering that result but it gives us a better picture of how emotions can impact speech.
Measures to Suppress Stammering
1. Teach yourself to be confident while speaking - It doesn't cost you much to get confident except a few words of assurance that you can do it. Read on Confidence Here. The best way of teaching yourself to be confident is to practice frequently and getting ready for whatever makes you stutter if at all, it does not have an inbuilt trigger.
Anyway, confidence does not necessarily follow practice but it paves the way for you to deliberately muster it. If you are not prepared for it, you can hardly ever build up the required amount of confidence in whatever it is that you are faced with. Hence, your chances of stammering are greatly increased.
2. Drink enough water to moisten your mouth. It affects articulation - Now that you have agreed that a dry mouth can seriously impact the quality of speech, it becomes paramount to adequately take water before and after a major speech presentation be it a casual speech or a professional one. The difference is often dramatic.
3. A clear throat enhances confidence in speech and prevents stammering - I have personally noticed that whenever my voice feels cracked, my speech fluently is affected consequently. This may be due to the unpleasant effect you get when you hear the croaks instead of the melody you planned for.
A rough voice may also reflect the need to take water as well. But if for some other reasons your voice gets rough, it needs to be identified and corrected as soon as possible so as to avoid any moment of stammering that may arise.
4. When you are stuck, stop and spell out the letters before attempting to pronounce - I prescribed this to my very dear friend who was usually caught stammering uncontrollably. His was of some congenital origin. This method helped to reduce the number of vain repetitions of incomplete words due to stammering. If you mean to say "elevate", simply stop and spell each syllable in your mind. For instance that will require spelling "e, l, e" and pronounce that part together as "ele". Then you can then finish the last part as "v, a, t, e" and pronounce as "vate". Finally, combine them and pronounce together as "elevate". All these will be going on in your mind before you actually speak it out. That way you prevent stammering even before it begins.
This works in most cases of stammering.
5. Learn how to overcome stage fright - Overcoming stage fright naturally comes with constant exposure to the crowd. The first moments are usually terrific but with time, you get better at handling large audiences.
One major cause of fear in crowds is the feeling that your audience could see you get it wrong. However, it has been found out that your audience actually wants you to have an excellent speech and are willing to do anything to encourage you. Knowing this alone eliminates one reason to fear on stage.
The other, which seems to be a reflex action by your body when you find yourself in the crowd need to be worked on deliberately. My post on confidence will be useful.
Whether the stammering is spontaneous or only expressed in the face of fear, the points above will be extremely helpful.
For those that seem to have stammered from birth, a combination of two or more of the above measures will prove useful. I also wish you can be as fluent as you wished for. It's mutual and I hope this helps you.