The movie The King’s Speech, which debuts Nov. 26, documents King George VI’s struggle to overcome his stutter and lead the U.K. through World War II. Like the King, America’s approximately 3 million stutterers can improve by doing what they may fear the most: Speak in public. Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org) offers a supportive, safe and therapeutic atmosphere for people of all backgrounds to practice their speaking and leadership skills.
Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation says, “Many people have told us how helpful the [Toastmasters] organization has been for them,” she says. “Not only do they gain valuable public speaking experience in a friendly and encouraging atmosphere, they are relieved to discover that most ‘normal’ speakers are also terrified to speak in public.”
People who joined Toastmasters because of their life-long stutter share their experience:
Byron Embry, of Colorado Springs, Colo., has a message: “Your handicap may just be your greatest asset.” He should know. Growing up Embry had a severe stutter and as a result, endured cruel taunts from others. However, his determination to overcome such drawbacks led him to tackle his speech problems head on to become a professional baseball player with the Atlanta Braves. He now is a successful motivational speaker. Along the way, Toastmasters played a key role.
Embry’s advice to people who stutter: “The first step is to understand that you are not alone. Second, understand there is a method and way for [the stutter] to be corrected. Speaking in front of an audience and getting feedback will get you positive results.”
Anna Margolina, of Redmond, Wash., grew up in Russia, where she underwent many years of speech therapy. After immigrating to the United State in 2001, her self-confidence and fluency plummeted as she became painfully aware that her accent, combined with her stutter, made it difficult for others to understand her. Instead of hiding behind her words, she joined Toastmasters.
Margolina’s advice to people who stutter: “Be open about your stuttering and don’t be afraid to talk about it. People do notice it, and if you haven’t acknowledged your stuttering, they don’t know how to react.”
Russ Hicks, of Plano, Texas, once considered public speaking impossible. “I discovered that if you face your fears, you find that your fears aren’t as real as you think they are,” he says. “It’s one of the most empowering feelings in the world to do something that you or other people think you can’t possibly do.”
Hicks’s advice to those who don’t stutter: “When you talk to a stutterer, listen to what we’re saying, not how we’re saying it. Keep normal eye contact, and don’t finish sentences for us.”
To find a list of Toastmasters clubs, please visit www.toastmasters.org/findaclub