How To Conquer Your Fears of Speaking Before People
by John C Harrison.
(The book has since been re-titled: 'REDEFINING STUTTERING - What The Struggle To Speak Is Really All About')
Review by Jan Anderson | Review by Peter O'Sullivan
Review by Jan Anderson
(Autumn 2002 issue of 'Speaking Out')
John Harrison will be familiar to many BSA members as a leading light in the National Stuttering Association of America and presenter at past BSA conferences. His model of stammering - the Stuttering Hexagon - represents a holistic perspective on how stammering is created and maintained. He has also delivered workshops in the USA, UK and Australia on developing confidence in public speaking.
John asserts that this book, now in its eighth edition, is not about becoming more fluent. The techniques it contains aim to help people develop self-confidence and become 'good speakers'. 'Being a good speaker has everything to do with how alive and confident you are in front of people', he states, in a vein which sits well with the approach adopted in Speaking Circles, popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
John believes that dysfluent speech is only part of a wider 'system' which contributes to stammering and his approach seeks to address associated perceptions, beliefs and emotions. He proposes that: 'change in speech is not possible without lasting change in the system that supports it.' Further, he suggests that many people who stammer hold themselves back and operate within a restricted comfort zone. Instead, this book encourages people to develop a more expressive communication style, initially through experimenting in the safety of a supportive and respectful group.
The manual comprises four main sections. Part one is a training manual which details the key skills John emphasises in his public speaking workshops. Parts two, three and four contain articles on stammering and change.
Part one contains ten exercises with issues for discussion. John places a high priority on feedback. 'In the safety and support of a group meeting, fellow members can help you see yourself more clearly and encourage you to let go'. These exercises would be a useful source of inspiration in any self-help/therapist led group. John conveys convincingly that we need to loosen up and really play to get the most out of ourselves!
Parts two, three and four represent, by John's own admission, 'a patchwork of essays linked together to form ... an unconventional view of stuttering'.
Part two aims to define the stammering system, based on the premise that 'the forces that drive stuttering are present in all the other parts of your life ... your speech and your life must be seen as cut from the same cloth'. John's model of stammering and his suggestions for change draw on his experience of holistic approaches to self-discovery and personal growth in California. I appreciated the diverse range of ideas and influences which contribute to the articles in this section, which includes detailed reference to the Stuttering Hexagon.
Part three includes assorted essays on practical approaches to change.
Part four comprises four articles about/by other people who stutter. The first story describes a woman who was not ready for change while the final three are the scripts of talks by people who have successfully resolved their issues with stammering.
In conclusion, this is a large and wide-ranging text that runs to 323 pages. It is presented in ring bound format and comes across as a combined training manual and collection of essays. If I have any criticism, it would be that its sheer volume renders it a dense and dauntingly heavy tome! The public speaking section could form a book in itself and each of the essays could stand alone - indeed, with respect to the essays, the same background material is returned to many times - and a slimmer, less repetitive whole could be achieved through some sensitive editing. That said, the book is immensely rewarding - whether you dip into an appealing section or sit down with more time to spare. It is so full of inspiring material that I am reluctant to return it to the BSA library! I wholeheartedly concur with John Harrison's holistic orientation and look forward to meeting the man himself at the BSA conference in London in September (Webmaster's note: Jan is referring to our 2002 conference where John Harrison was the keynote speaker.)
Jan Anderson is a specialist speech and language therapist with extensive experience of working with adults who stammer. At the time of writing she worked part-time for BSA.
Review by Peter O'Sullivan
(Winter 1995 issue of 'Speaking Out')
Ask a stammerer to list the situations that he finds most daunting and it is likely that public speaking would sit somewhere near the top. The very idea of standing in front of an audience that is waiting on your very word is enough to turn many a stammerer into a quivering wreck. John Harrison's excellent book seeks to address this fear head on. But before you turn away at the thought of a guide to public speaking, please wait. The book provides much more than a simple speech maker's manual. True, it does provide a series of public speaking exercises, each written in a highly entertaining manner, but in addition it includes a number of witty, evocative, and hugely enjoyable essays that I would highly recommend.
The book began life as a public speaking manual to be used at chapter meetings of the American National Stuttering Project. The exercises were designed to allow stammerers to try out various aspects of public speaking in front of fellow stammerers. It was hoped that this would provide stammerers with new speaking experiences and act as a springboard for anyone prepared to try out public speaking in a more challenging environment. It has been highly successful in America and there is no reason why this success shouldn't be matched in Britain. The book has obvious potential for 'group' speech therapy and at self-help group meetings.
Each of the ten public speaking exercises are simply and enjoyably written, and do not appear to be overly challenging. The emphasis throughout is on presentation rather than voice mechanics. Each speech concentrates on exaggerating one aspect of delivery, such as eye-contact, adding voice intonation, or using body movement as a means of expression. By experimenting with each of the speeches the focus is diverted from basic word production towards other presentation skills. The speaker should develop increased confidence which in turn should reduce anxiety. Although the improved confidence is likely to reduce the severity of the stammer, the book does not purport to be a therapy manual. Any improvement in fluency is a desirable spin-off, rather than the goal. The objective is to make public speaking a pleasurable and rewarding experience, and not the knee-trembling purgatory it often is.
The series of essays that follow could almost be called 'The Collected Thoughts of John Harrison'. In them, Harrison, who stammered from early childhood and well into adulthood, ponders a number of topics related to speech and stammering largely based on his own experiences. His non-clinical, holistic approach is refreshing, and his style of writing, using numerous anecdotes punctuated with rich American dialect is a pleasure to read. Each of the essays is thought provoking, and thankfully avoids preaching. I found a number of his views to be contentious, and at times I wondered whether Harrison was being deliberately provocative. But that didn't deflect form my enjoyment of the book. Far from it. It seems that his aim is to actually get people to think for themselves and look beyond their stammer towards those in-built attitudes that govern people's lives. Harrison argues that fluency is a factor of a number of interlocking components, such as perceptions and beliefs. Only by managing each of the components can any fluency system be managed.
Harrison's book is highly recommended. As well as being published in manual form, the essays can also be found on the Internet at address www.mnsu.edu/dept/comdis/kuster/Infostuttering/Harrison/essays.html.
Update 2008: the 2008 (12th) edition of Harrison's book, re-titled 'REDEFINING STUTTERING - What The Struggle To Speak Is Really All About', is now freely available online at www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/Infostuttering/Harrison/redefining.html.
More about John Harrison: The nature and nurture of stammering, which includes further links.
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