Kelly Brown was raised in the Scottish Borders where he developed his passion for rugby. Having started his career with his local club, Melrose, Kelly, 25, is now playing professional rugby with the Glasgow Warriors and has represented his country on the international stage, including the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
"You're not alone. It is a fairly common problem. As long as you feel confident and comfortable with yourself, your speech need not hold you back at all, mine hasn't. At school and Uni I just got on with it. No one is perfect - and there are much worse things than not being able to talk from time to time."
"I'm not too sure when I started stammering. My first real memory was when I came back from a school ski trip in primary seven. I was asked to stand up in front of the school and speak about it to the class. I had a script - but when I stood up, I just couldn't say anything. Thankfully, one of the teachers noticed that I was struggling and they asked me lots of questions about it - as soon as they did that it helped me get through it.
My memories of stammering after that are quite vague. I'm not exactly sure how much it affected me, whether I stammered more then than now. I've got some memories of stammering in high school. For example, in fifth and sixth year I remember having several parts in school shows. I would go through the script with the music teacher, changing words and sentences around so I could actually say them - but I wouldn't say my speech was really a big issue.
I had some speech therapy in primary school, but I wasn't very motivated. I thought I was fine without it. Speech therapy isn't a top priority for boy of 11 or 12! My parents had been told not to force the issue so it didn't become a major psychological issue. In fifth year of high school I had a few more speech therapy sessions, which helped, but as soon as I noticed an improvement, I probably thought I'd cracked it and I'd lose interest - and then it would gradually get worse again.
My Dad stammers. He's Irish and works as a vet. He's a keen rugby man and plays golf. He's done a lot of after dinner speaking and is quite a social animal. Stammering certainly has not held him back, in fact, exactly the opposite. He uses stammering as a tool to make people laugh! He's not sensitive abut it. Looking back now, I guess he helped me to adopt the same attitude. Dad can still stammer quite a lot. I couldn't say whether he stammers less now than he used to - we never really notice. It's just part of who he is. It hasn't stopped him from doing anything.
I just kind of accept my own stammering too. Ideally, I wouldn't have it, but it's just part of me. The main thing I have learned is that so much of it is down to whether you have confidence, and, as someone wise once said to me, 'stammering is something that happens more when you try not to stammer'. That's something I've tried to take on. If you stress about it too much it only has an detrimental effect.
The only thing I really find a challenge is doing TV interviews. It's fine because you can do several takes but even so, I don't really like watching it back. Most people might not even notice the times when I stammer but I can pick it up exactly. Although I'm quite self accepting most of the time, this can make me self-critical. Talking face to face with journalists is fine. I'll sometimes stammer, but nowadays I don't really care, as long as the person I'm talking to already knows I stammer. If I'm talking to someone new and they don't know, and I start stammering or blinking, what worries me is that they must be thinking 'what the hell is this guy doing?' So, sometimes I'll mention my stammer in advance. It changes from situation to situation.
I don't have any massively long terms plans at the moment. I just want to keep on winning at rugby and being successful for Scotland. From a speech point of view, I would definitely like to improve, but because I'm fairly confident and comfortable with myself, I don't really have a strong drive to make changes. I'm also incredibly busy!
I guess, in conclusion, I'd say you can't afford to be too critical of yourself. If you can make a joke of it, you can make the situation funny. For example, I might say 'Oh, come on, spit it out Kelly!' I've done a few speeches and I just make a joke about stammering at the start, stuff like 'I've been stuck with this for twenty five years so you can put up with it for twenty five minutes'. This tends to put both the audience and yourself at ease which obviously helps - and it often gets a big laugh!"
From the Spring 2008 issue of Blether, the BSA Scotland Newsletter.
An edited version is published in the Autumn 2008 edition of Speaking Out.
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