by JOHN C. HARRISON The National Stuttering Project USA

Reviewed by Peter O'Sullivan, British Stammering Association

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 every 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 expedience 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 are thought provoking, and thankfully avoid 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 from my enjoyment of the book. Far from it. It seems that his aim is to actually to 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 publshed in manual form, [many of] the essays can also be found on the Internet

added September 21, 1997