Orchestral Speech

Learning to use Orchestral Speech in Conversational Settings

There are four main reasons to use Orchestral Speech in conversations

  1. To get you started off
  2. To guarantee that you speak fluently (when you really need to be fluent)
  3. To repeat a phrase the listener has failed to understand
  4. To avoid severe stammering—and thus avoid being traumatized by it.

Using Orchestral Speech in conversational settings is more difficult and requires more discipline than using it when reading. So, before attempting to use it in any of these conversational settings, it is essential that you are already well accustomed to using it when reading aloud, and in particular, it is important that you have already learned how to stick to your intended rhythm when you sense upcoming difficulty.

I describe below, how to approach each of these four conversational situations using Orchestral Speech

Using Orchestral Speech to get you started off

People who stammer often find that the first few words of a conversation are the most difficult to say without stammering. This is problematic because, often, these words play a important role in orienting the listener’s attention—especially when making telephone calls. Orchestral Speech is particularly well suited to help you get these first words out, because, in contrast to subsequent words and phrases, you generally have plenty of time to formulate them in advance, especially if you are the person initiating the conversation.

To get some practice at using Orchestral Speech in this way, choose some real-life conversational situations that are relatively un-demanding—like, for example, asking for something in a shop that is not very busy.

Decide exactly what words you are going to use to initiate the conversation and then work out exactly how you want to say those words—in particular, decide on the speed, and on the stress and intonation—just like you would before starting to sing a song. Make sure the phrase you plan is relatively short so that it is well within your capacity to remember how you want to say it  (it is probably best not to plan more than 10 words). If you find it helps, you can count down from three (internally) to establish a rhythm to lead into the phrase, take a short in-breath as you count “one” and start the first word of the phrase exactly on the fourth beat. For example:

“three two one Can I have a box of matches please?

If you are alone beforehand and if you get the opportunity, you can practice saying the phrase a few times together with the internal 3,2,1 count-down. Then, when the time comes to say the phrase in real life, keep exactly to the intended timing and intonation (saying the count-down inside your head). Remember, if a word doesn’t come out, or comes out wrong, just give up on that sound and go straight on to the next sound—just like you would if you were singing a line of a song. Don’t be tempted to stop and go back. Always carry on to the end of the phrase, even if you think the listener hasn’t understood you.

If, after getting to the end of the phrase it is clear that the listener hasn’t understood you, you can then go back and repeat the entire phrase using exactly the same speed, stress and intonation that you just attempted. But this time put a little less effort into it.

You can also use Orchestral Speech to answer the telephone. Have a suitable phrase ready in advance, together (if necessary) with the 3,2,1 run-up. For example:

“three two one Hello, Paul speaking”

Or, if it is a mobile call and you can already see the name of the caller, then something like…

“three two one Hi David

Of course, it’s not necessary to use a 3,2,1 count-down, but it is especially helpful for short utterances. After all, many conversational turns are just one or two words long. An alternative is to start with a few words that are not important, so you have already established a rhythm before you need to say the important words. For example, when ordering matches in a shop, you may ask:

“Can I have a box of matches please”

Because the first 4 words (Can I have a) are unimportant, you can speak them relatively quietly and it doesn’t matter if you miss one or more of them out. They are thus relatively easy to say, and thus constitute a good way to establish a rhythm.

Another alternative way of making it easier to get started is just to take a short sharp in-breath immediately before speaking the first word (as in the McGuire technique) This short in-breath acts as a timing cue, in a similar way to counting before you start speaking.

If the listener doesn’t understand what you’ve said, repeat the entire utterance again, right from the start, sticking to exactly the same planned rhythm, timing, and intonation.

Using Orchestral Speech to guarantee that you speak fluently

Normally, in conversational settings, unless you are a severe stammerer, it is not advisable to continue using Orchestral Speech beyond the first few phrases. If you do, your utterances will sound artificial and labored, and people may perceive that your words are not genuine. Furthermore, as Orchestral Speech is essentially an avoidance technique (inasmuch as you use it to avoid stammering) the more you use it, the more you risk reinforcing the fear of stammering.

Nevertheless, there are times when it is appropriate to continue to use Orchestral Speech despite these disadvantages. For example, when speaking into speech recognition software—which simply won’t recognize stammered speech, or when communicating information like names, addresses, and telephone numbers— or indeed any unavoidable phrases which have a tendency to precipitate more severe stammering.

Using Orchestral Speech to repeat a phrase the listener has failed to understand

Often, during a conversation, it becomes clear that the listener has failed to understand something you have said. When this happens, if it is necessary to repeat what you have said again, then you can use Orchestral Speech to repeat it. As far as possible, try to stick to using exactly the same words you used first time round (provided they are appropriate enough to be able to convey your intended message). Also, decide exactly the speed with which you want to say it and stick to that planned speed. Importantly, when you repeat it, Don’t put any more effort into articulating than you did first time round. This use of Orchestral Speech will be described in more detail in the Jump Module in the slideshow on Integrating The Jump with Orchestral Speech.

However, if when you try saying the phrase using Orchestral Speech you find that the listener is still not understanding you or that you are still getting stuck, don’t keep trying. It’s better to then find a different way of saying it, or write it down, or simply give up and try again another time.

Using Orchestral Speech to avoid severe stammering

Generally speaking, Orchestral Speech is not suitable for use in ongoing conversation. It’s hard work, especially if you need to pre-formulate what you want to say, and the results don’t sound spontaneous. In comparison, its much easier to simply allow yourself to stammer mildly and to use the Jump to get you going again if and when you get stuck. However, using Orchestral Speech is definitely a better option than severe stammering, and if you tend to stammer severely, Orchestral Speech may well be the best option to use for any ongoing conversations that would otherwise be likely to precipitate your severe stammering.

There are two reasons for this…

Firstly, the best option for ongoing conversation—”the Jump”—frequently doesn’t work in situations where one is stammering severely. (It only works for moments of mild stammering—i.e. when most of your words come out fluently).

Secondly, each time you allow yourself to stammer severely, you traumatize yourself, and this increases the likelihood that you will stammer severely in similar situations in the future. So, it is better to avoid severe stammering—and one way of avoiding it is by using orchestral speech—if you are able to do so.

In situations where you are likely to stammer severely, Orchestral Speech will have the best chance of working if you employ it right from the moment you start to speak—and continue employing it until the risk of severe stammering is no longer present.

Nevertheless, you may find that Orchestral Speech doesn’t work in some conversational situations, in which case it is better to stop talking altogether and give your body an adequate opportunity to recover before trying to speak again (This may take 15 to 30 minutes, and often the best way to calm yourself is by going for a walk or doing something physical).

Remember, when speaking, even when you are not practicing Orchestral Speech, be as strict with yourself as you can to maintain your intended speech rate. If you start to slow down when you anticipate stammering on an upcoming word, then Orchestral Speech won’t work. Moreover, slowing down before an anticipated stammer increases the tendency to anticipate stammering in similar situations in the future.

Using Orchestral Speech without pre-formulating

Orchestral speech results in maximum fluency if you have the time to consciously pre-formulate what you want to say (including it’s rhythm and stress pattern) in advance. This is because, if you pre-formulate, there is less chance that you will lose the rhythm and forward flow due to word-finding difficulties or sentence-formulation difficulties. However, in ongoing spontaneous conversations, more often than not, there simply isn’t the time to consciously pre-formulate everything. This may not pose a problem if your sentence-formulation abilities are relatively strong and fast, in which case you may find that you can speak sufficiently fluently to enable successful communication simply by making a special effort to giving highest priority to maintaining the forward flow and not worrying too much about how the words come out.

Although this Orchestral Speech may work very well for you, we don’t advocate relying on it as your primary approach to speaking in conversational settings, because at the end of the day, it constitutes a form of avoidance and it may tend to increase your fear of blocking in the future. A much more satisfactory approach is to learn to use the Jump—which does diminish the fear of blocking in the future.

When you have completed  this module, we recommend that you read through the list of Frequently Asked Questions on the following page.

Then, if you have not already done so…

Orchestral Speech