Why stuttering openly is a good career move

ed Ed Balls

Do you need to give a presentation but are worried about looking and sounding confident? Then take some tips from a top UK politician.

It sounds simple, but telling people that he had a stutter took a huge amount of courage. It has paid off though, because right now, Ed Balls has given himself some breathing space in one of the toughest jobs in UK politics (as the equivalent in Canada of the opposition finance critic).

He puts his newfound openness down to two things.

  1. Overcoming fear. “I was desperately worried that if I ever tried to get help, the experts would say that I’d have to stop what I was doing and rebuild my speech for three months. In the meantime I have to be in the House of Commons every day, so I couldn’t do that. Learning that my stammer is a normal part of me was essential.
  2. Acceptance. “After I had been in the Cabinet for three years, I realised I was going to have to deal with my stammer and get some help. Once I accepted it is a normal part of me and decided I wasn’t going to try and cover it up, it was much easier to deal with.”

But this acceptance, and feeling able to talk about stuttering, takes time - especially if you can hide your stutter. If it was one thing to be open with himself, it was another thing to be open with the public. That was the next step. Consider this: when he stuttered in an important parliamentary debate a few months ago, the next morning on primetime BBC radio, an interviewer asked him - live on air - if he really knew what he was talking about. “People were saying I lacked confidence in my argument,” he said. “I was asked: ‘Did you let people down?’ Although I hadn’t gone in to the interview intending to say I stuttered, I felt I owed it to people to say that it is something that happens to me now and then, it happens in a more pressured environment and it is just the way it is for me - no excuses. That was a turning point.”

Another turning point was being confronted by a journalist whose son stuttered. Ed had been supporting organisations in the UK helping children and adults, but had not said publically that he stuttered. “After the launch of a DVD for teachers, a journalist said to me: ‘my child’s got a stammer and I can tell you have, but why won’t you speak about it? What a copout - what a difference it would make to my son if you spoke up.’ I felt like a real coward. But I wasn’t speaking about me partly because I was a bit scared to and partly because I wanted it to be about the children - and that was the moment when I realised I could do more good for children and adults by speaking about it rather than biting my lip.”


For more information about Ed Balls

Ed Balls' blog