It is something most of us do without thinking, but up until just a few months ago, the thought of opening his mouth to speak filled Co Armagh man David McIntosh with terror.
The father-of-three has spent his life avoiding everyday things that the rest of us take for granted, such as answering the phone or ordering a takeaway.
A severe stammer has hindered the 44-year-old civil servant at school, in university and the workplace as David felt so much shame when struggling to speak that he often opted to stay quiet.
Now, after completing an intensive course designed to correct stammers, David, from Tandragee, has been astonished by how much his quality of life has improved.
Tools to help him overcome the stutter, which has been part of his life since the age of just four years old, have been helping his speech to flow and allowing him to talk in situations which he would have previously avoided.
He says: “Before the programme I felt caged in. I couldn’t be myself. I would have thought something but couldn’t say it. Even when I was out with friends I would have sat and said nothing because I didn’t want to feel ashamed of my stutter.
“Now, I have so much more confidence. Just before I did the programme, I had been invited to be best man at my friend’s wedding and there is no way I could have made a speech.
“Two weeks after I finished it, I was able to stand up in front of 80 people and do a whole speech for the first time in my life.
“I still had a few wee blips, but the fact that I even did it was incredible, as I wouldn’t have considered it before.”
His first public speech was thanks to the McGuire Programme, which was founded in 1994 by American Dave McGuire.
It is run by people who stammer and is now in demand worldwide.
The McGuire Programme Ireland caters for people in Northern Ireland by running programmes at different locations here as well as on Zoom.
It involves an intensive three- to four-day residential or online course to help you overcome your stammer and become a more effective communicator.
The course teaches techniques, which, when used daily, can help anyone with a speech impediment.
For David, who has two daughters, aged eight and 12, plus a nine-year-old son, the programme has proved truly life-changing: “I did the course in the Canal Court Hotel in Newry in March.
“I had a few Zooms before it to meet the tutors and the others who would be on it with me.
“It was a fairly intensive four days and it was good that all the instructors have a stutter themselves. There were 12 of us on the course.
“The first morning at 6.30am the tutor rang you to your room to see how you managed talking on the phone.
“The days were long, starting at 7am until 7pm. The first day we focused mostly on learning a breathing technique.
“They taught us how to take in a good full breath, filling the diaphragm, which they called ‘costal breathing’.
“As you start to talk you empty out what air you have taken in and that helps the words flow more easily.”
Costal breathing uses movements of the ribs to drive both the inhale and the exhale phases of your breath.
Other techniques included ‘hit and hold’ where attendees were encouraged to put emphasis (or hit) the first sound in the word hard and hold it for a moment so that the rest of the word should flow. This is useful, as people who stammer often struggle with certain sounds, especially at the start of words.
‘Block release’ also helps with this, teaching how to stop and take a full costal breath before continuing with a difficult sound.
‘Deep and breathy tone’ involves speaking not from the voice box, but from deeper down to get a stronger tone.
The programme also uses the mantra “Pause, breathe, speak”.
For David, these simple techniques have allowed his speech to flow more freely for the first time in his life, opening up opportunities he previously denied himself because of his stutter.
He says: “The change has been massive. Some people find the first sound in a word hard and for me that was ‘ch’. I couldn’t say Christmas or order chips in a chip shop.
“Now I can say Christmas in two parts by using a full coastal breath and the ‘hit and hold’ method.
“My stammer has really held me back all of my life.
“At university, while studying construction engineering and management, I wouldn’t talk in front of the class.
“My confidence wasn’t great at school, and there would have been certain ones who would have picked on me, but thankfully I had good friends who accepted it.
“When you do talk, you feel ashamed and you feel as if you are wasting people’s time because you are so slow when everyone else is able to talk properly.
“I was also always afraid of talking on the phone and would have avoided it. Now, I just pick it up without thinking.
“I have gone for interviews for promotion in work and I remember one interviewer writing on the form afterwards that I had a severe stammer.
“I hated going into a chip shop or a takeaway as I would have been filled with fear at having to order my food. Now, I just go in and ask for what I want.”
The course costs £1,500, a sum that wasn’t readily available to David, and he is forever grateful to a local charity who stepped in to help.
He explains: “My marriage broke up last December and I was struggling with it and sought counselling at Portadown Wellness Centre.
“The man who runs it, Alan McDowell, rang me up one day and said he knew I had a hard year and asked me if I wanted to see that there is still some good in the world?
“He told me about the McGuire Programme, which I had never heard about, and said the charity would lend me the money to do it.
“If it hadn’t been for their kindness, I wouldn’t have had that help.
“I had just been asked to be best man at my friend’s wedding and knew I couldn’t do it because I could not do a speech.
“Two weeks after the programme I did something I had never thought I would ever do: I stood up and talked to a room of 80 people.”
No one was more delighted for David than his parents and his sister and two brothers.
His parents had sent him to speech therapy as a child, but it didn’t help treat his stammer.
He adds: “My parents actually cried. They were shocked by the change in me.
“It has been life-changing and I would like to thank Alan of Portadown Wellness Centre, because without him I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.”
To find out more about the McGuire Programme and courses in Northern Ireland, visit