BSA held its 14th National Conference at Collingwood College, Durham last September. Four attendees share their experiences of the weekend. You can also watch a short video.
Many new friends
As a first time attendee, I went to the BSA conference not knowing what to expect. I signed up mostly because I'd heard from other people who stammer, mostly through the internet, that going to a conference was an experience they cherish and highly recommend. But I was still apprehensive. How many new people would I meet? How many times would I have to introduce myself? Whom would I talk to over the weekend? Would I have a good time? But I packed my bags, got on a train at King's Cross and 3 hours later found myself checked into a private room at the college.
It was Friday evening and people were just finishing dinner. I was met by Norbert Lieckfeldt (BSA Chief Executive), who made sure I got a plate of hot (and very good) food that I ate whilst sharing awkward conversation with people I didn't know. I then headed down to the bar, still a little nervous. But the rest of the evening was exhilarating! Everyone wanted to say hello; strangers became friends - I loosened up and had a great time.
Saturday was filled with workshops and presentations. Feeling much more comfortable in my surroundings, I picked the ones that sounded most interesting to me. I went in with an open mind, learned a few new things and experienced some great speakers, who just happened to be people who stammered. I got the opportunity to learn some singing techniques and even lay on a bed of nails! We were treated to a great lunch and an even better dinner, where I made more friends. Some after dinner activities had been planned for us that included some lovely music, daredevil acts by Bob Adams and finally a raffle. I was a lucky winner and walked away with a lovely painting of The King's Speech.
When I awoke the next morning, I could barely believe it was Sunday already and very nearly time to head back home. The day started with an incredible speech by Harry Dhillon, an advanced Toastmaster. Hearing him inspired me to join a club myself. At the end there was an opportunity for us to get up in front of an audience and say a few words. I stood up and expressed my gratitude to everyone in attendance for an incredible 2 days. I came not knowing what to expect, but left with many new friends and a feeling of pride at being a person who stammers.
Liberation and acceptance
After watching The King's Speech at the age of 42, I googled 'stammering' for the first time in my life. I found BSA, and details of the conference. I never booked it of course - we covert stammerers have avoidance techniques well-ingrained into our psyches. It took me a further 4 months of deliberation, but I was determined to book it. I had stammered for 40 years and had only met in that time (that I can remember) two other people who stammered. At the conference, I met many. I felt like I belonged. A network of friends - people who stammered like George VI - like me. We mostly got drunk - the social side was intoxicating, but it wasn't just the alcohol flowing, it was the liberation, the acceptance, the: "Hey, you get me". I could block or I could freely stammer and people didn't care. The group of friends I became close with had a sense of humour just like mine.
The workshops were interesting - I found George Campbell's and Michael O'Shea's presentations the most inspiring; and I enjoyed Bob Adams' 'Face the Fear' circus tricks immensely. The food was good and the accommodation pleasant. I loved going to Durham again - I had only been there once before. I walked up to the city centre with new friends that Sunday morning.
The main thing I came away with was the incredibly liberating sensation that people 'got' me after 40 years of not having that. It was like the 'looking in on a fluent world window' had been removed. I realised that it doesn't matter that you have a stammer - the only barrier is how you feel and your perception of your own self worth. The conference, and meeting people who stammered, removed that barrier. Durham, September 2011, really did change my life.
A therapist's experience
I've been a speech and language therapist (SLT) since 1980 and a specialist in stammering since 1994. I promised myself that I'd get round to attending a BSA conference, so I went and had a great time. The setting and accommodation was good, the catering superb, the organisation impeccable, and there was plenty of time for informal discussion outside the scheduled sessions. Congratulations all round!
It was great to be off-duty at the same time as discussing an area of work which is deeply interesting. The formal session I felt most inspired by, though there were many others, was the one about training staff to work better with people who stammer, which was extremely clear, thought-provoking, practical and gave (chocolate) prizes. Otherwise, there were numerous discussions at mealtimes, at the bar, outside in the gardens and in the foyer. It was good to hear so many personal stories, and to be able to react and tell my own without having to wear a professional persona.
Being a keen writer and member of a local storytelling group, I believe that in a sense stories are all we have to enable us to understand our experiences and to imagine making the changes we want. My hunch is that we as SLTs and people who stammer (PWS), probably all have many stories to tell, and this was borne out in a session I facilitated about the changes in the SLT/PWS relationship, which I have seen in my 31 years' practice. Much of my prepared material went unused as the ideas flew thick and fast, and there's probably a lot more mileage to be had out of this topic. Will I go to another conference? You bet!
Win Ashmore, independent speech and language therapist
After finding BSA by accident, trawling the internet after hearing about this movie called The King's Speech, I joined their Facebook page. How was I to know it would change my life?
A few of us on the page had already exchanged numbers and conversations but had never met before. On arrival at the airport I met up with one friendly face and as we went to the college there were many more. Gradually over the afternoon we all met up and told each other our stories. It was quite a remarkable thing: these people I didn't really know - there we all were, probably sharing things we had never shared with another human being. But we had something in common: we all stammered.
That evening over dinner we talked and planned what workshops we were going to. At the talk given by John Evans, I made a conscious decision that I was going to speak at every session I attended. This particular talk gave great inspiration in doing what makes us genuinely happy, to have goals and to live as well as we can. Following this there were more inspirational talks and workshops involving body language, using the telephone, and the different techniques and courses on offer. If you didn't want to attend some of these you could stroll around the lovely college grounds or simply relax around the television. At mealtimes everyone was talking about what they had seen or taken part in - it definitely wasn't quiet at the tables! The bar after dinner was even less quiet - as we Irish say, "It was quare craic!"
On the final morning there was an open mic session and a few of us got up simply to say thank you - I can honestly say I was not prepared for how emotional the experience was. For me, the whole weekend went so quickly, spending time with a group of folk from different walks of life, from all over the UK, just being ourselves. That is what I got out of it: finding I can quite happily be myself, that it's ok to stammer and that I am not alone in this anymore. I went home with a whole new bunch of entries in my address book and made plans to get together again, plans that we have kept. So I look forward, in 2012, to taking part in a sponsored walk in Scotland and to the next conference!
From the Winter 2011/12 issue of 'Speaking Out', pages 8-9