Christopher Weet offered people who stammer a chance to overcome their fears of public speaking at an event in Gillingham last winter.
On 5th December I organised a local public speaking event - for want of a better title I decided to call it a "speak easy". It was just a crazy idea that began when I was attending a stammering self-help group held at St Barts' in Rochester, and we were discussing venues where we could practice public speaking. I had a venue in mind, the local church hall. I put it to the group and they seemed very keen.
So I went ahead and began to organise it. I asked the appropriate people, I'm a member of the church, so my idea was to get up in the service and announce the event at the end, and ask for people to come along and make up the audience. But the vicar wasn't going to let me get away with that. (There is a phrase in Christian circles called getting out of the boat - it means trying something new. Well the Vicar likes to try and push people out of the boat!) So the vicar called me out to the front and she interviewed me about the event and why public speaking is so important.
There is a phrase in Christian circles called getting out of the boat - it means trying something new. Well the Vicar likes to try and push people out of the boat!
At the event Libby Garner, who was the resident speech and language therapist at the time, spoke first. She explained about stammering, giving some facts, some of the causes and possible treatments. Then there was an opportunity for questions and answers.
Then it was my turn to talk. I shared some of my experiences growing up with a stammer, and explained how I always made light of my stammer because otherwise there would be too many questions to follow. Then I went on to explain about how I felt about speech therapy, or group therapy, which had a profound effect on my life. I am very lucky because I have found that I am completely relaxed in public speaking, I suppose it's the thrill of doing something that I never thought I would be able to do.
Jon spoke next; he was also from the St Barts' self help group. Jon's stammer was more prominent than mine, so I thought that it took a lot more courage than me to get up and speak. But Jon kept his stammer under good control, and explained a bit about his experiences.
So far as I knew, it was only me and Jon who were going to speak. However, I asked the audience if anyone else wanted to speak and to my surprise this guy called Martin got up. I had spoken to him briefly and I knew that he was really struggling with his stammer.
When Martin started to speak he had the whole audience in the palm of his hand, he was getting stuck on just about every word, but all credit to him he kept going, he had something that he wanted to say and he was going to say it. He told a story about how he tried to get on a bus once and the driver laughed at him when he stammered. It was such a wonderful moment and it really spoke volumes to the people watching who until that point hadn't realised how traumatic a stammer can be.
Then after Martin had spoken Jess, a girl from the self help group, who had said she wasn't going to speak, got up and spoke! It really was a brilliant day and everyone who came went away with a positive experience. Some of the feedback was that we should do it at schools.
The feedback we got from the audience was very encouraging. People wanted to know what they could do to make it easier for people who stammer. Martin explained that they should keep eye contact and be patient.
I got a huge amount of satisfaction from knowing that I had organised the event and that it was so successful. I encourage anyone else who is thinking about public speaking to really go for it. I was unsure if people would be interested or if people would turn up, but they were and they did. So go for it!
From Speaking Out Summer 2010, page 12