BSA member Mikey Tose reflects on his 7th BSA Conference, which took place on the 22nd-24th August 2014 in Glasgow.
Ever since the critical and commercial success of The King’s Speech in 2011, the phrase “I have a voice” has become a worthy line for people who stammer, reminding us that each person who stammers does indeed have a voice. But often in our working lives, families and social circles, we are the only ones with a stammer. British Stammering Association conferences offer the unique opportunity of creating an environment in which many voices speak with varying degrees of dysfluency: covert and overt speakers, and those practising techniques learnt on courses come together, and where the ‘I’ in “I have a voice” can become “WE have a voice”.
To become part of this collective voice, the 2014 event in Glasgow would mark my 7th attendance at a BSA conference. It would mark the 7th time I would be feeling the fear of finding the venue after getting off at the train station, the 7th time I would have to tackle train timetables and connecting trains on my own and the 7th time I would have to do this in reverse to get myself home again.
But on the wonderful flip-side, it would be the 7th time I rediscovered the hidden courage that I didn’t know I had. The 7th time I would be reunited with old friends, make new ones and finally meet those who I had only known from social media. It would also ultimately be the 7th time I would spend an amazing weekend stammering openly with these people and making some great memories.
I spent my time in Glasgow talking, listening, doing some more talking, more listening and being inspired by the courage and life stories of others. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to as many people as I could, regardless of their age, background or how severe they might have felt their stammer was. Also in abundance were the many handshakes and hugs from old friends and indeed, hugs from people I have never met. But these hugs were given so warmly they felt as if they were from old friends. The joy and surprise on peoples’ faces when they realised they had met friends from social media in the flesh. I found myself wondering, ‘even if the conference was a few more days longer, would we still have time to meet everyone?’
As ever, there was such a varied choice of workshops and choosing which to go to is never easy. I enjoyed and embraced all the stories, theories and thinking I encountered in the workshops that I attended. We had such a wide range of speakers from all walks of life - those in professions such as the Army, business, speech therapy, stand-up comedy and others. My only regret was not being able to go to more.
The decision to mix people up and have a seating plan at the Saturday evening gala dinner was inspired and allowed us to speak to those we may not have had a chance to up until then. Just another example of the conference expanding any comfort zones we may have had, myself included. The constant talking and listening in the student bar and other parts of the campus and venturing out into the city centre in the evenings all added to group and individual memories and experiences.
What I’ll take away
So what will I take from this conference? Not just the realisation that I do indeed have the hidden courage I don’t always know I have to get myself to a new place (after walking from the station to the venue, physically clutching a map and constantly reassuring myself that I was going the right way). But also an urge to tell myself and others:
- Don’t leave your courage in Glasgow; remember how we all got ourselves there by whatever transport means necessary. Remember the next time you are daunted by the thought of travelling to a new place - you have done it before and it went OK. Remember that courage.
- Don’t leave your expanded comfort zones at the gala dinner, when we were sat next to those we perhaps hadn’t had a chance to speak to yet. Remember starting that first conversation with those sat beside you and the ease that you were able to talk to them and others at your table. Remember that expanded comfort zone.
- Don’t leave your bravery of speaking to a packed room of people at the open mic session in the lecture theatre; if you can do that to 50+ people, think of the possibilities of future public speaking, including job interviews and telephone calls. Remember holding that microphone in your hand and holding your head high when you spoke, followed by the applause. Remember that bravery.
- Also, for those who didn’t come to the conference and have thought about it; start thinking of embracing your fear to attend and do it anyway at the next one. Get onto social media sites, talk to those who attended and remember we all had a first step to take to our first conference. You may arrive feeling like a stranger but you will be leaving as a friend and possibly changed in ways you didn’t realise.
Throughout all the workshops, the opening/closing ceremonies, the civil reception, the gala dinner and the chatting at meal/break times, my most favourite sounds were the unheard voices of courage, acceptance, patience, joy and compassion for ourselves and those around us.
These voices were never as loud as in the emotional open mic ceremony. So many first-timers came down the steps, those who had been to conferences before but never spoken at an open mic, those who came down in support groups, in pairs and by themselves. My Welsh friend caught me off-guard at Sunday’s lunch when he thanked me for asking him if he wanted to come to the front to speak with me. I sat there with a lump the size of a golf ball in my throat. I know that these unheard voices will be filling every part of the next BSA conference, just like at this one for us all, and again, for me, “I have a voice” will become “When we have voice”.