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Increasing public awareness

Alan Badmington | 01.09.2003

Alan Badmington speaks of his own experiences of addressing community organisations and approaching the media, while also offering suggestions on how to follow suit.

Alan BadmingtonThose who were present during the 'open microphone' session at the last BSA conference will have heard me speak of the need to create a greater public awareness about stuttering. How can we expect others to understand what is happening, or know how to react, when we suddenly block or display secondary behaviours? In many instances, even members of our own families have little knowledge about the difficulties that we experience.

So, isn't it time that we did something about it? My comments are directed towards persons who stutter - you, me and the other 75,000 who live in the UK. Who better to relate our stories, than those of us who have encountered the problem for so long, very often since childhood?

Two years ago, I decided to do just that - I felt it was time that others should become better acquainted with what it is like to be a PWS. I also saw it as a means of expanding my comfort zones, by placing myself in those challenging speaking situations that I had always avoided.

I initially prepared for the venture by joining the Association of Speakers Clubs to improve my confidence and presentational skills. Having stuttered since childhood, I knew I had to change the belief that I could never successfully perform such a role. I needed to revise my self-image, so that I could fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming a public speaker.

There are many avenues that may be explored: public speaking, newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Let me deal with them in that order.

Public Speaking

I was surprised to learn of the numerous organisations within the community that require speakers for their regular meetings. The majority convene weekly or fortnightly. It's just a question of letting them know of your availability. Strangely enough, I didn't have to make much of an effort. A former colleague learned of my desire to spread the word and (unknown to me) suggested to the secretary of his local Probus Club (a country-wide network comprising professional and business persons) that they might invite me to speak at one of their future meetings.

I spoke for an hour on the many problems that I have encountered. The degree of interest that my talk had generated was overwhelming. I told them about the avoidances; the secondary behaviours; the emotional baggage; the heartache, frustration and lost opportunities that blighted my career as a police officer. You could hear a pin drop as I graphically described my experiences, with the aid of numerous anecdotes.

But it was not all doom and gloom - I introduced humour. I spoke about the time I invented a false identity (Adrian Adams) at the dry-cleaner's because I could not say my name. Unknown to me, someone else decided to collect the items on my behalf. When she requested the jacket and trousers for Alan Badmington, there was no record. That required a great deal of explanation.

Since that introductory talk, my speaking engagements have escalated dramatically, as news has filtered rapidly along the community grapevine. The need for new speakers is insatiable and those who join the 'circuit' become very much in demand. Without virtually any promotion, I currently have a programme of engagements that extends well into 2004. They include such organisations as the Women's Institute, Rotary Club, Towns Women's Guild, church groups, St John Ambulance Brigade, a history society and many other Probus clubs. In some cases, I am returning for a second and third time to present subjects not related to stuttering.

A pleasant bonus is that I receive financial donations to help the BSA. I am also frequently invited to join the hosts for a meal - thereby further improving my social and interpersonal skills.

One final point: Most groups tend to organise their speakers at least 6-12 months in advance, so it is unlikely that you will secure a vacancy in the immediate future, unless a cancellation occurs. Don't let that deter you. Scour the local directories and contact the respective group secretaries as soon as possible. Make a decision and act now. You'll generally have plenty of time to prepare for the actual event.

Facing up to one's fears requires courage but the rewards are immense. Quite apart from the personal satisfaction that you will derive, you have the added incentive of knowing that your actions could be beneficial to everyone who stutters.

Approaching the media

Newspapers

Start modestly by approaching your local paper - they are always looking for newsworthy items with a human touch. Each person who stutters (PWS) is unique and has a different story to tell.

Call into the office - I have found that a personal approach achieves far greater success. Prepare a news release, outlining the story or message(s) you want to convey. Compile a few quotes - they will be most welcome. Reporters prefer to have a hard copy from which they can work, and you will probably find that it takes the pressure off you. Alternatively, submit your details by post or email, and then follow it up with a visit or a telephone call a few days later. Don't forget to include your contact number or email address.

You can expect further questioning to develop the article, or to clarify any points. Talk about yourself, make it personal - and mention the BSA and the services it provides. Refer to the guidance for parents, children, teenagers, adults, partners, teachers, employers and friends. Emphasise that you wish other PWS to know about the BSA, so they no longer feel isolated. Tell them how becoming a member has influenced your life and give details of the website and helpline. Reporters will have their own ideas of how they wish to compose an article - you are entirely in their hands. But that does not prevent you from emphasising any points that you would like to be included.

One word of caution, do not attempt to promote any particular therapy or programme, as this could be seen as seeking free advertising. Where appropriate, such involvement could be introduced into your overall story.

You can, of course, quite properly publicise the silver jubilee conference, particularly if you are involved in a workshop. It would also be an ideal opportunity to mention BSA open days and sponsored activities.

Magazines

National magazines occasionally feature articles about stuttering. Should you have a particularly interesting story to tell, why not submit a rough draft? It needn't be a masterpiece - an outline and some facts will suffice. Journalists are trained to write the articles, not you. Look at back issues for contact details and the nature and format of previous features.

Trade journals associated with a particular employment, trade union, hobby, sport, or leisure activity are other areas to explore, together with church magazines.

Radio

Local radio is easily accessible via regular phone-in programmes. These provide a very effective means to get on air. If you are looking to expand your comfort zone, make a few notes beforehand so that you do not overlook any important points. Then just pick up the telephone and call them. Some stations present shows where the caller is allowed to choose the topic about which he/she wishes to speak. An assistant will initially screen your call and require a broad outline of what you intend to say. When you are eventually connected to the show, the presenter will have already been briefed about your proposed contribution.

I frequently telephone radio stations to contribute to current affairs programmes that involve 'live' listener participation. At my suggestion, BBC Radio Wales (the national station for the Principality) devoted one show to stuttering and other speech problems.

On another occasion, I rang in to take part in a debate: "The lost art of conversation". I introduced an entirely different aspect when I mentioned that many PWS are denied opportunities to develop inter-personal skills. As one of the panellists was a teacher, I also outlined some of the problems that stuttering creates within a school environment.

After contacting BBC Radio Wales, I was later invited to Broadcasting House in Cardiff to take part in four live prime-time broadcasts on stuttering. A fifth interview related to consumer competitions, a former lucrative pastime of mine.

Each was preceded by a lengthy chat with a researcher who prepared a list of questions for the interviewer. You can be assertive and request sight of the questions in advance of the interview - even if it's only 10 minutes before you are due to go 'on air'. I found such preparation invaluable.

Other radio stations run competitions, where listeners are invited to ring in with the answers. In many cases the host will engage you in a little chitchat before requesting the competition response. Whenever I am asked about my interests, I turn the conversation around to my involvement within the stuttering community. It has never failed to create interest.

Television

The nature of television is that news programmes/bulletins generally relate to a wide geographical area. Production costs are also much greater than in other branches of the media; consequently, only the more newsworthy stories are likely to be featured. Nevertheless, stuttering has generated far greater publicity recently, as illustrated by the forthcoming BBC television documentary.

International Stuttering Awareness Day

If you have ever considered increasing public awareness about stuttering, the forthcoming International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) will present you with a golden opportunity to bring the subject to the fore.

Link your story to ISAD; relate the fact that it is celebrated annually on October 22. Tell them what you, your support group, and the BSA are planning for that day. Due to ISAD's worldwide status, I suspect that most newspapers will wish to include an item about that event. If you make it sufficiently newsworthy, radio and television might express an interest.
(See our International Stammering Awareness Day page for more on ISAD, Webmaster.)

Being open

During the past few years, I have talked openly about my stutter on TV, radio, newspapers, the internet and to large groups of strangers, both here and the USA. I have been so heartened by the reactions I have received. Almost everyone showed the utmost courtesy, while many expressed an apparently genuine interest in the subject.

As a result, I have become totally desensitised. My beliefs and perceptions of what others think about my speech are now extremely positive. This has greatly assisted my passage to self-acceptance.

Approaching the media presents a sizeable challenge, but the rewards are immense. It involves moving out of your comfort zone, widening your self-image and placing yourself in new situations. If you are not ready to explore those uncharted waters alone, you might feel more confident if accompanied by someone else who stutters. Is there anyone with whom you might wish to share the adventure?

Living a safe and predictable life denies us opportunities to discover just how courageous and extraordinary we are. We gain strength and confidence each time we confront our fears. I have gained a lot of personal satisfaction through my speaking engagements within the community and extensive media involvement.

I earnestly believe that the lives of many people who stutter can be significantly improved by creating a greater public understanding of our difficulties. I feel that we all have our part to play in increasing awareness - it is to our mutual benefit. Why not take up the challenge? Hopefully, others will then be inspired to follow suit.

From the Summer and Autumn 2003 editions of Speaking Out