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My first open day

Ben Hewett | 01.12.2013

Ben Hewett gives his impression of the BSA London Open Day, which was held in October 2013.

I'd never been to a BSA event before but decided to go, primarily because as a covert stammerer I wanted to challenge my comfort zone. I was nervous about going, so my girlfriend Naomi came along for moral support. We had a wonderful day in both expected and unexpected ways.

Participants at Open DayIt started with a fascinating speech from David Jones, who talked about being a Zoologist, stand-up comedian and public speaking champion, as well as living with a stammer. He mentioned how over time he’d accepted that 100% fluency wasn’t vital in order to achieve everything he wanted to in his life. As someone with an idealised concept of fluency (100% or silence), this seemed to me, at first, nice in theory but at odds with what I believed the ‘real’ world to be like. However, the fact that this idea was being discussed by a successful stammerer (an oxymoron, I used to think) who none-the-less was delivering a warm, witty speech, was a new experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Following that, everybody moved on to the various workshops. The first one I attended was about how social anxiety affects people who stammer, led by Jan McAllister from the University of East Anglia. From my own experience, social anxiety can be one of the main limiters on a stammerer’s life. Hearing people openly discuss it was emotional and provided confirmation that what I was feeling was in fact real. The workshop also helped Naomi to understand a little bit about how social anxiety can affect me. Due to my discomfort discussing it, having her there with me was as good as me laying my anxieties out before her. It really resonated with her.

The second workshop I attended was on negative thoughts and fear of speaking. Host Greg Kuzdenyi said that this fear is a choice and that we can choose not to engage with negative thoughts and choose to not fear speaking. As someone who took his thoughts as gospel, this idea was new to me and made me think hard about the attitude I have towards my speech.

Stand-up comicAfter lunch, Katherine Preston gave a very well-received talk about her book Out With It. Then the open mic session provided a safe place for people to stand up in front of the audience and say a few words. To see people getting up for the first time was inspirational and to say that I had the will (but sadly not the conviction) to get up myself, speaks volumes to the positive effect the day had on me.

I expected it to be a day which I would, due to my covertness, enjoy objectively and dispassionately. What I actually got was a day during which my girlfriend finally caught a glimpse of some of the things I’ve failed to express adequately to her. A day during which I, for the first time, felt comfortable stammering.

BSA would like to thank Usman Choudhry, Amanda Littleboy and Christine Simpson for putting on this inspiring and successful event, attended by around 140 people. They put together an excellent programme and raised a lot of funds for it to take place. After the event, attendees went for drinks and a meal organised by Rachel Albert.

From Speaking Out-Winter 2013 p.5