Last week marked the National Stuttering Association (NSA)’s 30th annual conference held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. More than 600 folks – both people who stutter and people with an interest in stuttering (including family members, loved ones and speech-language pathologists) – from across the United States, and even from Australia, Israel and Canada, including myself, united for a week filled with workshops and uplifting stories about stuttering.
As the NSA notes, about one per cent of the global population stutters. But as I describe the conference to people, I tell them the conference brings an interesting reversal, as the majority of attendees stutter or supports someone who stutters. This year was my third consecutive conference. What has brought me back to the conference the last three years? In short, everything brings me back – the people, the workshops, the supportive environment. Everything. This four-day conference is about empowering those who stutter, building friendships with likeminded folks in a never-ending cycle of support and even celebrating stuttering in a sense.
However, in particular, here are five things I’ve gotten out of attending the NSA conference:
1) The supportive environment – As I said, everyone who attends the conference does so either because they stutter, or they know and support someone who does. Either way, they understand what those who stutter go through.
2) Reuniting with old friends and making new ones – Having attended the conference three times now and participating regularly in Stutter Social, I’ve built amazing friendships with fellow people who stutter. However, there’s no denying the number of new friends you make as well. The conference marks an opportunity to meet so many other people who stutter, whether it’s in workshops, in between workshops, or over breakfast, lunch or dinner.
3) Getting out of my comfort zone – During the first day of the conference, I was asked to share my experience at the first-timer’s orientation and might I add that it was 20 minutes before the orientation began. The experience allowed me to strengthen my ability to think on my feet and act quickly. This year’s conference also marked the first time I presented a workshop on my own, which was on the implications of social media for folks who stutter. There’s no better place to venture out of your comfort zone when you’re surrounded by 600 people who know first-hand how you feel.
4) Sharing stories – Perhaps one of the best experiences of the conference is the opportunity to hear from so many people who stutter both during workshops and in between. For instance, at the open microphone workshops, folks can get up in front of a crowd and say anything they want to say, whether it’s simply introducing themselves or sharing a story. Hearing other people’s stories, experiences and achievements helps us realize that we aren’t alone in our stuttering and reinforces the sense of camaraderie felt at the conference.
5) Travelling – Every year, the conference is in a different state. This allows me to travel to places and take in views that I may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. The day before the conference officially started, a group of us embarked on a one-day road trip to the breathtakingly beautiful Grand Canyon. Additionally, the opportunity to go on a road trip with great friends also strengthened the bonds between us. Camaraderie, remember?
In short, it’s an amazing experience to attend the conference. For those like me who stutter, it feels like we’re living in an alternate universe, albeit briefly, where stuttering is the norm. That’s why I would encourage anyone who stutters or knows someone who stutters to attend an upcoming NSA conference. I know I simply can’t wait until next year’s conference in Washington, D.C.!