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Star Speaker: The Interview
Journalist and “Speak Out” Alumnus, Izin Akhabau, writes about her interview with Erin Stoner, Grand Final winner 2018.
When I interview Erin, I can’t help but notice the similarities between us. Aged only 15 she already knows that she’s interested in a career in journalism, I was 16 when I decided that this is what I wanted to do and we both think society needs to listen more to young people’s voices. However, the similarities end there; because 15 year old Erin beat roughly 19,800 other students to become Jack Petchey’s “Speak Out” Challenge! Champion. When I took part during my school days, I got knocked out of the competition in the first round. Even more impressively, Erin did this all despite having a stutter.
So I’m very excited when I get to catch up with her. We talk about why it’s so wonderful that Jack Petchey and Speakers Trust give young people this chance to develop their speaking skills, what advice she has for others with speech impediments and most importantly, what it’s like to be a champion.
What was it like when you realised you had beaten thousands of other students and won?
Complete kind of disbelief at first. Getting up on the stage and having the whole of the Cambridge Theatre on their feet and applauding me, I can’t even explain the feeling. I will never ever forget it. I was in tears, very emotional. I can’t explain it, it was incredible.
Who came out to support you on your big night?
I had Mum and Dad, teachers from my school, loads of people from my year and my boyfriend came. But the one thing that was really lovely was that my speech therapist, who I hadn’t seen since I was 11, came to watch. She came down from Cambridge. It was absolutely lovely to show her what she did for me.
My mum was absolutely over the moon, she’s a very tough woman but she was in tears – she also had a quite bad stutter when she was younger.
What do you want other people with stutters to take away from your performance?
I want people to remember that if you have a stutter, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get up on a stage and do things. It just means that you have to have guts.
For someone with a stutter, I think it changes when you realise that you aren’t really going to get rid of it, it’s part of who you are. In the end, if you can listen to yourself stuttering for 24 hours a day then whoever you’re talking to can listen for a little while.
How can people with speech impediments build up their confidence?
Talk. Talk as much as possible. I mean we don’t like talking. A lot of us, we aren’t the biggest fans. But just practice; talk to your animals, talk to teachers, talk to absolutely everyone who is near you. A lot of it is about practising and overcoming the fact that if you do stutter; it’s not the end of the world, you aren’t less of a person. The more you start to realise that, the better it gets because you relax.
Do you think that the “Speak Out” Challenge! helps bring young people from different backgrounds together?
I mean I would say definitely. It was kind of like, and it was almost like these are my people, this is where I belong. I can’t explain how supportive everyone was.
We’ve formed quite a tight friendship group. One of the speakers Ashley, this year she’s doing a show in November. The whole group is getting back together to go and watch her.
Do you think that young people’s voices are heard enough in our society?
I think that young people’s voices aren’t heard quite enough, particularly on issues that people were covering at the Speak Out challenge. We had someone talking about votes at 16, someone talking about gang violence, obviously me with stuttering. I think it was nice to have a room full of people with really different issues that they wanted to discuss.
How important is it that Speakers Trust in partnership with the Jack Petchey Foundation provides this opportunity for young people?
I think it’s really, really good. They set up so many opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally get them. I haven’t seen anything else that celebrates public speaking like this scheme does and I think it’s absolutely amazing.
What kind of reaction have you received from people in your school?
I mean, I cannot actually believe how supportive my whole school has been. It’s been absolutely lovely. We had an award ceremony this morning where my speech was played to my year. They sent my speech round to the forms. I have my own little noticeboard thing in all of the corridors so they’ve all been so supportive.
Do you have any advice for other young people interested in public speaking?
I’d say if you have a voice, use it for something good. Use it for something that will make a difference in the world.
All the very best of luck for the future Erin, I hope to see you speaking in the news soon!
Izin Akhabau – Journalist and #JPSpeakOut Alumnus