Ed Balls on stammer
Independent TV

William Laven has had a stammer his whole life, and now he’s created a platform to spread awareness about stammering and to inspire others.

Surrey-based William, who works in advertising, started the Stammer Stories podcast last April.

A little under a year since it was launched, the podcast is listened to in 43 countries and has attracted guests such as former MP Ed Balls and journalist Samira Ahmed.

The podcast provides those with and without a stammer a safe platform to share their stories.

“One of the biggest reasons I started the podcast was to push myself, as a challenge, to speak to new people, but also to get it spoken about because it’s sadly not spoken about enough,” the 23-year-old told Indy100.

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“There are so many people out there who have really inspiring stories but it’s quite sad how many people who stammer, let their stammer stop them from achieving what they want to achieve.

“I want to show that you shouldn’t let your stammer hold you back. We have these amazing people doing amazing things. If they can do it, you can do it.”

William Laven

The interview he conducted with former MP Ed Balls is one that stands out to William.

Balls said he didn’t realise he had a stammer until a few weeks into his Cabinet job and didn’t speak publicly about it until 2009, two years after taking up his role as the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Before the podcast launched William was nervous about the amount of interest he would garner but he was bowled over by the response to the first episode and was heartened to connect with others who stammer from across the world.

He’s received lots of support and heart-warming messages since Stammer Stories launched, with some listeners telling him he’s helped them view their stammer in a different light, making them feel more confident in embracing it and opening up.

When he was small, William’s speech was delayed and therapists feared he wouldn’t speak fully until he was seven or eight. His stammer got better as he had speech therapy for the first ten years of his life. But when he moved from a school with just 70 pupils to a college of 4,000 students, the anxiety caused his stammer to worsen.

That’s when William went to the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering. While there, he met others who stammer and learned to “love it rather than hate it”. Now at 23, William is a Stambassador for the charity Action for Stammering Children.

He said: “It’s just a lovely charity that has changed so many people’s lives, and for me to help inspire younger people is really exciting to show that it is okay having a stammer, you should own it and not hide it.”

As part of his role as a Stambassador, he helps guide young people who are transitioning from education to the workplace who may be nervous about how their stammer may be viewed in the office.

William assures them that most people are very understanding, and will want to accommodate them.

Some worry that their stammer may come across as nerves, with one person telling William that they fear their stammer came across as a lack of confidence in a job interview, causing them to miss out on the job they wanted.

Sadly William said that those who stammer often have to contend with bullying and rude remarks. Although someone who’s made fun of for wearing glasses can wear contact lenses, working on one’s stammer is more difficult.

He said: “The biggest misconception is when people think of a stammer they think of it as being a big stammer, not a mild stammer like mine, so there’s a massive spectrum.

“I think people just feel that we can’t talk properly, which we can, but we just need those extra few moments to say our words.”

The pandemic and working from home initially made his stammer worse, he said.

It’s better when he socialises, so switching from having sporadic chats in the office, canteen, and lifts, to having just a couple of phone calls with colleagues a day led to him stammering on words he hadn’t stammered on before.

Thankfully, he found different techniques that help, particularly when it comes to speaking on the phone.

As he found “h” words tough, such as “hello”, these techniques have made him more comfortable answering the phone and it eradicates the fear of “oh no, someone’s calling me”. Previously, William even had people hang up because they thought there was no one on the other end of the line.

During Covid, he had time to repeat the words he was stammering on. He also realised there are ways to share his story with others who are going through the same thing, who may have felt isolated during lockdown and whose stammers may also have suffered from the lack of socialisation.

Now with his global platform, William is doing just that.

By sharing his own story and helping others tell theirs, William hopes to inspire others.

His key message?

“It is okay to stammer, and it’s a great thing because it makes you who you are,” he said.

Stream Stammer Stories on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

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