Book Review: Compelling Speech

17th July 2023

Jack Nicholas from our volunteer book review team gives his verdict on 'Compelling Speech: The Stammering Enigma' by Sean Bw Parker.

There is a long history of stammerers writing about their stammering experiences and how stammering affected their relationships with society. Stammering features in the autobiographies of Victorians Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt. It is a crucial component in John Updike's 1989 memoir, Self-Consciousness, and in recent years, many others have gone into print: Christopher Anderson, John Hendrickson, Paul H. Brocklehurst, and Tony Millett, to name just a few. 

It is so important that we have these explorations of what it means to stammer. We are too often sidelined and ignored. Too often, stammerers, quite literally, do not speak up, and that needs to change. 

Compelling Speech by Sean Bw Parker is a powerful, and very different, contribution to this movement — although his swashbuckling, iconoclastic approach makes me suspect he would hate to be considered part of any group however diffuse and unplanned!

Sean Bw Parker is a writer, thinker, musician and social commentator. And stammerer. In 2013, he gave a TEDX talk on Stammering and Creativity. His books include the wonderfully titled Devils of Bognor and Genuflecting Before the Pork-barrel Demagogues

His 2022 publication, States of Independence: From Pop Art to Art Rock and Beyond, states: 

"Individuality, idiosyncrasy, and unique perspectives need support and encouragement in this regulated, marketed world."

And now, in 2023, his latest book Compelling Speech: The Stammering Enigma is an individual, idiosyncratic, freewheeling outpouring of ideas and perspectives that explore: 

  • What stammering is and its causes.
  • Possible treatments and their effectiveness — is it ever possible to achieve 'natural' fluency? 
  • His relationship with his own stammer, and
  • The difficult question of when someone who stammers can expect society to change around them, and when they should be prepared to accept their condition and adapt to society.

Throughout the book, Parker challenges group thinking, tired thinking. In one of his web posts, he proclaims that "true diversity lies in diversity of thought" and his diverse thinking hits out on every page in fresh, rapid-fire language: "a stammer has its own mysterious legs and muscles" and "While the stammer was and apparently is often the cause of bullying, it can also be the bully" are just two random examples. 

Not all his ideas will please everyone. And that, I guess, is the point. For example, he writes: 

"I do intuit that stammering newsreaders or air traffic controllers might be a diversity tick-box too far. Much like the pretty amputee who sometimes presents the BBC weather, there is an element of freaky-tokeniki about it all. The young lady's disability there in no way seems to interfere with her delivery of atmospheric conditions — more it somewhat hypnotically interferes with our reception of the information."

Really? If our reception of what the presenter is saying is being hypnotically interfered with, is that not our problem rather than hers?

He discounts any idea of stammering as a disability. He believes in diving into self-care. Meeting the challenge of stammering head on. 

For all his bravura, he does not describe an easy life. 

The 'Bw' middle initials of his name stand for Benjamin William. Unable to say Benjamin without stammering, he changed his name to Sean to make his work phone calls easier. For all his work on speech therapy and acquiring a type of fluency, what he really desires is 'natural' fluency, the ability to engage in spontaneous banter. He writes how achieving a degree of fluency carries its own risks of becoming too quick to speak without prior thinking and perhaps hurting others. His accounts of depression are powerful and disturbing.

But he always fights through. He is a survivor with an intriguing account of how he survived — not that he suggests anyone should unthinkingly follow his example. As he says, "beware persuasive speakers" and "I will never give or search for convenient, binary answers. Life is not black and white: none of it is, except zebras and chessboards".

I found his mixture of insight and provocation exasperating and invigorating in equal measure, for this is a book of deliberate provocations, challenges, and questions, such as:

  • Do you create meaning by confronting difficulties? 
  • Is stammering a problem? If so, is it a problem for society or the stammerer? 
  • If you could identify and remove the stammering gene, would you do so even if you also removed the ability to be creative?

These are such great questions, three of many in his outpouring of firecracker assertions and ideas. 

The book ends with a transcript of Sean Bw Parker's TED talk, which in turn ends with the message: 

"go on, just go into the word, unafraid." 

The last of a fascinating series of challenges to get you (re)thinking your ideas about what stammering is and your responses to it.

'Compelling Speech: The Stammering Enigma, by Sean Bw Parker, is an independently published book available to buy on Amazon. If you wish to contact Sean, email us at and we will pass any messages on.

Thank you to Jack Nicholas for writing this review.

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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