Yesterday I presented to a provincial government finance committee that was seeking input on the 2019 budget. I spoke as a mother and patient advocate about the urgent need for more speech language therapy funding for preschool and elementary school students. I used storytelling to make a personal connection on a complex issue.
I had five minutes to state my case, and somehow make my story stand out from the lawyers, professional organizations, non-profits and industry organizations that were also presenting funding requests.
So I decided to get personal. That meant being vulnerable and sharing the huge struggles my child had when no one could understand him and the difference speech language therapy, and finally being understood, has meant for my child. All in five minutes.
I thought I’d share with you how I formulated my story as it was a great exercise in combining emotions, facts and ending with a clear call to action (all key elements in storytelling).
I began by setting the stage with the current challenges facing children in our province in terms of the number of children with speech delays, current wait times for assessment and therapy, average caseloads for speech language pathologists (SLPs), and balancing in-school demands with available resources. By starting with statistics and facts, I was able to give the analytical people on the committee some information to chew on. This was about one minute, with an accompanying handout.
Now it was time to take a deep breathe and share my personal story. I talked about my son starting kindergarten with a severe speech delay and how this kept him from participating in class, making friends and impacted his self confidence. His teacher also labelled him as having an intellectual delay (even though we told her he did not).
After a couple of months of in-school speech therapy, we were advised our son needed intensive therapy (which meant hiring a private SLP — which we did). Four months later, his speech had improved substantially. Now that he was understood, he began making friends, participating in class, and finally enjoyed going to school. As for his teacher, she commented on how he was one of the brightest kids in the class. A big change in four months.
While his case is remarkable, I know it is not the reality for the majority of children. Very few children have access to the resources needed for intensive therapy — or even basic therapy. As a result, children with speech delays often struggle with self-esteem issues, bullying, isolation, mislabelling and, for some, mental health challenges.
Call to Action
I spent my last minute outlining my “ask” for the 2019 provincial budget. I revisited some of the statistics from my opening comments, and then related them to the funding needs (dedicated funding for speech language therapy so it can’t be used for other healthcare needs, increased funding for preschool programs as well as in-school SLP services). I ended by saying we are currently failing our children. This silent crisis will only become louder as children age as this is when speech delays can result in mental health and social emotional issues (which is well documented).
Throughout my talk, committee members were attentively listening, nodding in agreement or shaking their heads at some of the more alarming stats. When I was done, the committee chair thanked me for having the courage to share my story. He commented on how the majority of the presentations had been from groups or organizations and how much the committee appreciate hearing how government funding or services impact children on a personal level.
Another committee member walked me out and shared with me her personal story of having navigated a similar system with her daughter. She shook my hand and told me she agreed that we are failing our children. She said my words had resonated with her and reminded her that budget decisions impact real people in a meaningful way.
Value of Storytelling
I share this story with you as I know how challenging it can be for many people to stand up and share their story. Maybe you hope the organization you belong to will get the message across (or you believe they are better equipped to tell the story).
But there is real power in storytelling with the personal story being told by you. You bring with you so much knowledge, wisdom and raw experience that is so important to putting a personal face to an issue, cause or organization.
If you work for an organization, I encourage you the next time you are looking to talk about a program, product or service to find a real person to share their personal experience. And if you are waiting for someone else to share a story about a cause or program near to your heart, maybe it’s time you took a step forward to be the one to share.