Olivia Powell catches up with Arran Smith, the director of The Dyslexia Show, who turns his learning difficulty into a new national event.
The Dyslexia Show, the first national exhibition of its kind, is already set to be a huge success.
Having been born with severe dyslexia and then working in the dyslexia sector for over 15 years, Arran Smith realised that there was a gap in the events market. Whilst there may have been larger exhibitions like Special Needs London that included dyslexia through the many disabilities featured, there were no individual shows for dyslexia.
So, the Dyslexia Show was born – an exhibition focused solely on dyslexia and aimed at parents, educators and employers, with the aim to inform, train and empower both those with dyslexia, and their parents/carers.
Smith was not starting from scratch; he had previously worked for the British Dyslexia Association for five and a half years, and ran events for them, as well as exhibiting at events and speaking at conferences. Whilst the shows he was involved in may have been small, they gave Smith the drive he needed to develop.
Smith commented on his experience building the event: “Being a dyslexic I love to learn, and that’s obviously asking lots of questions, having the experience and the knowledge of talking to lots of people, so finding the right contractors, finding the right team members has been really important, but that’s why we’re so far ahead of where we thought we’d be”.
Due to his extensive work in the dyslexia sector, Smith had the right contacts to create the event that he had envisioned. He approached dyslexia-based companies he had worked with in the past and asked them to sponsor the event.
Smith recognises that it was his standing within the dyslexia sector which allowed him to create the show: “Our workplace sponsor, Dyslexia Box, they’re one of our biggest sponsors, and they helped us at the very beginning. Before we even got the green light from the NEC, and they said they’d support this no matter what happened…The comment that Dyslexia Box made was that if it had been anyone else but me who had come to them with this idea, they would have said no. But, because I’m very well-known and respected in the dyslexia sector, this has allowed me to create a show that is so specific”.
The event seems set to be a success, with over 2,000 registrations in just a few months.
Social media has been invaluable in promoting the event, with the show’s biggest advertising spend going into promoting the event online. The show has also been promoted through educational channels via mailing lists, and through print media, but the social media posts have been most successful, creating more than just hype.
Smith said: “The comments on social media are just amazing, people are so happy about it, and it’s becoming a family/friend reunion concept, and tagging all their friends into it. It’s really beneficial for us, but it’s also really heart-warming that people really want [the show].”
These communities are helping the event form its own identity, as not just a place where people receive resources and support, but also somewhere that those with dyslexia can meet, share their experiences, and become friends.
The Dyslexia Show will be hosted at the NEC in Birmingham. Smith said of working with the NEC: “It’s been a long relationship, we’ve been in talks with them for about three years, so it’s been a long time coming to get to this point…The team we have at the NEC are just so supportive, and they’re literally trying to do all they can to help us move the event forward and make it really successful.”
The show will be dedicated to the field of dyslexia and feature talks, seminars, workshops and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions.
Special Educational Needs Solicitors will also have a legal surgery which aims to educate those there on the laws around dyslexia and special educational needs.
When asked whether or not his dyslexia had affected planning the show, Smith was optimistic: “I think it’s actually a benefit rather than a negative, as it allows me to see the bigger picture. So, me and the NEC staff, the day we’ll be really happy is when we stand there on the Thursday evening, every stand built, all carpets being cleaned, and we’re looking at the show being an empty show, but seeing it go from an empty hall to being an actual show. I think that’s my amazing feeling.”
Whilst Smith does struggle with things like communicating, he has a team ready and willing to assist him – both an operations manager and a communications lead help the event by tackling issues that Smith cannot. As he says: “I may not be an expert in things, but that’s why we bring people in that are.”
Accessibility is incredibly important at the event, not only for those with dyslexia, but for those with other disabilities too. For Smith, the most important thing is making the seminars accessible, so anyone who wants to gain CPD points may. So far, there are plans to enable closed captions on all seminars, as well as allowing the presentations made to be downloadable. In addition, Smith plans to make the programme for the event digital, so that accessibility software can be built into it.
The NEC have also been championing accessibility by working closely with Smith and his team, and trying to help them in any way possible to ensure the event can be attended for all.
Smith plans to repeat the event in 2021 and 2022, with the hope that the event will be able to continue in the future.
Smith said of these future plans: “We have plans for the next three years, but beyond that plans are already in place for the show but in a different location, or a similar show within the education field later on. We’re not there yet, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that’s the benefit of having a dyslexic run the company – that’s what I’m good at.”
The National Dyslexia Show will take place from 20-21 March 2020.
This article was featured in the latest issue of EN. To read more features like this, subscribe to the magazine here.