This week’s edition of Mentors Engage Program, our online mentorship chat, we invited Mrs. Vera Kamtukule (VK), Chief Executive Officer for the Malawi Scotland Partnership who speaks on the topic: Public Speaking. Due to WhatsApp group limitations, we only managed to have 256 participants. Therefore, we curated the chat into a Question and Answer session for all who might be interested in the tips. Our Mentorship and Volunteer Programs Coordinator, Ezelina Kamaliza (EK) was the session moderator.

EK: Hello All,

Welcome to the third session of our Mentors Engage Chats.

            Mentors Engage is a platform created by YES- Initiative to enable various       professionals to come and share their experience, knowledge and expertise with          our group of college  students and interested members of the general public.

            Youth Empowerment and Support Initiative-Malawi (YESI) exists to empower         secondary  school students and youths in order to influence their lives positively. We achieve this by providing tuition support, resources, and mentorship for           academic and personal development.

            So far, have managed to sponsor over 40 needy secondary school students with tuition fees. And our Secondary School Mentorship team has held 16     mentorship sessions in Salima and Blantyre districts. Over to you Vera…

VK: My topic today is Public Speaking. In my own understanding.  We must first isolate the word “public ” for us to understand what we are dealing with. The fact that you can   stand in your living room and order your siblings or your maid around does it mean you are a public speaker.

                So public in this case would entail people other than your family.  Could be a church. A school. A workplace. A hall. Anywhere. And people must be there. The number of people must be significant to justify for it to be called “public ” and so for purposes of our discussion, let’s say, any crowd from 20 of people with whom you are NOT related can constitute a public.

                And so when you stand in their presence to speak, about anything, it matters less the reason for gathering, it could be a funeral, a party, a wedding, a meeting etc., your intention is for you to get your audience not only hear what you have to say, but that ultimately they understand, buy into and agree with you

                The tricky part is speaking to a group of people who hold a different opinion to yourself.  Consider going into a village who so much believes in marrying off young girls for money.And you as a new project officer for a local NGO has to go into the same to tell them that this is wrong and that it is more lucrative for the girls to remain in school

                This is what I mean. So you are called upon to be poised.  Confident.  Resolute

                Believe me when I say, this is easier said than done. You sweat from your back all the way down your spine. Your legs feel like they will fail you at times yet you must still deliver your pitch

                At the end of your venture, you will win some of the people and lose some. As you speak, pay attention to the crowd.There others who will constantly nod their heads in agreement.  I like to pick up those and focus my eyes on them, it makes things a bit easier

                 Basically….this is the essence of public speaking…. I will pause there for now

EK: Thank you Vera. Why is it necessary to have public speaking as a skill?

VK: Alright. So. I will continue because this will be answered in a short while

                 So what are the characteristics of a good public speaker??

                 What should you focus on??

                Number 1. You must know why you are speaking in the first place. You must have it in your mind that at that moment, you are the only one who knows exactly what you are talking about. And while, your audience may be better in other aspects, you are still an authority in your topic at that moment.  Secondly, have a purpose, a goal

                 What do you want to achieve in your speech?

                We all have different personalities, but you are called upon to be likable somehow. You cannot go into a village for example in your skinny jeans and speak to elders and chiefs! That is not possible.  So before you do anything, you must first determine and understand   who you will be speaking to and try as much as possible to be politically correct with then in terms of use of language, gestures, appropriate dress code etc.

                The other thing is find better way of communicating the same thing. You may not rehearse this in advance but after you have studied your audience and weighed their response you will know how to present some material

                So, you appeal to their emotions, get them on your side, slowly bring see whatever is being addressed from your end

                Use simple language. Some people think when they use big words then they score big,  Naaaaa. A BIG NO. You appear, casual, silly and a bit obnoxious.   Simple does it. Plain simple language. There will be a lot of times you will miss it or flop as you try to deliver a speech in public.Many times in fact. But don’t worry. Such moments present for us invaluable lessons

                This is why it is imperative to try out your speech to your friends or your people before you take it to the crowd; they do say, charity begins at home. And I am a firm believer of the fact that if you can’t sell it to your people at home, you have no business taking it outside.

                I have talked about passion above. If I haven’t forgive me. But it’s related to this last point also. When you speak from a point of passion, you deliver naturally, flow of thought flows like water in a river. You don’t struggle at all.

                Ever seen bosses who ask their juniors to draft a presentation for them to go and present?  They flop dismally.  Passion can never be borrowed or stolen or copied for that matter. It              must be generated from a special place deep inside of you

                Some audiences will give you feedback pompopompo. Some positive and some negative,   obviously, both of these are important. CAUTION: NEVER take them too personally.  Always know that they were attacking the material and NOT you as a person

                The ability to discern the difference between the two is a matter of maturity. Try to crack jokes here and there. But be sensitive to who you are addressing. Some jokes may be offensive to others. From the tip of my head, never joke on sex, religion or politics. You never score on these,   NEVER.   Ensure you are audible enough, do not murmur

                As much as possible be honest and walk around the room. If you have to. I do that a lot      and I usually keep my audience on their toes.

                Maintain eye contact with some people as you speak

                And by all means, be on time and show up with swag (dress impeccably).

                Remember, just by standing up there, you have set yourself apart already, therefore, look the part will you?

Vera: Public speaking can be used in any profession, as long as you work with humans.

            The third issue is: can public speaking be used in any profession or is designated for special professions?

                The answer is NO. It can be used in any profession. As long as you work with humans, you will require these skills

                The basic idea of public speaking is to inform, persuade, inspire, motivate and sometimes rebuke.  And I know that all these verbs are needed almost everywhere.

                Lastly… whatever feedback your audience gives you, ensure you go back home and analyze it objectively.  Purpose in your heart to improve your game. It’s one speech at a time, in no    time, you will be a pro. I rest……

EK: Thank you Vera.  As we continue with our chat, a reminder to all members that you can send questions to this number and they will be posted here on your behalf.

             The next question is: How do you deal with nervousness when speaking?

VK: This is normal. Very normal in fact. I get nervous each time I am about to speak.  But I  overcome it the first few minutes.  Why? Because each audience is different! So I normally find an icebreaker that will make them laugh. Once they do that, I am in the zone and the nervousness leaves me

                 You can also walk about. Pray. Or ask people to introduce themselves again, it works.

Ezelina: Thank you. The other question is how does one build confidence and speak with     passion?

VK: Like I said. Passion cannot be borrowed.  If you aren’t passionate about something not even   your spouse would make you be passionate. That’s just how it works.  You must build the passion for yourself and to do that, it must come from the depth of your soul. This is what is a problem with young people these days. They do things coz someone else is doing it. Zimathera panjila. It’s not sustainable.  Passionate people go all the way. When you are powered by borrowed passion, you give up fast. On confidence, it builds over time. The more you do it, the better you become and the more confidence you harness

EK: Some amazing insights here Vera. The other issues are dealing with language barriers or sometimes even cultural. Where for example a person fluent in Chichewa is asked to address a Tumbuka society or even azungu (white people)

VK: They shouldn’t try to be who they are not in the first place. I have talked about honesty. Tell them you can’t speak in that language and find an interpreter if you have to. But, I have also talked about the importance if researching on your audience in advance.  Provides valuable insights

Ezelina: Next one is: How best would you handle a situation where you have realized that your audience is more knowledgeable than you are in the midst of an address? Embarrassing as it may be.

VK: This happens too. That’s where your creativity comes into play.  Tell them the same things in a different way. The noble thing to do is to stop, but you can’t, so you improvise

EK: How can one improve their eloquence?

VK: Again. Comes with practice. Generated over time. Some people are naturally eloquent, others must work on it. But with practice, it gets better, each time

EK: Other people like watching videos of popular speakers i.e. Obama, Martin Luther etc.    Can     this be of help when one is trying to build a career as a public speaker?

VK: Yes, it does help. But I like originality. Almost 8 billion people God created on earth and NOT once did He repeat Himself.  Why would I want to sound like somebody? Surely, you must maintain your originality, for it is that which will make you stand out from the rest

EK: When addressing your peers in a mentorship session, how do you engage with them to open    up… bearing in mind that at times you may appear to belong to a higher class          (lifestyle) than they are? That’s the last one then you can wind up.

VK: Humility is key. You see. When delivering, I have said that it is important for you to know that at the back of your mind at that particular moment, biggie woyaza ngini ndi iweyo.However, we have also addressed instances when the audience would be more       knowledgeable than you are. It happens. But when speaking to your peers. Don’t be bossy.Be humble.  You may have a better job than them etc. but that doesn’t make you a BETTER human and them lesser human beings, NO! You are just privileged to stand there in their presence at that moment. God could have chosen anyone, this is your time, so use it wisely.So be with them, don’t go out of your zone and set yourself apart as a god, it back fires, I   can guarantee it.

EK: Thank you for being with us today Vera.