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Sunday, March 9, 2008

The 'terrible' Mic

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

Daniel was a primary six pupil when the English teacher forcefully made him one of the main speakers at a school debate. In the packed classroom, he sat shuddering and miserably waited for his chance on the floor. Even for a first timer, his attempt was a total fiasco. When the chairman called his name, he stood weakly and the paper on which was written his points shook and dropped from his hands. The big boys laughed. He tried to open his mouth to say something but only managed to heave with fright.

For many people, the thought of addressing a public gathering is a nightmare. Some of these 'great' politicians around town panic at the sight of a microphone. Yet others are born confident speakers.

Napoleon Bonaparte is a darling of history students as a gallant soldier whose overwhelming ambition saw him sweep the whole of Europe with blood and iron, but also because the French man was a scintillating speaker whose words moved his troops to persevere and offer their best at the battle front.

Martin Luther King Jr., achieved much with the civil rights movement because he was a gifted speaker. Years after his death, many of his speeches are favoured among the greatest speeches of all time.

Back home, the late Dr. Milton Obote led this country to independence but is largely remembered for his sharp voice and as a small man who mesmerized his countrymen with clever choice of words. Once asked what he would do if he met President Yoweri Museveni, he said he would "poke him with a stick!"

One is tempted to mention Jesus Christ of Nazareth. His hilarious and didactic anecdotes, his teachings bustling with parables and coloured with suspense, captivated the people of his day to follow him wherever he went. But then He was/is God.

Listening to the rise and fall of well trained a voice reaching out to the world is quite an experience. When a man knows how to involve his audience in his speeches and to hold suspense, a resounding clap-clap is wont of accompanying him back to his seat. That is the power of public speaking; which philosopher Aristotle defined as the "art of persuasion."

In the way of achieving this, some speakers mull over words before spilling them. The weekly kimeeza debate at Club Obligato is synonymous with theatrical displays of opposing forces trying to subdue the other.

And at the annual public speaking contest at Makerere University, young intellectuals put up a great show as they lament, purr, grunt and generally pour out their hearts on different subjects in a way that brings back memories of impassioned orators leaving you marveling over the mysterious force that could inspire such eloquence.

It's during moments like these that one is reminded of Ugandan emcees and radio presenters who wear fake accents, match them with distracting gestures and the love of poor grammar and wrong syntax, leaving their listeners yawning.

In his book Speaking in Public –Effectively, Richard Bewes thinks such people have "an inflated view of their influence, thinking of themselves as mega performers" but they only manage to confuse their listeners with "flimsy content of the speech."

He specially has no kind words for speakers that "gallop" in a way that "ideas, words and thoughts jostle for inclusion" in a "helter-skelter of a talk." Thus writes: "Some of the things said are magnificent, but they are given no space in which to stand out amid the non-stop torrent of gobbled, half-finished words. The mind of the speaker races ahead of the sentence –which is barely finished before the next thought rushes like an express train…in such an address, the main thread is lost in a tangle of undisciplined verbiage that is very tiring to listen to."

No speaker worthy of his name is ever out of the learner's lane, he notes, and advises public speakers to be humble enough to listen to themselves on tape and to seek advice from their more experienced counterparts which will help them learn "how to iron out the kinks and hindrances that can get in the way of effective speaking."

Like young Daniel's first humiliation at a school debate, Bewes mentions a story of an inexperienced Athenian orator who "had been insolent enough to test his skill in an arena normally reserved only for the best exponents of Greek rhetoric –and he'd been laughed off the platform."

But he had gone on and by dint of sheer hardwork transformed himself into a speaker whose words moved people with action!

--The Ivory Post, March 6, 2008