Public Speaking for Dummies

“A good orator is pointed and impassioned”- Mark Twain



I’m not sure if anyone remembers the speech President Jacob Zuma gave on the Obamas’ first official state visit to the country? I’ll gladly refresh your memory, it’s the speech that prompted comedian Trevor Noah to joke, “When Zuma doesn’t use a script, you can see how he gets the ladies. He’s so much smoother. #NkandlaNova”

Indeed, Zuma delivered a rare, impassioned and seemingly unscripted speech. We were all impressed. Perhaps the President realized that he had no choice but to up his ante or risk being upstaged in his own yard by his US counterpart.

Barack Obama’s intrigue does not only lie in the fact that he is a tall, good-looking man who is the first Black president of the United States. It also lies in his impeccable oratory skills. Just the other day, I was cleaning the living room with the TV switched to the news as usual. As soon as Obama’s State of the Union Address came on, everything I had been doing no longer seemed that important.

Irrelevant as the address was, one couldn’t help but be drawn to the man; he certainly has a “Woza woza” effect about him. Obama could talk me into smoking ten bags of marijuana in one sitting and I’d still think he makes sense! Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “speech is power; speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel” certainly ring true.


And so we always look on in admiration as people make public speaking seem like a piece o’ cake. I gave my first speech when I was about thirteen years old in front of fellow learners, their parents (and mine) and all my teachers. I had stood on that podium many times before as a member of the debate society, yet each time always felt like it was the first.

Each time, my stomach rumbled from anxiety, demanding a retreat to the loo. I still remember how daunting it is to stand before so many pairs of eyes. Stage fright is indeed one hell of a motherf*&@er!

However it was always the sight of my teacher, Missus Mmolutsi that eased my angst. She would sit strategically in one corner, silently urging me on to watch the tone of my voice and not look down at my notes for too long. She’d silently remind me to let my eyes travel around the room in order to connect with my audience and to avoid fidgeting with my hands.

With the SONA (State of the Nation) season on the way, it unfortunately feels like a bit of an anti-climax situation. Besides the dull state of affairs in our midst, we are so used to being dished up uninspiring, mundane technical speeches. Of course there is the occasional chuckle and naughty innuendo from our charming Number One, but the rest is like attempting to make a call on your mobile while standing in the middle of the Kalahari.

Can there be anything worse than having someone address you and getting sense that -just like you- they are hearing the speech for the first time? Yikes!Mr. President, Baba, we want to hear you in those speeches and not your faceless speech writer asseblief!

In this corner of the earth people generally love hearing the sound of their own voices. They will not stop talking until a good one-half of the room is snoozing or shifting their feet under tables to indicate their frustration.

Many people find public speaking intimidating; it is one of those things that some are born with while others need to labour on a bit more. Therefore, being comfortable in that space ultimately comes with practice. I reckon the best speeches are well researched, prepared; short and to the point.

As Ira Hayes puts it, “no one ever complains about a speech being too short”.

For tips on fine-tuning your public speaking skills see:


Shades of Black…


There exists a hierarchy in society. At the top sits the White man who is perceived as a model of all that is superior and good. For many years, the so-called Coloured communities saw themselves as being inferior to Whites but superior to Africans.

Owing to the conditions of the Apartheid system, many Black people who could pull it off assumed coloured identities to gain access to social liberties that they would otherwise not be able to. The latter distinguishes himself superior to others in his group based on physical, ethnic and (interestingly) on skin complexion. The ones with the darkest complexion sit at the very bottom of this hierarchy.

At least, that is what is highlighted in “Dark Girls”. I recently sat down to watch this eye-opening American documentary about the deep-seated biases against dark skinned Black, as well as Asian women. It opened my eyes to the reality of many women whose pigmentation renders them less favourable candidates in labour markets, relationships; reproduction and to the somewhat deeply entrenched perception that they an attitude problem.

I have been regularly been mistaken for a Coloured person until I spoke my mother tongue, (un)fortunately the absence of a Cape Malay accent betrayed me. One of those occasions was when, as a child, I was shopping with my mother. A Coloured lady approached us and uttered something to me in Afrikaans. I just stared back blankly. I take no pride or pleasure in being what they call a yellow bone. As Steven Biko once wrote, Being black is not a matter of pigmentation, being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”.


We are so deep in it, and our self-image so severely distorted that bridal parties sing silly songs like, “Tswa’ng tswa’ng tswa’ng le boneng, ngwana o tshwana le leColoured” (Come out and see, the girl looks like (a) coloured).

When Nomasonto aka “Mshoza”Mnisi started bleaching her skin and announced plans to do further work on her nose so she could look White, some of us were really shocked. It was hard to fathom how in this day and age –when we enjoy so many liberties- someone could possibly hate herself so much! Of course it was simpler to dismiss it as a typical tendency of someone who had just discovered money and had no better use for it. If only it were that cut and dried.

Self-image has been distorted in the context of the Black community for centuries and the baton passed on from generation to generation. The popularity of skin-lightening products soared among Black South African women in the 1970s and 1980s* and many of those who coveted lighter shades now have “Dichubaba” (dark blemishes brought on by the dangerous combination of mercury and hydroquinone) to prove it. It remains true that what is on the outside reflects what’s inside and the price paid for a low self-image a hefty one.

According to, Nigeria tops the list for skin-lightening products, with “nearly 8 out of 10 Nigerian women bleach[ing] their skin.” It is also reported that regardless of how rich a Nigerian woman may be, if she is dark skinned, she is as good as a pauper. In South Africa, you can buy cheap skin-lightening products off a street vendor for less than R15.

On the flip side of the coin, the criminalization, virtual alienation and statutory harassment experienced by dark complexioned men is another bone of contention. It has escalated to a point where the perception is that anyone who is dark skinned can’t be South African. It’s worse if one is using public transport.Just a few weeks ago, the son of former Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni was pulled out of a taxi because of his dark pigmentation and requested to produce a passport.

In a similar incident, my sister and I were travelling to varsity a few years ago from home when our taxi was stopped by police just outside Harties. Seated behind us were two men (Zimbabwean nationals)who sat quietly during the trip. I still remember the sinking feeling as the two were loaded into the police van, as timid as sheep going to the slaughterhouse.

There is a definite mental shift that needs to occur. It will have to happen at every level of this social hierarchy through the rejection of entrenched ideas that one human being possesses superiority over the other for whatever reason. Consequently, superficial and shallow masks put on by those with an inferiority complex will be dismantled.



The Role Model Debate

There are those who believe in role models. Then there are those who believe that each individual has the innate ability to harness his own power to succeed and to live a fulfilling life. Will-power is thought to be an important element of this.

I think inspiration can come from all sorts of places. If we all believed in the notion of external motivation not being all that significant, then people in the professions of development, professional and life coaching as well as motivational speaking would surely be out of business!

Steve MacCaulay of the Cranfield School of Management in the UK says that a role model is, “someone who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by other people, and consistently leads by example”. He continues to state that though a role model is NOT a model of perfection, they are held to high standards and therefore need to heighten their awareness of being contradictory.

So, it can be decisively argued that being a role model is not a choice- not if people hold you to some esteem and value your contribution to society. I reckon that’s why it is just too much pressure for some people who would, for instance, deliver a sermon then curl up and smoke a joint afterwards or sing a gospel song one minute and impregnate young girls the next. It’s a tough world, ain’t it?

When I was growing up (especially in primary school), I always had a ready-made answer when quizzed about role-models. Naturally, that person was my mother; a virtuous and strong woman, the first person who would later teach me how to write a speech and ignite my writing love affair in general.

It evolved from there to include people like Ms Winfrey and Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini, whose power to influence; humility and general concern for society struck me. His endeavours remain relevant although his self-inflicted fall from grace was a disappointment, to say the least.

Ontlametse Phalatse

Ontlametse Phalatse

I have a different outlook on life today because of a 14-year-old girl named Ontlametse Phalatse. Hers is truly a testament of how enduring the human spirit can be under challenging circumstances. The optimistic manner in which Phalatse has embraced life despite her Progeria makes some of the things we cry about seem fickle and she leaves one with very little choice but to let that positive energy rub-off.

Sometimes we are guilty of putting those we look up to on a pedestal. We create expectations around them which ultimately force us to deal with a lot of burst bubbles, so to speak. Perhaps one way of managing expectations is to be cognisant of the fact that human beings are perfectly imperfect.

Certainly, the most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Yet no man can do it all by himself; even the most successful individuals had someone else pushing them up, rooting for them, lending a helping hand and cracking a door of opportunity open for them.

In some way an inward-centric approach to life appears conceited and reveals a lack of desire to learn from others. Role models are a vital part of our existence: There to provide inspiration, guidance, learning and a scope to challenge ourselves BUT definitely not there so we can live our lives through them.