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:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s