Morris Mtisi Education Correspondent
This topic, though not focusing on examination techniques, for public speaking is not an examinable learning area, is also a very important aspect of education.
In real life we spend most of our time speaking than writing, do we not? It is therefore critically important that education develops that skill. A good education will always do.
A lot of teachers adulterate or abuse the skill. They write speeches in pompous English characterised by ear-splitting verbose and ask their public speakers to cram the stuff to reproduce in public. That is not the way to produce powerful speakers.
When the parrot-speaking begins you can tell the uneasiness of the speaker from the speed and verbal stiffness. You can tell the speaker is not speaking but reciting a piece of work . . . which is not original at all. Teachers! Please coach speakers, not parrots.
What does this mean? Start form the deportment and the body language. It is easy to see a speaker who is uneasy . . . scared of the audience he or she is addressing. While you do not want to see statues that do not move at all, you do not want to see weird, ridiculous gesticulations as if made by a senseless actor or dramatist.
It is not easy to use the body to help a speaker make an appropriate impression. Teachers, be very careful on this one . . . otherwise you produce public clowns, and not speakers.
English is not our first language. That means it is not our mother-tongue. As such it is impossible to speak like first-language speakers. We can never be able to quite speak like Americans or British people without sounding funny or ridiculous.
However, there are quite a few students, children if you like, who speak with a sharp British or American accent that does not sound ridiculous. The rest sound like a possessed white-boy or girl with a voice speaking from the depths of the underworld!
Teach your children to speak clearly, beautifully . . . but like Africans. This is not easy. But however difficult it may be, do not cheer them on when they sound like a European who has lost the tune of a funeral song.
It is not easy to teach a young speaker not to pronounce ‘‘film’’ as ‘‘filimu’’ or ‘‘equals’’ as ‘‘ikwelezi’’ perhaps ‘‘consequences’’ as ‘‘kwenzekwenzi’’ or ‘‘mountain’’ as ‘‘maunden’’ for that would be tantamount to abusive pronunciation or sheer emasculation of the English word.
But that does not mean you must speak through your nose and fry the word in your mouth to come out with a promiscuous imitation of the word. That becomes more ridiculous than a hard-MiaShona intonation that exhibits stiffness of the jaws culminating into verbal rape-case.
Nothing is as difficult as teaching Public Speaking if you are not a gifted public speaker yourself. In short, leave public speaking coaching to those who are gifted. Do not teach student public speakers to waste time at the beginning of their speeches. Circumlocution is a sign of confusion. It is not a style as many teachers seem to believe. It is not fashionable either. If anything it is confirmation of a speaker who has been conditioned . . . brainwashed like a parrot to imitate the speech trainer.
Do not teach students to say a lot of irrelevant nonsense in the first three minutes and then say, “Pardon my manners . . . I answer to the name so-and-so blab la.” How does it happen that every speaker says the same nonsense so illogical and irritating? The answer is simple. The speakers are trained in the same way to follow the same way of ‘‘introducing themselves.’’
Speakers are not parrots you want to all say the same thing and reproduce it in public. They are little thinkers with different speech endowments and personalities whose power and uniqueness must be allowed to manifest during public speaking. And how you begin your speech determines everything that follows.
Remember this, Every listener makes up his or her mind to respect you intellectually A. . . to expect sense or nonsense from you, to choose to listen to you or not, in the first two to three minutes of your speech. If you torture the listener in your first few sentences you have lost one in the audience . . . the next and the next until eventually everyone has turned away and become busy making a noise. You have turned them away.
Teachers! Please get expert coaching from people who are knowledgeable about the art of public speaking. What techniques can you use to begin a powerful and inspiring speech? How do you sustain it every turn? How do you use your voice, its pitch and undulation to grip the attention of listeners? How long do you take before you bore the audience?
How do you read the reactions and thoughts of the audience? How do you conclude your speech without throwing cold water on it? How do you squeeze in a pinch of humour . . . if it is necessary? All these are questions whose answers a public speech coach must have at the tips of his or her fingers.
Teach proper Public Speaking, not backyard conditioning. Teach your student speakers to exhibit thought, appropriate gesticulation (body language) and effective verbal gymnastics.
Teach your speakers to carry appropriate loads of vocabulary, not overweight words and expressions every listener can tell were downloaded from some head bigger than theirs, for example the class teacher’s, or straight from the Oxford Learners’ Dictionary. Do not display the opposites of the above skills and humiliate your speakers in public.
Remember that all speeches reflect the high or low of every public speaking coach. Good judges of public speaking judge the speakers, but behind it all judge their teachers or coaches. All student speakers are the mirrors of their teachers’ competency or lack of it.