By Sara Jaffery
COVID is both a crisis and opportunity for us. I have always admired Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minster of Great Britain. To me as a young girl, she was the epitome of an effective speaker capable of influencing lives and initiating positive change. Her famous line, “The lady’s not for turning” was viewed not just as sending a message to her opponents but gripped her audience’s attention. I learnt then that a good speaker and writer must have the right tools to engage and persuade an audience to adopt their point of view. And who would think that COVID provided me with the opportunity to learn the art of persuasion.
Once COVID looked set to stay for some time and in person classes suspended, I took to the internet and enrolled myself for a four-week course on ‘The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking’ offered by Harvard University. It was a certification I had been looking for and there, the desired content fell right into my lap. With three children taking online classes at home, this was the perfect opportunity to dive right in.
The idea of learning again was making me both anxious and excited at the same time for the last time I attended college was over a decade and a half ago. Times had since changed for I was no longer a young single living with my parents nor a newly married yet to embark on the marathon of parenthood.
I learnt many things on the course but what stood out for me here is how to engage while being mindful of the type of audience. At times, most of us overlook who our target audience is when making a statement or writing a piece. It is vital to form an instant connection with our audience right from the beginning in our opening remarks. It also helps to state your argument in a single declarative sentence as means of a hook.
I also had lots of fun analysing key speeches given by prominent personalities, mainly in the US which I had not explored. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech is widely known but I had never studied it in depth until now. His command over his words, knowledge of historians, and philosophers was incredible. But my favourite was an extemporaneous speech delivered by Robert Kennedy in 1968. After finding out about the unfortunate death of Dr King, he scrapped his prepared remarks and, in their place, delivered a largely improvised speech that might have become a footnote in history as the best example of an impromptu speech.
We all use words, every day and all the time. Remember that the language in which an argument is presented is particularly important. Articulate your ideas, name the subject and engage with the audience – in short, understand the nuance before writing a piece or delivering a speech.
Strangely, it was COVID that gave me this opportunity to learn something I had always been curious about. So, go out there and take time out for yourself, there are plenty of options out there for everyone to explore and now is your chance to fulfil your desire.