The Virtue of Public Speaking: What we learn from the feat of Lois Mensah

On Saturday August 28, 2022, Miss Lois Mensah of Chemu Senior High School, won the overall best orator at the second edition of the National Public Speaking Competition (NPSC). It’s a burgeoning event not yet having the pedigree of the National Science and Math Quiz (NSMQ), but its significance, I dare say, may be more than the NSMQ because the history of global and national governance and leadership has made more of intelligent speakers than mere scientist and mathematicians.

The 2022 NPSC grew bigger to feature 28 selected good speakers from 14 public and private high schools including Achimota School, Presbyterian Boys School, Mfantsiman Girls School, Legacy Girls School and Chemu School. They competed in three areas including prepared and impromptu speeches on contemporary local and international subjects like the necessity of reshuffling government ministers, what to do with the plastic problem and this issue about “my body my choice”.

The students were good. They had had very short time to prepare perhaps because of the challenges of organizing a competition of such quality. But their output was high. For example, only a very brilliant chap can speak, to philosophical depth, on a topic such as “the myth of imperfection” and receive meaningful applause from the educationists, literary experts and public speaking professionals present. This is what Miss Lois Mensah did and achieved!

Her amateurish person was not perfectly hidden but the mental prowess, articulated diction and almost perfect gesticulations, with which she delivered, were both patent and potent. The last from Chemu Senior High School was just glittering to watch as she presented the winning Imprimatur speech. They had been given about 30 seconds to think and two minutes to deliver, and she did! She was both sensible and prompt. But perhaps what shone most in her armory of brilliance was the life in her carefully chosen words and constructed phrases. She produced feeling! That’s the power of oration, the transmission of feeling from the speaker to the listener. Lois won the best impromptu speaker and the overall best orator, very deservingly.

The point of this piece is to dichotomize speech from mere oration, as it were, and urge us to make good meaning of what we say. We must speak, and not just be smooth professional talkers. 

Of all God’s creation, man is the only that can speak. We have voice, with which to express intentions and can give out words to communicate motive and desires. The ability to speak is a divine gift that endorses our likeness to our source of life. It is a privilege we must be always grateful for.

When a man speaks, you expect reason, logic, sense, and feeling. When speech is devoid or germ, sanity is threatened. This is the power of oration: verbal communication so lucidly delivered as to carry an audience along, until they at least, find pleasure in listening, if they don’t find reason for immediate action.

This is why the collaboration between the organisers of this second national public speaking competition must be applauded. The foresight is relatively rare, in our part of the global space, to productively appreciate the developmental link between oration and public good; especially because the most likely connection is about the sophistry with which politicians have deceived the electorate with sweet words and empty promises. That’s the worth of mere oration; empty smooth talk.

In the Bible, the twelfth chapter of Acts, we find instructive references to oration that would engage reflective minds: the Herod who murders the Apostle James and looked forward to killing Peter after Easter. It is recorded, this king so spoke to his beneficiaries of Tyre and Sidon in an oration that made them hail him as the voice of a god and not a man. His end was an immediate consumption by worms, that betrayed is fallacious humanity. The lesson is that oration can come with a flamboyance that tempts the orator to assume a divine rather human capacity. Perhaps this cunningly alludes to the judgment awaiting secular and religious politicians who make greedy gains with their oratory skills. The other orator we find in the New Testament is Tertullus, who was hired by the Jews to overpower with words, the convicting power of Apostle Paul’s submission before the joint council of Pharisees and Sadducee’s; in Acts chapter 24. He too failed.

Here is the point: mere oratory prowess has no virtue unless the heart of the orator is captured by a sincere love for truth and humbled by the worthlessness of human ability without God. Unless the smooth talker is regenerated by the grace of God, his oratory power has no value. Call it what you may: religion, sentiment, superstition; the evidence of our debauched generation, under the bondage of pseudo liberties, enforces our stiff necks.

Two other public speakers mentioned in the Bible, Moses and Jesus, show as more excellent ways today’s gifted orators should pursue to save their souls from this two-edged natural talent. The gift of oratory has often been misused to the peril of followers. Many politicians are orators with cunning hearts and subtle lips who deceive the masses to have access to national resources for their selfish gains. This has virtually destroyed the trust people have in what others, especially leaders, tell them. Because oration is much about talk and less about speech, we may have the luxury to permit orators to tell us things they really don’t care about in real life. This is not the case for public speakers. Good public speakers would be orators but much more do they do beyond their words; they walk the talk.

Moses, God’s word tells us, was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22). His actions were as effective as his words. He spoke powerful and acted powerfully. He was not a smooth but vain talker. We have to groom our young orators to be speakers rather than talkers. We should help them connect their words to their action. We should not allow them to fall into the trap of thinking that ability to talk is independent of the capacity to do;no it is not.

PR professionals are paid because they talk about what their companies actually do or will actually do and not what they wish but will never get to do. When public speakers speak well about what they have actually done or will surely do, their words are not merely passionate, they convict; they don’t just impress our feelings, they inspire our souls. They don’t just excite our hearings senses, they prick our conscience. They don’t just trigger our intellect, they commit our wills. True public speakers would be the best catalyst to transform society. That’s why Jesus, the Christ, transforms humanity.

So let’s go to work to build the capacity of our young orators to become true public speakers. Let’s train them on projects relating to the topics they do so fluently and passionately talk about. Let’s award them beyond mere oratory prowess. It will do us much good as a country if we invest, at these early stages of grooming our intelligent young public speakers, in their capacity to walk their talk. Perhaps we could start by getting companies to sponsor projects connected to their subject of speech.For example, Lois Mensah could be resourced to conduct a campaign to motivate young people who are vulnerable to inferiority complex because they carry on their minds a “myth of imperfection” that is preventing them from harnessing their inner strengths and hidden talents to become what the Almighty creator has created them to be.

Well done to the organizers of this year’s National Public Speaking Competition. Well done to the overall best young public speaker and the other very good young speakers. All the best to our efforts to transform our orators to true public speakers who would walk their professional talk.

By Dave Agbenu

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