Obama’s 16th Annual Lecture Review
by Mutali Nemadzivhanani – Toastmasters Southern Africa Speech Evaluator
When I heard that Former President Barack Obama was going to be speaking at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, I almost passed out. There was no way I was going to miss it! I found myself at Midday on Tuesday, July 17th outside Wanderers Stadium standing in the longest queue of my entire life. It took an hour and a half to get into the stadium but I would have waited the whole day if it had been necessary. Barrack is considered one of the most talented speakers of our time and as someone who is constantly trying to improve my speaking, I had to go experience this talk in person. His lecture was titled “Renewing the Mandela legacy and promoting active citizenship in a changing world.”
As soon as he took to the podium, he switched on the humour by referring back to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comment about his dance moves. President Ramaphosa had jested that although he concedes that there are some similarities between Former President Nelson Mandela and Former President Barack, Barack wasn’t much of a dancer. Barack said he needed to set the record straight. This got people laughing and the audience immediately connected with him – not only because of the humour but also because we could relate to him as an ordinary person who had to defend his dancing skills.
Throughout the speech Barack had us eating off the palm of this hands. The contents of his hands were nuggets of wisdom, beautiful imagery and pieces of history. He had the whole stadium hanging onto his every word. Occasionally, the entire stadium would burst into laughter or explode into applause.
In his speech, he shared anecdotes from his own life and how, as a college student, he was inspired by Nelson Mandela to re-examine his own life and the role he could have in “bending the arc of the world towards justice.”
He spoke fondly of Madiba and told stories of how as a young boy in school at his village he was given the name “Nelson”. He said, “There was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time in this place could in any way alter history.” The very fact that it did, gives us hope for future generations.
He spoke about the world as it was a hundred years ago – when Nelson Mandela was born – and how it is today. Even though there has been some progress, he said there is still racial discrimination, rising inequality, violation of the rights of women and other forms of injustice.
Barack’s use of language was outstanding. He used triads “to re-imagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship.” He used alliterations “a peaceful and prosperous Japan, a unified Europe” He used metaphors to create vivid imagery “Madiba’s light shone so brightly, even from the narrow Robben Island cell…” “poverty of ambition” “breaking the shackles of past” “It seemed that the forces of progress were on the march…” to which he later did a call-back when he said “Dictatorship gave way to democracy. The march was on.”
I was paying specific attention to his body language as it can be challenging to exhibit good body language behind a podium. He used his hand gestures deliberately and effectively to drive his points home. He was also able to look at the crowd throughout the stadium, I felt though that he concentrated more on the crowds at the ends and not enough on the middle parts. I would have loved to see him do that. I also think it would have been even more impactful if he had looked at the camera directly to the front of him at certain parts of his keynote speech, that would have made the people that were far and watching on the screens feel like he was speaking directly at them – especially when he shared his calls to action.
Barack did not use any notes unlike the other speakers, which speaks to the amount of preparation invested, his lecture was an hour and a half although it didn’t feel that long to me. I would have preferred it, though, if he did not mention when he was free-styling or ‘’adlibbing’’, as he called it. The first time when he mentioned it, we found it very funny because he said that he couldn’t remember where he was in the speech because he had “adlibbed’’ the preceding part. The second time when he said it was at the beginning of a different point and it came across more like a disclaimer. That was not necessary for the audience to know as they would not have known either way.
As he wrapped up, he left us with words of encouragement, “Keep believing. Keep marching. Keep building. Keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world.” He said he believes in Nelson Mandela’s vision for the world’s future and called on young people to get “Fired Up!!” As a Division L Toastmaster, I shouted back “Ready to go!!”
This was a well delivered lecture and when I left, I could tell that I wasn’t the only person that left that stadium #FiredUp
About Toastmasters Southern Africa
Established in 1978, Southern Africa Toastmasters (also known as District 74) includes nine countries including Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. District 74 has been in the business of transforming lives across our continent which is in dire need of inspirational leaders. Men and women become part of this organization to develop and improve their leadership and communication skills. For more information on District 74, please visit www.toastmasters74.org
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