Presentation Tips – Things Fall Apart

Have you ever been asked to take a high level responsibility last minute? It happened to me. I was asked to be a Director of Ceremonies just one week before a conference of 250 engineers and the invited Guest of Honour was a Senior Cabinet Minister. Coincidentally, I had many other commitments and deadlines to meet in the few days before the conference. As the days drew nearer, I felt like going back to excuse myself that I was not ready take up the challenge. Honestly, time was not on my side. I could not even find spare time to craft a convincing apology to the conference organizers.

Early in the morning I woke up, took a shower and dressed up for the big day. I looked in the mirror and smiled at myself. I was more confident and looked forward to a great day. Immediately, I told myself to sit down for 15 minutes before I do anything.

Soon it was an evening before the conference. That night my mind was bothered on what I could do to deliver a good show as director of ceremonies. But nothing came to mind.

It was like Things Fall Apart. So I decided to sleep, after all, all things are avoidable except taxes and death. Luckily, I was facing neither of the two. But when I remembered that most people fear public speaking more than death, I chose to live.

Firstly, I asked myself to think of the greatest people that inspire me the most. Three personalities came to mind: Elon Musk – Founder of Tesla, Solar City and SpaceX, Mahatma Ghandi – Indian freedom fighter and Chinua Achebe – a prolific and respected writer of African literature. Then I said to myself whose story can I tell that will resonate well with the conference delegates. Chinua Achebe was the automatic choice; Achebe is the author of the most popular African novel, Things Fall Apart. However, the choice was not a self-confession that indeed “things fell apart”, but I knew that at the mention of Chinua Achebe and his popular novel the audience of engineers will easily associate with my story line. Then I decided to build a quick story line from quotations of Chinua Achebe.

My first quotation was, “A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” Chinua Achebe, from Things Fall Apart. These words of wisdom were not only an icebreaker but a panacea to neutralize the audience and make them respectful to each other.

Second was to elicit humour from the audience, with this quote, “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” ― Chinua Achebe. The relevance of this quote was to remind the conference delegates that we all have to accept that we have problems and need to find solutions. If we deny our problems then we can rest assured that problems will settle in our lives, families and organizations.

The last quote was, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” ― Chinua Achebe. This quote was a challenge to the audience to open up and tell their story and be heard.

At the end of the opening session of the conference, delegates applauded me and one by one came to congratulate me for successfully directing the session. So how did I make it with a 15 minute preparation?

Confidence (C) – Always be confident about yourself. Look into the mirror and tell yourself, “I am a winner.”

Story telling (S) – Master storytelling techniques before the stormy day. Excellent story telling skills is your life jacket; it will save you even if you are taken by surprise.

Relevance (R) – Quickly analyze your audience and say things that are relevant and resonate with your audience

In summary, I will say know your CSR (Confidence, Story Telling, and Relevance). Regular attendance and participation at my local Toastmasters club meetings have helped me to develop and master the three attributes of CSR above to the extent that I can handle any presentation challenge with ease. Make a plan and commit to develop and master your CSR in the year 2019 through regular club attendance and participation.

Soustain Chigalu DTM

Blantyre Club Malawi