Finalist Thabani Mtsi

I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact ‘how’ because there were several contributing factors. The first is that my mother is a teacher and I think she instilled in me a passion for adding value to people’s lives through knowledge transfer. The second is that I grew up idolizing pastors at church because of how hard-hitting their words were, to me and to the congregation. The third is that our church is very participatory; on average you would present for 30 minutes in front of the congregation at least once a month.

The fourth, and probably the biggest contributor, is that when I was younger my mother forced me to speak at family gatherings and other public platforms—she would literally push me to go on stage to welcome people, ask them to settle down as they waited or something to that extent—and I grew a knack for it. The fifth one is that I asked a lot of questions in all my classes in primary through to varsity. This showed me how low-stakes speaking in public was and how—for me—the necessity of gaining or transferring knowledge overrode any negative social circumstance, real or imagined, that came with speaking up. 

My core message is that ‘it takes a village’. This message highlights the influence individual contribution has on societal wellness and, consequently, the power communal practices have on individual wellness. I chose this message because not only does it draw from the abundance of age-old African wisdom, but it is a message that is pertinent today. 

I have learnt that it takes a village. I have sat in long coaching sessions with fellow Toastmasters ‘villagers’ working through my speech. I have received the most heart warming messages and have been edified by words of encouragement from friends and loved ones. This competition has shown me that you can use others’ belief in you to fuel your self belief. I call it COMM-FIDENCE, a community’s confidence. 

I set out to do the message justice. So long as I am an effective vessel for the much-needed message and it edifies the audience; I am content. I felt compelled to share this message because the fact that we are interdependent, and that we need each other as humanity, can be easily forgotten. 

Firstly, and most importantly, please note that making up the ranks of the competition is not necessarily an indication of your ability to communicate. Gauge and improve that by visiting various clubs and getting feedback from a wide range of people. The international speech contest, unfortunately, lends itself to storytelling—which is only one format of public speaking. With that said, the practical answer is to fail early, fail fast and fail forward—iterate as much as possible. Last year I completed 45+ speeches in a space of 7 months and that journey was failure-ridden. The more I failed, the better I got. The philosophical answer is to find the message you’ve been commissioned to share and work on being the best vessel for that message.