Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Make a Speech (in Africa)

In Africa people take themselves very seriously.  There is a lot of pomp and circumstance and reference to protocol.  Back home informality is considered more friendly, personal and preferred.  Here, you don’t dare call someone by their first name unless they invite you to do so.  Instead, you must greet them with their surname and the proper title (Mr., Dr., etc.).  It’s not really my style, but you get used to it to an extent.

Given the preference for formality, speeches are VERY important.  If you invite someone to speak at an event there are certain rules to be followed, and failing to do so is considered uncouth.  In case anyone reading my blog plans on taking a trip to Africa in the future and making any kind of speech or presentation, please follow these instructions:

1.      Acknowledge and thank EVERYONE.  Before making a speech you find out everyone else who will be addressing the audience and you acknowledge their presence, as well as whoever invited you to the event and any ‘dignitaries.’  Keep in mind just about everyone is a dignitary of some kind.  I often record events which I attend so I make sure when I quote someone it is 100% accurate.  In a recent conference I attended the first person who spoke on a panel said the following, “Thank you to the University of Botswana, the International Tourism Research Center, the Faculty of Business and the Department of Tourism for inviting me to talk today.  I would like to especially thank Mr. Mongokoki for organizing this event; Mrs. Siya, the chair of the Tourism Department; Mrs. Mahachi, the coordinator of the Hospitality program; Mrs. Tsheko, one of the esteemed lecturers in the Faculty of Business; Dr. Ketshabile, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business; Dr. Pansiri, the Dean of the Faculty of Business… [he named about 6 other UB administrators I won’t mention here].  I would also like to appreciate how honored I am to be in the company of so many other wonderful presenters, such as the Director of the Department of Tourism, the lady from the Department of Wildlife, the Minister of Tourism… [as well as 3 others].”  Not an exaggeration, I still have the tapes if you want to listen to them.

2.      Observe protocol. After acknowledging everyone you then recognize that protocol has been observed.  Literately, that’s what you say.  The guy who made the above introduction followed it by saying, “Protocol observed.”  Every time I hear this it makes me laugh inside a little bit.  I sort of equate it to eating dinner and then formally stating, “Dinner has now been eaten.”  Maybe only I see the humor in this.  Please excuse me if you don’t appreciate this as much as I do.

3.      The speech itself. Once you have made your introductory statement and announced “protocol observed” you may then begin making your remarks.  Again, there are more rules associated with making remarks:

a.       You must time your predecessors’ remarks and make sure your statement is the same amount of time, plus you must add 10%.  If the speaker before you spoke for 10 minutes you must speak for a minimum of 11minutes.  This is particularly important if you have a direct counterpart.  For instance, if you are Vice President of Botswana and the Vice President of Zimbabwe is also in attendance, you MUST speak longer than the other VP.  If you have the bad luck of speaking first then you are out of luck because the Zimbabwean VP will basically take everything you say, repeat it and then say some more stuff to make sure he speaks longer than you.  This is definitely an example of “first is the worst, second is the best.”  You want to speak second so you can prove you are better than whoever went first.

b.       If you are given a time limit for how long you are permitted to speak you absolutely must ignore it.  I spoke on a panel where all the speakers were told we should limit our comments to four minutes or less.  I spoke first for three minutes exactly.  The other speakers on the panel spoke for between 10 and 26 minutes.  Yes, I timed them.  So, the panel which was supposed to be precisely 30 minutes lasted a full two hours.

c.       Feel free to ignore the start time for your presentation.  You might be told you are presenting at 8am.  No one will be there at 8am to watch you.  In fact, your host won’t even be there at 8am.  Come to think of it, the building won’t even be open at 8am, so you will be standing outside, by yourself.  If you are delegated an 8am start time no one expects you to arrive before 9am and no one else will be there before that time either.

4.      In conclusion… At this point you have acknowledged and thanked everyone, noted that protocol has been observed, and talked for as long as you want about whatever you want.  Ready to wrap it up now?  At the conclusion of your speech you must state that you are concluding.  And you are permitted to be as long winded in your conclusion as you like.  You are also encouraged to use the term conclusion as much as possible.  At a speech during the UNWTO conference, the Zambian Minister of Tourism stated, “In conclusion…. Thus I can conclude by stating…. A concluding thought I advise you remember…” She used the words conclusion, conclude and concluding no less than 9 times during her 21 minute conclusion.  When I first arrived in Africa I would always look forward to someone stating, “in conclusion” with great anticipation thinking to myself, YAY! This is almost over!  I have since learned to ignore “in conclusion” as it means absolutely nothing.  Now it’s more like a tease because you know you are no closer to the end than when you started.

To recap, don’t start on time, ignore time limits, say hi to everyone, observe protocol and make sure you note when you are getting ready pretending to conclude.  Happy speech writing!

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