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July 12, 2017

Malala Yousafzai and public speaking: 12 lessons from the best speech of the century (so far)

Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations and delivered what can only be described as the best speech of 2013, as well as the most powerful address of this decade (so far.) Malala Yousafzai is a great global communicator.

A year earlier, when she was fifteen-years old, she was shot in the head at point-blank range in Pakistan. Malala was shot because she wanted to ... learn. And she was a young woman.

A young woman who wanted to learn.

The goal of the shooting was to silence her. The result was the creation of an inspirational advocate for global education who has the ear of the world.

Malala Yousafzai is an exceptional public speaker, period. Not a young speaker. An exceptional public speaker.

There are lessons for all of us in Malala’s famous address. There are 20+ public speaking lessons for every executive, political, academic and professional presenter. Here are just a dozen:

1. Practice – Malala knew that for this one moment in time, the eyes and ears of the world would be focused on her. She was not reading text for the first time. She was not “winging it.” There is no question that Malala had practiced the speech countless times. It showed.
2. Preparation – There are too many powerful lines to mention. That is because the preparation that went into this address was extensive, and there was no extraneous information. Malala knew this was her opportunity to deliver a powerful message, and prepared with that in mind.
3. Message Development – There was no mistaking what Malala’s message was. It was not buried in facts, details or statistics. It was relevant, actionable, repeatable, enduring and relevant. (The RARER method)
4. Call to Action – In fact, several direct calls to action. “We call upon ..” was the beginning of six sentences.
5. Pausing – there was no dis-fluency in Malala’s address. None. Why? Malala employed strategic pausing that helped to root out dis-fluency, and also added to the power of her delivery. Key pauses were employed throughout.
6. “Chunking” – Malala was delivering from a written document (I am unsure if it was a prepared text, or notes), but only spoke while looking down once. Instead, she looked down at her written document, captured a “chunk” of what came next, paused, looked up, and delivered it.

7. Eye Contact – By utilizing “chunking” Malala was able to make eye contact with the entire body of the United Nations for the majority of her presentation.
8. Rate – Malala’s rate of delivery was perfect. The speech was written, and delivered, with the audience in mind.
9. Volume/Pitch – Again, a great example of the proper utilization of both volume and pitch.
10. Inflection and Enunciation – It was clear where Malala wanted the stress to be on each word. Each word was crystal clear.
11. Rhetorical devices – Metaphor, anaphora, repetition, polysndeton (One child, one teacher, one book and one pen), triads (Mohammed, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah) are but five examples. This speech will be studied for some time to come.
12. Power – The power and determination on Malala’s face, and in her voice, was amazing.

July 12, 2013 was not only Malala Day. It was an important day in the world of public speaking and oration. It was the day that the world was introduced to a great global communicator. A transcript of the entire speech can be found here.

Matt Eventoff is the founder of The Oratory Project.  The Oratory Project (T.O.P.) is a mission-based service focused on delivering customized, proprietary workshops to enhance the communication skills of "at-risk" young adults in order to empower them, help them gain confidence and help them grow professionally.