The Power of Words

By Jonathan Chan, AoT Digital Editor

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To be able to articulate your views in front of other people isn’t often seen as necessary or achievable for everyone. With this video, I’d like to tell you that public speaking isn’t the domain of people of certain backgrounds. Regardless of who you are, where you come from or what line of work you’re involved in, communicating your ideas before others is an indispensable skill. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a speech delivered by Mohammed Qahtani, a security engineer from Saudi Arabia.

Qahtani’s speech is entitled “The Power of Words” and with it, he won the 2015 Toastmasters’ World Championship of Public Speaking. What makes Qahtani’s oratory so compelling isn’t just his unexpected occupation, but also the fact that he suffered from a stutter as a boy. I’m going to examine three aspects of his speech that we can learn from when crafting our own presentations: humour, anecdotes and gestures.

Firstly, Qahtani captures the affections of the audience by almost lighting a cigarette before being bewildered by their surprise. The wordless approach Qahtani took helped to loosen the audience up with laughter before he built up to his first point- that certain statements can sound true when the right words are used. Another example of Qahtani’s use of humour is featured in his anecdote about his son, when he mimes his son’s disgruntled expression when drawing on the walls with crayon. Qahtani’s use of humour almost helps to disarm the audience, lighten tension and even helps to make them more receptive to the points he has to make.

Secondly, Qahtani makes mesmerizing use of anecdotes to bring his main arguments to life. From his lighthearted story about getting his son to stop drawing on the walls with crayons to the decidedly more serious case of his friend’s struggle with substance abuse due to strained relations with his father, Qahtani taps on these anecdotes to add an emotional dimension to his speech. These anecdotes help to bring his points to life by framing them in ways we can envision and empathize with. This is aided by Qahtani’s wonderfully expressive face, capturing the spectrum of emotions that can be evoked by words.

Thirdly, Qahtani made vivid use of hand gestures and actions when delivering his speech. He walked to the front of the stage when emphasizing an idea. He mimed his son’s drawings to create humour. He pretended to use a defibrillator when describing a doctor’s attempts to revive his friends. He raised his hands when he wanted to make a point. Such gestures help to add colour to a speech by adding another element to storytelling and creating physical indications for things to be taken note of.

Ultimately, what we can learn from Qahtani is that in public speaking, the whole is the sum of its parts. It would be ridiculous to say that one aspect was more important than another, because they all played a part in helping to build a cohesive narrative. Mesmerizing speeches are often mesmerizing narratives and if we can find a way to incorporate these techniques into our presentations, we might find new ways to bring our words to life.



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