There is a general assumption that every writer is a good speaker. It seems only natural that the two attributes should go together. If you can put words together and deliver such clear messages, it’s expected that with a microphone in hand, you can face an audience and deliver moving talks, bringing the words you write to life and having them leave an impression far more vivid than written words alone. As logical as this seems, it is not always true, at least not in my case.
Besides fiction, I write a weekly column and I blog about issues that I feel strongly about. I also tweet. The last time I checked, I had over ten thousand of those 140 character messages in which I have expressed everything from my creed, to my sexuality and everything in-between. In simple terms, I am pretty much at home with expressing my thoughts in writing but speaking those words is a different matter altogether.
I trace the origin to one disastrous event many years ago. Back in Secondary school, I was a star of the literary and debating society. I wrote wonderful essays which won me many honours and proud appearances before the school assembly. Well, that was before my humpty dumpty-like fall. The school was invited for an inter-school debate competition and it was only natural that the best essay writer should be part of the team. On the day, when it all mattered most, I failed to deliver even to my own astonishment.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was the third speaker. It meant I was to wrap up my sides argument, like the last runner in a relay race. The topic was on Girl Child Education. We were opposing the motion, arguing in favour of girl child education. The coordinator of the literary and debating society, Miss Okpala helped us fine-tune our presentations. The rehearsal sessions were perfect. We seemed set to win. But on the day, something different happened. In the middle of my presentation, I stuttered and lost my line. It was the climax to a disaster that had announced itself first when marching boot soles took over the left of my chest as soon as we assumed our seats on the day of the debate. I barely sat steady while the earlier speakers made their arguments.
So when I handled the microphone, I spoke like someone who had just run down a hill, my breath coming in heaves. My words flew out like objects of irritation out of my throat. My hand, the one with the microphone, trembled. It was only a matter of time before I stuttered and came to a halt like a car with a faulty radiator. All my carefully rehearsed lines took flight and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get them back. Standing there petrified, I wished the ground would open and swallow me.
Noticing my helplessness the audience began to clap. It was an overwhelming ovation that helped me trace my way back to my seat without collapsing. The sound of the claps and the throbbing in my chest that day still echo in my memory till this day. They haunt me like sins from my distant past each time I am to speak to an audience, be it the mere act of voicing an opinion during my team meeting at work, addressing a rally of youths or even while praying in a group. Anywhere I have to speak in a formal setting with or without notes.
It is not a lack of what to say or the command of language to say it. Indeed, it is not the absence of the guts to face the audience and convert thoughts to words. No. it’s something more. I hate to sound superstitious but it feels very alive, like some kind of spirit and it enshrouds me, overwhelming me from deep within and making me feel as though I am about to choke as I speak. Like I needed to vomit all the words quickly. Like I needed to say them all at once before I lose them like on the day of the school debate many years ago.
It’s all psychological. On the other hand, I blame it on my being overtly emotional. So attached am I to every word I write or think of that when speaking them it is not just my lips moving, it is my entire being taking life and because of the deep conviction in my heart about the point I am trying to make, I become prone to stuttering as I hasten to speak them all and get my listeners to believe them as much as I do.
Sadly, as someone who is known to write, wherever I find myself whether it’s a vote of thanks that needs to be made at a party or my teams report at work, every other person, oblivious of my challenge delegates the duty to me in the belief that I am most suited to handle it. I often pass off such responsibilities when I can and when I can’t, I handle it, being as brief as possible and employing a smile, to cover up the turmoil going on in my heart and head.
But there are other situations when as a writer I must speak and not be brief. My collection of short stories is due out soon and heralding it has been a flurry of book readings. The most challenging aspects of these readings are the interactive sessions. I have had situation where my publisher had to step in to buttress certain points following my obviously too brief answer. I have no doubt in my mind that with every new reading, I will get to know my audience more and that their smiling faces and the appreciation they show for my writing will be my ultimate weapon for overcoming the debate debacle.
Photo By Sylva Ifedigbo – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Sylva Ifedigbo, a Nigerian creative writer and freelance journalist is the author of The Funeral Did Not End, a collection of short stories coming soon from DADA Books Nigeria. He lives in Lagos Nigeria.
Blog / Website: www.nzesylva.wordpress.com