Tuesday, November 7, 2023 3:23 am
It was in 2018 when I received a call that the former Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibajo would be in town for a town hall session with the youth of Oyo State and I had been selected to give a speech at the occasion.
I had a few days to prepare. I didn’t know the criteria for my selection but I made up my mind to maximize the opportunity I was given. I had spoken at different platforms but one that would have the Vice- President of the nation and the Governor of Oyo State was indeed exceptional.
I wasn’t given any specific topic but I was informed I had 20 minutes. I outlined several topics on paper and started eliminating them in view of the expected audience. I pictured the demographics in my mind as I prepared my speech after settling for a topic.
I scribbled on paper, did an extensive research on the topic, infused personal stories, added a dose of inspiration and adapted my topic for my audience. I kept on fine tuning the speech and committed a chunk to memory. I knew I won’t have the services of a teleprompter and I didn’t want to keep looking at a paper. So I jotted the main bullet points while I committed the main speaking points to memory. I did this until I was so familiar with the topic and could start even if I was woken up from sleep.
I settled for my opening remarks which I knew was the most important part and needed to carry a punch so I could command the attention of the audience. I was largely an unknown name so it was absolutely important I put my best foot forward. Some opportunities are once-in-a-lifetime and when you miss them, you live with regrets of what could have been.
The D-Day arrived. I had settled for what to wear. I selected a good bow tie and a blue suit. Blue always looks good on me. It’s my favourite colour for a suit. Of course, my shirt was white. You can’t catch me dead wearing any other colour. I only wear white shirts except on weekends or off-work. If you see me in a suit, I would be wearing a white shirt underneath. I dress intentionally. You have to look the part.
We sat in the hall waiting for the arrival of the Vice President. I actually got there early. You don’t arrive at such events late and put yourself under unnecessary pressure. Arriving early helps you to soak in the energy of the place and make adjustments as required. I usually use that opportunity to consider if I have a podium to place my paper or ipad on, the space available as I like to move around a bit as I speak, the elevation of the platform and the seating arrangement among others.
The VP arrived. The programme had to change because he didn’t have much time. He really looked exhausted. I actually thought I won’t be able to give the speech again with the flurry of activities. One of the VP’s aides beckoned and asked if I could sum up my speech in 15 minutes. Of course, I answered. I knew what to remove so I could stay within the time frame. My Pastor had always admonished us never to stay beyond our allotted time no matter how fired up the audience was.
As I was getting ready to be called, the VP’s aide beckoned again and asked if I could do it in 5 minutes. Yes, I answered affirmatively. I made a mental note and deleted some contents immediately.
After the National anthem, I was called up for my speech. As I walked up the stage, I muttered a prayer. I remembered the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I will prepare myself and one day my chance will come”. I looked at several cameras that clicked away. I was the cynosure of all eyes. It was a moment that may end up defining me.
Then, the VP’s aide stepped up to me and whispered into my ears, “Please can you do this in 2 minutes?”. I nodded in affirmation. Even one minute was okay. Opportunities like this don’t come everytime. I took the microphone, saluted the VP and Governor as protocols demanded and charged the audience. I spoke to the youth about the importance of continuous education and personaldevelopment. I said the person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read. I also charged them not to do drugs or engage in substance abuse. I said the greatest inspiration they need is within themselves and not drugs. I rounded up by sharing a short story about giving back to the society. I said it is good when we expect our country to give to us but it is better when we give back to our country. And I was done within 2 minutes. I got a rousing ovation.
So, here’s a summary of what you need to understand about the law of preparation. When you’re given an opportunity, prepare as if your life depends on it because sometimes it does. Don’t leave anything to chance. It is better to be over-prepared than to be under-prepared. A first class is always better than a simple pass. Rehearse. Be mentally prepared. Stage fright is common and even happens to the best of us but understand that no one knows you’re afraid or nervous. Don’t give voice to your fear. Smile as you speak. Your smile will disarm your audience. You don’t have to be an orator to give the best speeches. Just choose your words carefully.
And what happens if in spite of your preparation, things don’t go according to plan? You miss your lines? Or commit some gaffes? Remember Steve Harvey? In 2015, he was the host of the Miss Universe pageant which was broadcast to a global audience when he announced the wrong winner. It was so embarrassing that many thought his career was over. But he took responsibility for his error. He didn’t explain it away or excuse it. He apologized to a global audience. They booed him but how many remember the incident 8 years after?
If you make an error, don’t kill yourself. Do the right thing and move on. Memories are fickle especially when you learn from your mistakes.