That’s Intriguing #101: What Can We Learn From Malala?

malala16 year old Malala Yousafzai, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, has many things to teach us about courage, vision and the ability of one person to make a difference.

She also has a lot to teach us about what I call … ORASTORY.

No, that’s not spelled wrong. It’s a new, much-needed approach to communication. See, Oratory is defined as:

  1. the art of speaking in public with style, cogency, and grace.
  2. eloquence in public speaking, especially of the kind that shows the speaker’s rhetorical skills.
  3. pompous, boring, or inappropriately long speech

It’s the third definition of “oratory” that gives it a bad rap. People today don’t want pomposity. And they certainly don’t want boring and long.

In today’s world of INFOBESITY, people want pithy and profound. They want short and tweet. Enter ORASTORY. I define ORASTORY as:

  1. art of public speaking that re-enacts real-life events so people see what we’re saying.
  2. crafted rhetorical skill and organic eloquence that captures and keeps interest.
  3. pithy, provocative communication that turns INFOBESITY into intrigue.

Let’s dissect what Malala does that makes her such an effective example of ORASTORY.

1. She “Elmore Leonards” her content.

Years ago popular author Elmore Leonard was asked, “Why do people love your books?”

He smiled and said, “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Malala leaves out the parts people would skip. Nary a superfluous word.

2. She’s eminently quotable, and whoever gets quoted gets taken viral.

Want to know if your communication was quotable? Ask yourself, “Can people repeat anything they heard, word for word?” If not, your speech was in one ear, out the other.

We don’t want to be out of sight, out of mind; we want to be top of mind. And the way to stay top of mind is to ask ourselves, “What do I want people to remember of what I said? Have I crafted that into a sound-bite people can repeat and want to Tweet?”

4. Malala doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Many speakers believe that if they want to be taken seriously, they need to be serious from start to finish. Which makes them deadly dull.

Malala knows that humor is the great humanizer. She understands that people warm to us when we’re relatable.

Watch her interview with Jon Stewart.

Even though the topic is terrorism and Malala talks about being shot in the face by a would-be assassin: there are also moments of laughter in which she, Jon and the audience enjoy comic relief (realize the importance of that phrase.)

4. Malala knows when to stop talking.

Re-watch her interview with Jon Stewart. Notice, she doesn’t expound. Her responses are 30 – 90 seconds tops. Many speakers feel they need to tell everything In reality, the longer we talk, the more confused people become.

Brevity and clarity are first cousins. When being interviewed, discipline yourself to distill what you have to say into minute-long responses. If interviewers want to know more; they’ll ask.

Concise answers create a verbal page-turner. They establish a momentum that keeps people on the edge of their seats, eager to hear what’s next.

5. Malala novelizes her narrative.

Think about it. Why can we read novels for hours at a time … and it’s not hard work?

Because novelists make their story our story. They put us in the scene with vivid description and “comma, quote, he said, she said” dialogue so it’s like we’re standing or sitting next to the lead character and we’re in the middle of what’s happening.

Notice that Malala doesn’t philosophize, theorize or intellectualize. She doesn’t tell what happened to her which would make it remote and distant. She shows what happened to her with word pictures that engage our mind’s eye. We’re picturing what happened instead of passively hearing about it. We’re experiencing it as if we’re there. In a way, we are.
6. Malala doesn’t try to impress or prove.

Quick. Who was cool back in school?

The kids who didn’t try too hard. Trying too hard is a turn-off.

Malala has a quiet confidence and a complete lack of self-consciousness because she’s not trying to impress us. Her goal isn’t for you to walk away thinking, “Wow, what an impressive speaker.” Her goal is for you to understand how important it is to educate and empower young girls, and for you to want to do something about it.

Lady Bird Johnson said, “Become so wrapped up in something, you forget to be afraid.” Malala is so wrapped up in her mission, she doesn’t have any energy left to be afraid.

7. Malala doesn’t rush and blush; she pauses and punches.

The more nervous people are, the faster they talk. Unfortunately, speeding up does not help you calm down.

Arthur Levine, (editor of J.K. Rowling at Scholastic) gave me a marvelous compliment after watching me emcee the Maui Writers Conference. He said, “Sam, I love the way you speak. You put space around your words.”

Malala puts space around her words. She knows that we need to hear EVERY word if we’re going to be impacted by them. She pauses … before important points … and then PUNCHES them … so they land. We can repeat them, after hearing them once.
For example, her statement; “I raise MY voice … so those WITHOUT a voice … can be heard” has been re-broadcast globally because it was delivered so powerfully.

So, what can we learn from Malala?

ANYONE is capable of ORASTORY. If a 16 year old girl can inspire millions with her eloquent speaking, inspiring example and evocative message, why can’t you?

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