My Gavel club experience, how a start-up is grooming an entire generation of leaders through speech.

“Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men.” Plato.

The power of spoken word dates back to the beginning of time, “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” John 1:1. Words shaped the universe as we know and spoken word remains a pillar in society and our way of life. Great men and women before our times have used spoken word to persuade entire nations and races into revolutions, sometimes towards noble causes of justice, peace and equality, other times towards less noble, more sinister causes of racism, hate, massacre and genocide. From the times of Hitler, who caused years of massacre of the Jews, to racist American presidents like Ronald Reagan, who encouraged ill treatment of the coloreds in the American society, Men and women have misused rhetoric and manipulated people into their own selfish ideologies. “You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man with logic.” Robert A. Heinlein.

On the other hand, other great men and women have also used rhetoric to fight for peace justice and racial equality. From Nelson Mandela who spoke against Apartheid, to IDA B. WELLS a female colored journalist who stood for both racial and gender equality. Countless other personalities have used spoken word to root for justice and stand for the oppressed, Martin Luther King, Malcom X. The significance of spoken word in the fabric of society is unquestionable. For that reason, the greatest leaders, both in our time and before our time have been people who have nurtured the art and skill of public speaking.

Founded by Emmanuel Akandwanaho and a few friends, MAKERERE GAVEL CLUB is a start-up at Makerere University whose major goal is to nurture the art of public speaking among students. The club is an affiliate of TOAST MASTERS INTERNATIONAL the world’s biggest public speaking organization. MAKERERE GAVEL CLUB shares their vision of not only nurturing leaders, but also boost self-confidence and self-expression through speech. The club holds two meetings in a month, the first on the first Monday of the month, the second on the last Friday of the month.

After the opening formalities and preliminary activities, the meetings are usually divided into sessions, the first session involves three people who step up and deliver a speech about a topic or theme of their choosing. The second session involves impromptu speeches where a random member is picked from the audience to give an impromptu speech about a topic given to them by the session moderator. The third session involves feedback from the various evaluators about the previous speeches and last, a talk is given by a guest speaker then followed by closing remarks by the club president. The various elements of the meetings are designed to boost confidence and develop the participant’s public speaking skills and this is how.

The ice breaker speech. Much as a member giving a speech is at liberty to give a speech on the topic or theme of their choice, the first speech should by club rules be an ice-breaker speech. In this speech, a member is required to give a brief story of their lives, from their childhood to date. From their family life, to school life, personal life, even love life if one is willing to share. For most it’s a first time chance to open up and share to an audience something personal about themselves. A life story is very powerful, it determines how you look at yourself and what motivates your goals and ambitions. A life story is something personal and powerful at the same time. Since life is just one big story which begins when you are born, and ends when you die, how you tell your story is how you live your life.

Impromptu speeches. During the club meetings, there is a whole session reserved for impromptu speeches called the ‘Table topics’ session. A moderator (table topics master) comes up with a series of topics. He then randomly calls out a member from the audience to formulate and deliver an instant speech. Delivering an instant speech is one thing, delivering it in front of an audience is an entirely different thing. Amidst the fear of giving a messy speech, stage jitters from a spotlight hanging over one’s head, a participant is tasked to deliver a speech. It’s even worse if the participant is a first timer at the club meetings. Not only is this session exciting, it develops a skill of giving instant speeches, a skill which comes in handy in everyday society. There are multiple scenarios in which one may be tasked to give an instant speech, at a friend’s or siblings wedding, at a burial or any other formal gathering. Impromptu speeches also enhance cognitive abilities of instant reasoning and problem solving.

Role taking. Prior to the meetings, various club members are given different roles to play during the meeting. There is the general evaluator, specific evaluator for each speaker, table topics master, time keeper and sergeant at arms. The role takers are tasked with specific duties to carry out during the course of the meeting, the general evaluator gives a general analysis of how the meeting was conducted, the specific evaluators analyze the speeches of the day’s speakers and give feedback, table topics master moderates the table topics session, time keeper ensures each speech is within the time limits and the sergeant at arms opens and closes the meeting. It’s an intricate system that teaches role play and team-work, two very vital aspects in the running of industry and society as a whole.

Evaluation. Out of all the role takers, about half of them are evaluators, individuals whose role is to listen to the speeches and give a critical analysis. For someone already battling stage fright and shyness, the idea that your speech is being critically scrutinized can be daunting especially for first time public speakers, but it is a form of discomfort that the club tries to make its members accustomed to. The ability to take positive criticism and not take it personal, but rather appreciate the feedback is a priceless life skill. The club values feedback as one of the key ingredients of self-improvement. ‘Feedback is food for the champions’.

In conclusion, all the mentioned elements work hand in hand to build an all round leader. The icebreaker speech allows one to lay down with clarity, their vision, goals and values, the impromptu speeches build skills of spontaneous reasoning and problem solving, the role taking teaches organization, teamwork and role play, and finally the evaluation teaches students how to take, appreciate and react to criticism and feedback.

This article was co-authored by Rebecca Abitimo, publicity secretary Makerere Gavel club.