I posted a tweet that reads like this: “First thing that stands in Amama’s way is diction. I’m struggling to understand him.”
I was at the dentist’s, alone in the waiting room, TV was four metres away from me, Amama was on and I was struggling. Truly struggling.
First thing that came to mind is that he never had any public speaking/diction classes. He did not have to, he was on the inside, moving through the ranks, he was the guy. We had to listen to him and pretend we understood by default. His position was not under threat, he did not need to convince the whole country at the time that he should be the MP for Kinkizi West and neither was it the country population’s decision to make him Minister of State for Defence, Minister of State for Regional Cooperation, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Defence, Minister of Security and Prime Minister.
But he’s on the outside now. He’s on his own. And he wants to be our next President. Time to get all his ducks in a row.
First, most Ugandans never saw him up close. Never had a chance to interact with him. He wasn’t very popular when he made some decisions in the past and that will be aptly used against him in the few months to come, before the election day. I have no doubt that he’s a nice guy, I have no doubt he can deliver on everything he’s talking about. But I have a very basic problem, which is – to understand him when he’s talking.
Diction is one of the most important elements of public speaking. There is a reason why actors go to school for years on end. To have a perfect hold on body language, emotion, speech – takes years of practice. Amama did not need that at all, until now. And in my opinion, he needs diction/elocution classes more than anything.
The reason I detest Kizza Besigye when he speaks is that he delivers facial expressions and body language that are just – ugly. The way his voice goes to high pitch, almost squeak, when he’s upset or trying to make a point, reminds me of the over-accentuated CBS Katto Lubwama comedy skits. And little wonder Lubwama wants to be a politician too. This is, in a way, a generic speaking style that I can nickname ‘Tamale-Mirundiism’ – unnecessarily loud, overdone in gestures, grimaces, squeakiness and all in all – producing a certain cheap and uncultured look.
In sales profession, for example, how you look like and present yourself visually contributes to 60% of the positive opinion a buyer forms about you. 30% is attributed to the tone of your voice, the way you articulate what you are saying, the melody of your voice, intonation, the way you accentuate particular words and so on. Only ten percent of the positive opinion about a salesman is formed based on what he actually has to say. Amama has the looks so huge part of the job is done. He has the content, I have no doubt. But what he has to work on is diction or, as George Bankole puts it, elocution.
I had many opportunities to explain this before, especially whenever I trained TV presenters in the past. How you stand, breathe, where you inhale in the sentence, how much air you take in – these are the basic building blocks of excellent diction. The way you hold your head in relation to your body, how stretched are your vocal cords, how much air your lungs can hold – define the capacity of your voice to sustain expressing a sentence as and way you want it.
Shape of the mouth, teeth, how tongue relates to the palate, teeth, lips when saying words – all attribute to the speaking excellence. And where we are not excellent, we need to know how to improve and how to take control.
Most people just speak. And they speak the way they do, and nobody really cares how it comes out. But a public figure and an aspiring presidential candidate, right out of the wraps of safety and security of NRM where he successfully played a major part in our government in the past – has to watch his words. In more ways than one.
What Amama has to be aware of is that his pronunciation, although good, gets lost in the voice itself. His voice is not exciting because he speaks in a very flat way. Words in his sentences are either wrongly accentuated or all parts of the sentence have equal importance. He is over-composed, over-rehearsed, too rigid and he rarely smiles. All these elements make him look uncomfortable. How do you vote for an uncomfortable President-to-be?
There’s only one message that I wanted to send all along: Amama has to work on his diction. Diction is his speaking style that encompasses all the rest – tone, volume, intonation, body language, grimacing, gestures etc. He needs all tools available to him to be captivating, believable, engaging and so on. He needs to convince me to vote for him and If I can’t get what he’s saying he will fail – with me and many others.
Every vote counts, for M7, Amama, anyone else. If I want to understand him, I have to be close, TV volume up and I have to watch his lips intently. If he speaks during a public rally, quite a few people who are far away from the loudspeakers will not understand him. Visually impaired, people with wax in their ears – they will fail to hear and understand. Result: huge attendance for his rallies, little to take home in terms of convinced voters.
All this can be corrected with a few hours of coaching and a couple of weeks of exercise. Amama can be an excellent speaker, potential is certainly there but if he doesn’t take this seriously he will have only himself to blame. Speaking to be clearly understood is his huge obligation to all citizens of Uganda in these interesting times.
Finally – a message to overly excited people on Twitter who think they should hammer me on the head: read the dictionary more often than never, be open to learning a new word a day, know that one word can mean different things and – no need to be too smart with me. I’m not that smart after all.