Opinion | Columnists

Public speech and gift of writing

  • By Jamal Al Shehhi, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 January 28, 2011
  • Gulf News

When Britain's Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) addressed his people during the Second World War, saying: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," he knew that he did not have Moses' stick to perform miracles with, at that critical time. The situation during that period in "the empire on which the sun never sets" required a lot of sacrifices. The path to victory is a long one and requires a great deal of realism, honesty with people and a touch of politics.

During a crisis, people always need direct and unembellished speeches that tell them the truth, even if it is harsh. At such times, people are in need of visionary leaders who can deal with the events and developments and can guide their countries to safety. Being an eloquent public speaker like Churchill is a talent that political parties and institutions are aware of even though only a few politicians in history have possessed it.

What's uncommon was that the veteran politician and statesman was also a prolific writer and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values".

Talented leaders appear at times of crisis and not in the days of prosperity. Unfortunately, only a few leaders today know how to deal with these calamities.

Few people in the Arab world possess a talent for writing and the gift of public speaking at the same time. You may like a certain author and love his writing style and choice of words and may wish that you would have the chance to talk to him or listen to one of his speeches. Sometimes you're surprised when you have that chance to meet that person and realise that you're listening to a different person from the one expected. That person's profession is writing, but you are expecting much more than that.

Strange paradox

Not being an eloquent public speaker is not a defect and does not diminish any author's ability. It's just a strange yet interesting paradox that perplexes me when your spoken words do not live up to your written ones and when you cannot express the same text that you have worked on before an audience.

There are many factors that prevent the writer from speaking comfortably in public. These include fear, unpreparedness and difficulty in dealing with the public. Many recent studies show that fear of public speaking is one of the main things that scare people. On the other hand, we find that many public speakers and eminent politicians, management experts, etc are not professional writers. They are excellent speakers, yet poor writers.

In the second Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which was held in Dubai last March, I was eager to listen to one of my favourite authors talking about his experience and his many books, most of which I've grown up reading.

I booked my seat in the front row waiting anxiously for his speech to begin. As soon as he started talking, the glow which was in my mind about my favourite writer began to fade. I wish I had never listened to him speaking so that I could keep the image I had of him pristine. But when I thought about it later on, I knew that I had higher expectations of him. Writing is one talent and public speaking is a totally different one.

 

Jamal Al Shehhi is an Emirati writer.

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