Obianuju Ekeocha: what a privilege!

The National March for Life is an annual event in Canada, taking place in the nation’s capital of Ottawa. It is joined by thousands, and some of them attend the Rose Dinner that accompanies it.

In 2016 the March and the Dinner took place on Thursday 12 May, and the Keynote speaker was Obianuju Ekeocha.

In this speech, including its delivery – especially the delivery – there is nothing I can fault, though I will make a suggestion in due course.

The construction of the arguments is blindingly good. The narrative thread leads inexorably towards a single sentence which is introduced shortly before the end, but is then repeated and repeated till there is not the slightest doubt that it is the FACE of the speech.

Stop the killing

Yet the narrative doesn’t travel in a straight line. It meanders slightly and, in the process, highlights and scoops up secondary messages to become key to her primary message. There is an excellent example when she talks of the Rwanda massacre. Beginning at 13:16 she recounts how the victims were widely described as cockroaches. When you dehumanise people it is easier to kill them. That thread is left hanging till she reclaims it with huge impact much later.

Tempted though I am to offer more of the legion of such examples, it’s better that you should simply absorb the brilliance of his speech for yourself. There is so much to learn from it.

Likewise her delivery is stupendously good. Her pace, her timing, her phrasing, her instinct for speaking with her audience rather than to them, are as skilled as I’ve seen anywhere.

I am not altogether surprised. I do more of my distance coaching with people in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, and the talent I find from there is world-beating. I have long held the view that the key to Africa’s development is for the west to get the hell out of their way. The road to Africa’s hell is paved with the west’s good intentions. Ok it’s more complicated than that, but not much.

As to this speech I have just one suggestion, and any trainee of mine will already have spotted it.

She begins with a thank-fest and I don’t think she should, because she shows hump symptoms for the first minute or two. A thank-fest is important, laudable, desirable, necessary, all those things of course; but there is no divine edict that says you should open by thanking people, and a host of reasons for not doing so. I won’t bore you with them here: you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The thank-fest is like the titles and opening credits to a film. They usually appear at the opening, but not always. With some films there is an episode that precedes the credits. If Uju (I understand that to be her nickname) had started without any preamble by going straight into the significance of the music that had accompanied her approach to the lectern, broken off at an appropriate place after about two minutes, swung into her thank-fest including her greeting to the various dignitaries, and then returned to talking about the music I think she would have been far more comfortable, and therefore audience-engaging, for the opening five minutes. There are many reasons, but there isn’t room here.

I could easily try to suggest actual precise places to situate the thank-fest, and ways to drop into and out of it, but what’s the point? She has dramatically shown that her own instincts would make judgements at least as good as mine.

I feel privileged to have watched that.