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Gandhi is seen as one of the world's great inspiring public speakers. Yet it wasn't always that way. In fact in his early years, Gandhi was a terrified public speaker. Here's how he got over it... and what it means for you.
It has often been asserted that Gandhi’s impact on the people he met and spoke to was simply electrifying. These people were not just freedom fighters and politicians, writers and thinkers; there were also among them slum dwellers and villagers, farmers and laborers, little-educated people and illiterates.
But public speaking wasn't always plain sailing for Gandhi. Gandhi's speeches weren't always inspiring, or even confident.
Flash back to a ‘Vegetarian Society’ meeting at a restaurant in London. It was decided that Gandhi (then a law student) was to give a speech on the benefits of vegetarianism. Gandhi had prepared for it but when it was his turn to speak in public he simply panicked. He could manage to speak only a line from his speech and failed to speak further. Someone else from the group had to continue to read out his speech further.
Ghandi transformed himself into a meticulous orator in which every speech he delivered was enthralling and engaging. How? By holding an aim that was far beyond him and his own public speaking nerves. By having a mission he was willing to stand up for.
‘My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words.’ ~ Ghandi
One of Gandhi's greatest speeches is Quit India, which portrays the true self of Mahatma Ghandi. As a soft spoken person, he is not only remembered because of his politeness when expressing his thoughts, but also his humble, authentic character whence he treated everyone around him equally. Gandhi’s later speeches had no sign of nervousness of his early days.
But Gandhi wasn’t a populist, saying what he thought his audience would like to hear; he was on the contrary quite capable of saying things or doing things that were unacceptable to many. Some would say that Gandhi was not a great speaker, but was an excellent listener. By focusing on what the audience - and the world - needed, his own public speaking nerves must surely have diminished.
Gandhi had learned, through public speaking, how to change the world.
He identified barriers to make change sustainable. He had passion for his work and that's what drove him to make India an independent and equal country . His ability to communicate a different way was what made him an extraordinary public speaker.
People followed him, even when they did not see his point or grasp its significance. Examples of this are easy to find. Gandhi addressed a public meeting on the sands of the river Kathjori in Cuttack, and he spoke in Hindi (rather Hindustani, as he called it). Thousands attended the meeting, it is reported, and it is unlikely that the whole audience understood what he was saying. He reached his audience with passion and even though his was the voice of quiet certainty, it reverberated loudly in the hearts of his audiences.
One of my favourite Gandhi quotes is:
Be Stubborn… for us, not for you – but not stubborn because you’re so set on what you want – stubborn because you have considered the maximum number of people who will benefit and wish to serve them by solidly banging the drum for what you know to be true. (Gandhi)
Gandhi showed us that you don't have to be loud to be heard. You don't have to be supremely funny or dynamic in the way that most describe a good speaker.
Gandhi's strength was in finding a message that was meaningful to him and sticking stubbornly to it, whoever tried to push him off balance.
Gandhi found a way of speaking that worked for him and was very different to how many other activists and politicians were communicating. His style and manner were truly fresh.
Gandhi was no emperor, not a military general, not a president nor a prime minister. He was neither pacifist nor a cult guru. Who was Gandhi ? If anything, Mohandas K. Gandhi was a constant experimenter. Spirituality, religion, self-reliance, health, education, clothing, drinks, medicine, child care, status of women, no field escaped his search for truth. His thoughts when appeared in the form of talk or article became official words of action with the masses of India. -Vikas Kamat
There's so much to learn from the public speaking of Gandhi. It's a constant inspiration for me to see that someone with such nervous beginnings can inspire a whole nation - and beyond.
Sometimes even a quiet voice can be a vessel for learning how to change the world. How can your voice change the world?
Curious about your current public speaking level? Take the Ginger self assessment quiz to learn about your strengths and weaknesses in 6 key areas of public speaking.Take the Self Assessment