I remember my first time pretending to be a farmer. This was probably when I was about 6 or 7 years did. We had this small garden at the back of my father’s house where we used to plant some vegetables. During this season, we decided to grow maize in the garden. I still remember the steps we went through in planting the seeds, specifically my role in growing my very own maize plants.

Disclaimer  this is based on my childhood memory so if you are a farmer bear with me.

First of all, l was given a hoe and asked to till the ground, making mounds where the seeds would be sown. The second phase was to plant these seeds in the prepared ground. My young mind assumed that this would be the end. I was already looking forward to eating the maize from my ground. I’m sure you can imagine the disappointment of hearing that this is only a beginning. I would have to nurture the young plant that germinated and care for it till the maize matures. This part wasn’t fun at all – not only did I have to weed the garden but at times go and fetch water for it.

I must say though that all the stress was forgotten when I saw the first cobs of maize flowering nicely in my garden. This was the labour of my own hands. I still had to harvest the maize at the end of the day but that part was easier to do. And to answer a question you are not even asking – I have never eaten maize that tested as good as those from my garden. Maybe my memory has built up how good it tasted, but they were delicious.

Yes, this was a good story but why am I telling you about my experience as a farmer? The simple answer is that speaking is not only like archery, it is also like farming. I shall now prove this to you.

Preparing the ground

I tried to find out in those days why I needed to carry a (to me) heavy hoe and till the ground. I mean, why can’t I just plant directly into the soil. In those days, I didn’t really get an answer – or the ‘stress’ of working the ground ensured that the response I got was not satisfactory making me delete it from my memory.

The good part is now I can find out for myself. In short, the major reason for tilling the ground is to move the earth, get the soil to air and water properly and potentially remove any pests that are in the ground. All this is to ensure that when you introduce your seed into the ground, the conditions are right for it to germinate and grow.

Having learnt how to be a farmer from me, let’s talk about applying this in speaking. In much the same way, you want to ensure that when you deliver your message the ‘ground’ is prepared to receive it. The ground in this case being your audience. You need them to listen to your message but also to find application for the words they hear from you. I still remember a speech we heard in one of my Toastmasters evenings – the young man talked about benefits of showering with cold water. With the hot summer we are having – I can tell you that I have found application for those words.

Having mentioned Toastmasters, one of the best ways to prepare the ground is something which they apply very well in the meetings. The introduction of a speaker by a Master of Ceremony or the meeting leader helps to prepare the ground for you. It softens the heart of your audience, since their first introduction to you is coming from someone they have already gotten a bit more comfortable and recognize his/her authority as master of that stage. This is why it is key that you share with this individual how you wish to be introduced – you would rather that what they say about you or your speech comes from you. Of course they are welcome to edit it but the major material should come from you.

A second way of preparing the ground is when you spend time getting to know your audience beforehand. You don’t have to (and sometimes also not possible) speak to each and everybody in your audience. However, mixing with people and helping them get comfortable with you also makes a gentler landing for you when you get up to speak. You need this because ‘people listen to people they like‘ and getting them paying attention to you not only relaxes you but also improves your connection to people.

Sowing your seeds

By now you may have a feel of where I am going with this. That is why as I prepare to sow my seeds, not only are you (my reader) thinking along with me but you are also reading to find out how my maize seeds will go into the soil. Going back to my story – planting the maize seeds was not just throwing them on the ground and hoping for the best. There was still a process to that.

I was told to dig in the soil with my finger and while I’m not a germophobe I didn’t fancy doing that. Again, here I sought an explanation but merely got something like because that is the best depth for it to grow. Well, now I can tell you that you need to go deep to give the seed room for rooting and good moisture content. Of course too deep and you have an issue with getting the seed to germinate.

Getting back to the speaking stage where the ground has been softened up for you both by the MC as well as your mingling. The next step is the totality of your first actions and words upon taking your place in front of the audience. This is potentially the most important part of your entire process – get it wrong and you may as well abandon the farm or prepare to work extra hard.

The first few minutes are important because you not only need to dig your finger into the dirt, but y need to dig your finger into the dirt, but also drop in the seed. Getting your hands dirty means connecting with your audience and letting them know you are there for them and have a key message to share with them. Don’t forget – if the message is not important to you, why should I pay attention? Stand tall, take a deep breath and look at your audience with a smile. Let them get even more comfortable with you there.

I admit that this phase put a lot of pressure on you, which is why during your practicing time, you need to nail down your BANG to the finest detail. This is not the phase to improvise. After you’ve made a connection with the audience, drop in the seed. Let them know why you are there – is it to give them the latest insight on how to make sandwiches? Whatever it is, dare to make a bold statement – ‘great to see you all here. Having already gotten a flavour of the evening before us, I can assure you that this is a night you will not forget. All our grandparents have been going about making sandwiches the wrong way. Tonight, you will have them wanting to come out of their graves for just one bite.’ This is short, and yet bold. Even those who think you are being arrogant will start paying attention to see why you dare make such a claim.

Having gotten your seed in the ground, we will pick this up in the next email how to make sure that seed not only germinates but bears the desired fruit. You certainly don’t want them after your speech throwing their sandwiches at you – I doubt this is the harvest you want.

So while wishing you a splendid week ahead, stay safe and keep practicing.