Before this last post, a couple of you had given me some great feedback regarding these mails (I must admit, wasn’t sure anybody really reads them). Thanks for that, it pleases the heart to know that these lead to harvests. Speaking of harvest, last email I started describing lessons from the farm as seen through my young eyes. I established

Tending your plants

In the previous post, I started the story of me as a boyhood farmer. Well, that’s what I call myself after one season of planting maize, so long as nobody asks me to do that again. Getting back to that story, we left off after I had planted the maize seeds in the ground. I thought to myself, that’s it, done and dusted. The seeds are in the ground, all I have to do is (impatiently) wait for the harvest, already longing for my roasted corn with one of our delicious fruits – African butterfruit. I very quickly realized that it wasn’t so easy – you don’t just put seeds in the ground and go take a nap, just to return for your harvest. If you have ever done any farming, you will know quite well that there was still a lot of work let to do for boy farmer me. It is one thing to plant the seeds, but the next step is to make sure your seeds have every chance to grow.

One of the things you need to do regardless of how good a farmer you are is water the seeds. You see, your seedlings need water to grow, by taking up water, the seeds swell and release the new plant. Without watering your seed, there is no chance of getting the harvest you want. For you in speaking, that means building up your story by filling in details. I was in a discussion recently with my wife about storytelling, and what helps you stand out is not (just) the newness of your story but the amount of details which you put in it. Don’t forget that your role is to get a harvest out of your presentation and that means – use words to show people the image in your mind. By filling in these details, your audience can see the world through the eyes of your stories.

The second thing which young farm boy Ikenna had to do was weed the farm. Boy was that not a fun experience. Putting aside the fact that I had to keep getting rid of these weed things while they just kept coming back, I also needed to somehow figure out which was weed and which was my beloved maize plant. Keeping in mind my age, it was not easy for me to selectively remove the weed. Fortunately, I got some help here and more experienced hands helped me with the amount of weed that needed to be removed. Here again, as you stand to give your presentation, the weeds are busy working hard at reducing the impact of your story. And just like young moi, it is not easy to identify these unwanted parts of your story. The key is anything which is entering your presentation and doesn’t support your seed (the major part of your story), could be this unwanted weed. Most of the time, it is during your preparation time that these unwanted plants are removed – going back to our key, the question to ask is – ‘Does this support my story? Or does it reduce the power of my story?’

Your harvest

This is what it is all about – I had spent days (it felt like weeks) preparing the ground. I had to get my hands dirty poking through dirt to put seeds into my finely mulched and mounded farm. It had taken weeks of watering and months of weeding to get rid of all sorts of annoying things which I never knew existed. But finally, I could see nice yellow and white corn cobs bulging out of my plants. Now I had to get my cobs out (wasn’t allowed to do the roasting myself) and most importantly, uuummm hhmmm, they tasted ever so good. No, not just because I had grown them myself, but this was the mixed white and yellow breed of maize, they just taste much better.

If you had the best speech but never ‘landed’ it, that is a monumental waste of time. How would your audience know what to do with the information you’ve given them. Think about me on my little farm (yes, I know it didn’t even qualify for being called a garden), the goal of all that work was to eat my roasted corn with also roasted butterfruit. You want your audience to leave your presentation either to go do something or know something as the case may be. Using these mails as an example, I only write them to help us (yes, me and you) get better at telling stories that persuade others and have impact, which is why the replies that tell me how it has been useful is for me the harvest.

Going into a place to speak, it is important to define your harvest, keep it at the back of your mind in the entire presentation and make sure you help your audience sit back in the garden with a nicely roasted fresh corn and (in my case) butterfruit.

I leave you with a Dutch saying, which I will loosely translate – Weeds Never Perish!