Mohandas Gandhi (1869 -1948), better known as the Mahatma (Great Soul), was one of the most inspiring orators of the 20th Century. He is a classic example, however, that great speakers are made. His first public address in London (circa 1890) was a complete disaster. He was meant to give an address on the merits of a vegetarian lifestyle. He read the first line of his speech but nerves got the better of him and couldn’t go on. A friend read the rest of the speech for him.
Gandhi learned from this experience and found a positive in it. “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,” he once said.
This economy of words, as he called it, is a valuable point to remember in day to day communications. As he put it, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” He believed listening was the better part of conversation. He took this attitude into his public addresses as well. He was against what we would call “spin,” but focused on the straight forward, honest message. He spoke from the heart to the heart, with respect for those who listened.
He had learned to speak only what he thought was important. When he spoke, it was with passion. It was the core of the message that mattered, not his ego when he addressed an audience. A great example of his mature speaking style (and one that sums it up as well) was his reflection that, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
So what can we learn from the Mahatma? Firstly, good speaking takes work. Secondly, don’t waste your time and that of your audience with the unnecessary. Finally, speak from the heart!