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A master of public speaking

By | Updated Sat, September 19th 2009 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Brenda Kageni

There is little to compare with the inspiration that comes from listening to a well-prepared and organised speech made with flawless delivery. We nostalgically remember times when we sat speechless as a speaker wove spells around us with their words and ideas.

Notable orators like Martin Luther King Jr, Cicero, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler were revered for the hypnotic power they had over their audiences through the spoken word.

Angela Rarieya has no problem talking. Her recent triumph at the Toastmasters International Speech Contest makes her the first Kenyan to win the coveted award.

Locally, PLO Lumumba and John Sibi Okumu come to mind for the magic of their superior oratory skills. And few can resist the eloquent finesse of Barack Obama’s speeches.

Social research states that the most common phobia in the world today is that fear of public speaking. Yet it is becoming increasingly important for people to learn how to hold their own in front of an expectant audience, and many of us yearn for the gift of gab.

Trained to stand before crowds

It is such dexterity in discourse that drew Angela Rarieya away when she attended a session of Smart Speak Toastmasters in 2006. Smart Speak is one of the four Toastmaster clubs in Kenya and part of the larger Toastmasters International — a movement devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality.

At the time, she had no clue that three years later she would beat all other entrants to win the coveted International Taped Speech Contest for 2009, from Toastmasters International. So how did she weave her way to the top of the Toastmaster’s club?

Says she: "A friend invited me once, and it resonated with me instantly."

Then, she had to address the logistics of getting from Upper Hill where she worked to Parklands Club where the group met every first and third Tuesday of the month.

A month later, she would be introduced to the Kwanza Kenya Toastmasters, another of the clubs, whose members met in town. The other clubs are Sema Toastmasters Club, Nairobi Toastmasters Club and Smartspeak Toastmasters Club.

"We are brought together by our love for the spoken word. We want to communicate our ideas effectively," she says.

Members learn communication skills and public speaking by working on a series of self-paced speaking assignments. Also, by taking up roles during the meetings, members learn leadership skills. Assignments increase in complexity as one progresses.

Each member is allocated a mentor to guide them through and evaluated against their objectives after every presentation.

Winning speech

In June, Rarieya recorded her winning speech titled ‘Breathe Again’, which she submitted to Toastmasters International for the speech contest held every year in California.

Angela Rarieya (second right) with participants during the Toastmasters Annual Gala Dinner held at Nairobi’s Sarova Panafric on July 4, where she was the MC

From entries around the world, hers impressed the judges most. Second place went to a Korean Kevin Parent and third place went to yet another Kenyan, David d’Souza. This is the first time a Kenyan has won the first place.

Speaking about the contents of her speech, Rarieya said: "It was a wake up call to people to seize the moment and live to their fullest. There is never really a right time. Get up and do what you want to do. No one has the promise of tomorrow".

Rarieya believes language serves more than just a communication function.

"We are living at a time when there is so much noise and communication that the art of speaking has been lost. Language is an art; it’s a thing of beauty" she explained.

She has always loved the creative arts, which she attributes to a family upbringing that placed a high premium on learning and reading. She also attended schools that nurtured creative writing, music and drama.

Inspiring young girls

"I always had a lot of creative energy that drew me to literature, poetry and music. Through public speaking, I can express my love for art," she says.

Rarieya grew up in Mombasa and attended Loreto schools. Her first degree was in education after which she taught music at Loreto Girls’ High School in Limuru.

She waxes lyrical: "I love to dance. I love music. I love literature. There is so much beautiful literature around us."

Angela with saxophonist, Sam Nyanjom and Sonali Shah, who assisted her.

One of her greatest highlights while teaching, she says, was getting students who were timid at the piano to learn to enjoy the music.

She, however, was disappointed that the subjects (such as music) she was so passionate about were pushed to the periphery by a new curriculum. She then tried her hand at marketing.

She later took up a sales and marketing job at the Kenya Literature Bureau and later followed her curiosity to the financial sector. She undertook an MBA, after which she worked at PriceWaterCoopers, and later at Old Mutual as an asset manager. Currently, she is the head of customer experience at CFC-Stanbic.

Rarieya is excited by the new frontiers that have been opened by the award.

"Much as I have been doing this as a hobby, I can now take up speaking assignments. It has given me the impetus to expand and take my skills out there," she says.

She is taking up more speaking and mentoring engagements, especially those targeted at the youth in schools.

Recently, Rarieya, along with several other toastmasters, visited Graceland School in Nyeri to counsel students about career choices. She will soon be headed for Transmara to talk to girls who are struggling with early marriage and poor academic performance.

Other Toastmasters in Kenya include Jagi Gakunju (CEO, AAR), Sam Kimani (Deputy CEO, KCB), Mukhisa Kituyi( former minister for Trade and Industry), Zain Virjeee (CNN International), Sunny Bindra (Management Consultant) and Oyunga Pala who is a columnist.

Rarieya would love to write to motivate people to achieve their dreams.

"I want to help people appreciate life and themselves. I would also like to speak to parents. If we get it right with children when they are still young, we will have well adjusted adults." finishes Rarieya, an orator who truly deserves a standing ovation.