What my childhood in farming taught me about writing and public speaking

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A few months ago, I read a book summary of Speaking More Effectively by Dale Carnegie. This summary focused on a quick and easy way for writing or public speaking (read here). The major lesson I learned from the book was that everyone was capable of writing or speaking effectively in public.

To do this, one has to talk about something that he or she has earned the right to talk about, either through experience or long study.

The author advised that instead of spending 10 minutes or 10 hours preparing a talk, it is better to spend 10 weeks, or 10 months or even 10 years to prepare a talk. 10 years! I thought this was extreme. How could I spend this amount of time to prepare a talk and for whom? But after reading the book, I realised it was possible to spend even more than 10 years preparing for a talk. Let me share with you the insights I got from the book and how it helped me to write my boyhood farming story.

Dale Carnegie’s three secret tips are in order to speak or write effectively about something, a person should:

  • Have earned the right to talk about the topic through experience or long study
  • Be excited about the subject
  • Be eager to tell your listeners about the topic

After reading the book summary, I kept reflecting on these three tips, especially the first. I kept asking myself: What have I earned the right to talk about?

My first thought was about my work, which is about the use of ICT in agriculture to improve information access for smallholder farmers. But then I realised that the founders of our company, Farmerline, who have built the company from scratch, would be the best people to talk about that subject and not me. So, I knew I had not earned the right to talk about that subject and I abandoned that idea. My second thought focused on agricultural science. This is because I have studied this subject for 2.5 years at senior high school and continued for another 4 years at university. I now work with farmers in the field almost every week. So that must be it.  But it still did not feel right. I was not excited about it and was not eager to share that with listeners or readers. I did not know where to begin that story so I ditched the second thought as well.

I spent some nights juggling several ideas in my head and always asked, what have I earned the right to talk about? Then I had another idea: what about if I wrote about my boyhood experiences growing up on a farm in the village, in a rural area of Ghana. Just the thought of it was exciting to me and I started to write. I realised that this was something I could write or talk about without even looking into any book. Finally, I have found something that I think I have earned the right to talk about. I was surprised by how much I could remember about my childhood life in the village. I focused all my attention on my personal story. I wrote down all my ideas. I sent the draft to a few colleagues for comments and corrections and they did a good job by giving good feedback that improved the piece in the long run.

It took me a month to complete the story. When it was ready, I sent it out to a few publishing outlets that focussed on youth and agriculture. It was then published as blogposts by Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), Young Professionals for Agriculture Development (YPARD) and Live Encounters magazine. It was also published as an opinion piece by the International Journal for Rural Development (Rural21 journal). The feedback I have received since these publications has been amazing. I have participated in youth campaigns focusing on attracting young people to agriculture, a boot camp presentation on the use of ICT in agriculture and I was interviewed by a journalist, from Rural Reporters, after reading my story! I have received encouraging emails from people, who mentioned that when they read my story, they felt like I was telling their story. They identified with my story. Based on the positive feedback and requests, the story is now being translated from English to French so that it can be shared with more audiences.

What I find remarkable is that I had not written this story based on a one-day study or experience of how it is to live in a rural area. Actually, if I look back, I have been preparing this story for more than 20 years as Dale Carnergie stated in his book. For all the years that I was on the farm, planting crops in the backyard, spending vacation in the village, riding a canoe on the river, walking long distances to reach a school or health facility; I had been preparing this story, this talk. I realised that this is where the inspiration of effective writing or public speaking comes from.

I recently visited Nairobi (Kenya) to participate in a conference, for work. During the trip, I visited Livelyhoods, an organisation that recruits, and trains young people and women as sales agents, creating jobs for talented youth in urban slums. These sales agents then go to the poorer neighbourhoods of Nairobi and sell clean cook stoves and solar lamps to people living in the slums.  I had the opportunity to go with one of the sales agents, Francis, to observe him work in order to learn from their agent distribution model. I asked questions while we combed the streets and went door-to-door in the slums. Francis talked a lot about life in the slums, how to approach customers, how to do follow-ups with customers, and the difficulties in selling. In the end, having realised that he had been talking too much, he said, “Previously, I didn’t even know how to talk, but since I got the training and have been doing this job, I am able to talk.” In my mind, I knew he had earned the right to talk about that subject. He could talk about it with excitement and was eager to share his experiences with me. Francis did not talk about Brexit, or the correlation between Brexit and the election results in America. He talked about what he had earned the right to talk about and that is, his work in the slums of Nairobi. If you give Francis the opportunity to talk about the difficulties in selling clean cook stoves and solar lamps, door-to-door, in the slums of Nairobi, I believe he would be an excellent speaker.

While in Nairobi, I met with a very good friend of mine whom I had not seen for 2 years. While catching up with each other on all that had happened, I explained to her about why I wrote my boyhood farming story and how the three principles I learned in Dale Carnegie’s book, actually, helped me identify what to write about. She found it interesting and thought it would make a good TED Talk! So I told her that I could possibly do it in a few years. She asked me to share the book. What I found interesting was that, just with the little explanation I gave about the three principles and the example of my story, my friend said she was inspired enough to go identify what she could write about. The next day, I left back home to Ghana. That evening I got a message from my friend that she went to the office and talked to her colleague about our conversation and she had already identified what she is going to write about. This is exciting and I cannot wait to read her article.

And I keep thinking of more examples. Recently, Farmerline’s Chief Technology Officer and co-founder, Emmanuel Addai, wrote an article about being a dad for the first time and how that relates to paternity leave and what needs to change especially for start-up companies like Farmerline (read article here). It was a classic, in my opinion. Emmanuel did not use three days or three weeks to prepare himself for that great article, but rather went through nine months of his wife’s pregnancy, plus an additional 4 months of taking care of his family after the baby was delivered. All this while, Emmanuel had been preparing for this article and I am positive it will make a great talk.

Are you working in agriculture, rural development, research, software engineering, nutrition or education? What I hope is that this piece inspires you, no matter your field of specialisation or work, to find that story, subject or topic that you know and you have earned the right to talk about. Then, actually talk about it. I would never have imagined myself on a TED stage, speaking to a big audience but, apparently, my friend in Nairobi does. And, now, I do entertain that idea just a little bit though, but only because I found something that I think I have earned the right to talk about, and I am excited about it and I am eager to tell everyone about it. That is my boyhood farming story!

 

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Patrick Sakyi (@sakyipatrick) is a bright young man with lots of vision and commitment to smallholder farmers in Ghana. He works as a monitoring & evaluation associate with Farmerline, a social enterprise which builds innovative data collection platforms & mobile applications to improve information access for smallholder farmers in Ghana and other African countries, and is a Partner in GFAR. He has written this fascinating article about his boyhood farming and rural experience in Ghana and looking to the future for smallholder farmers there. Patrick describes himself as a global citizen and is enthusiastic about ICT4D & ICT4Ag (sakyipatrick1@gmail.com , patrick@farmerline.co)

The views expressed here are personal, and cannot be attributed to GFAR.


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