Impromptu Speaking # 4: One Big Argument Technique
Some months ago, I was asked to talk at an international security conference. The moderator later asked me to comment about the specific contributions of the traditional leaders and the clergy towards peacebuilding.
To answer that question, I used a move called the big argument technique. I want to share that with you in this chapter. You use this technique when you don’t have many points to talk about or when you want to draw the audience’s attention to one important case.
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To do that, you zero in on one example and drill down. You talk about the what, the why, the how and the impact. It is even better if you simply tell a story about the case. A story is relatable and will answer all the audience’s questions without you needing to track any moves in your head.
So to give an example of how the clergy can build peace, I told the conference about the curious weekly habits of the imams of Minna, how they control information and how they influence the entire city.
Minna, the state capital of Niger State is predominantly Muslim. Every Friday, this huge population goes to the Friday mosque to pray the noon prayers with the community – just the way Christians go to the church on Sunday.
Since almost everyone goes to the Friday prayers (including those who are not regular with their daily prayers), it would be a huge advantage if the congregation is given the same message. This means that the imams can quickly pass a message to mould character or turn the people against any individual, government or private entity.
The only problem is that there are many such mosques in Minna and every imam preaches what he likes making such a unifying command impossible.
But the imams found a way around that problem. On Thursday, every Thursday, they meet and discuss the topic of the next day’s sermon. So that by Friday, they deliver the same message to the entire city.
The time of the prayers may differ but the message is the same. Some mosques pray at 1 pm, some at 1.30, some at 2 pm and even at 2.30 pm but they share the same counsel with their congregants.
Also, the imams already know the Hadith and verses of the Qur’an to use to support their positions. These too, are to a large extent, uniform. What they only need to contribute are their styles, personal experiences and stories.
The impact is always immediate. Hours after the Friday prayers and even days after, you will hear people in small gatherings and at homes commenting on the week’s sermon. “Did you hear what our imam said?” They ask.
“Interesting. Ours also said the same thing,” they respond.
And you would be unlucky if they train their voices on you.
I remember one time they decided to go against Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) for providing poor service and charging highly (through estimated billing) for services not provided.
For weeks, the imams continued to vent their outrage against this injustice. On account of this, the already bad image of AEDC was further dented.
But AEDC found an equally brilliant way to stave off the weekly pounding: their officials went to the assembly of the imams to tell their story!
Having heard the other side of the story, the target of the imams’ sermons changed the following week. They turned 360 degrees and aimed their displeasure at the consumers.
Obviously, the electricity company told the imams one fact: the power that they pumped into our homes was far more than the money they receive from the customers. This means that they were not breaking even because some people were stealing the power by bypassing the meter.
“If you steal electricity,” my imam, Dr Umar, said, “you’re stealing the hell in which you will be accommodated in the hereafter.”
Again, the people listened mended their ways.
Therefore, by uniting their voices, the imams caused the electricity company to promise better services and also helped them to solve a problem they had with the customers.
I think this array of voices can be directed to stamp out any unfavourable outcomes in the community – whether that offence is committed by the government, a private entity or by individuals. In the same way, they can use such unity to enact good things that are beneficial to all concerned – including peacemaking.
It is my opinion that the clergy in other states have a lesson to learn from the imams of Minna who can – to a large extent – influence the conversation of an entire city every week.
The end of example.
As you can see above, I highlighted only one case to answer the question I was given at a conference.
So let’s say you’re at a meeting and then someone slipped you a piece of paper which says you’re going to speak on topic XYZ for two minutes – in two minutes. How can you prepare in two minutes?
Take a pause, gather your thoughts and select one case or example to talk about. And you would talk better than if you used any prepared speech.
PS: This is a chapter from Ibraheem Dooba’s book “The Genius of Impromptu Speaking: 9 Structures to Move the Crowd and Speak without Fear.”