For those who have the pleasure of introducing him at a speaking event, but do not have the time to prepare their own introduction, Mali provides this short autobiography on his website:
“[Taylor Mali] measures his life in a variety of ways: He has 10 years of experience as a professional spoken word artist; he has one book, one DVD, and four cds; for 10 months, he was the official voice of Burger King; he was a national poetry slam champion four times; three times he appeared on the HBO original series “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry”; for nine years he taught college, high school, and middle school; and once, in a single SCRABBLE game, he earned a score of 581; but MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL, after hearing his work, 607 people have told him they will now become teachers. Please help me welcome the man who wants to create one thousand new teachers, Taylor Mali.”
I discovered Mali a few months ago by chance on YouTube. I was immediately hooked. His raw style, his ability to forge simple words into a powerful message, and his passion make him an incredibly compelling speaker.
Here is one of my favourite works of his. It is entitled “Undivided Attention”.
Even though slam poetry is a very specialized form of public speaking, there is much that we can learn from Mali for our own speeches. For example:
- He is passionate about his subject.
- He makes terrific use of vocal variety.
- He knows when to pause for effect.
- He uses simple but effective gestures; for example, when talking about the crane holding the piano.
- He makes wonderful use of (a) alliteration: “It dangles, spinning slowly, in April air … Chopin shiny”; (b) simile: “hanging like the second-to-last note of a concerto” and “Let me teach like a Steinway.”; and (c) consonance: “so hinderingly dangling” and “the neck of the movers’ crane”.
- He uses tricolons and repetition: “on the edge of the seat, the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over”.
Remember these points the next time you have to give a speech. Think about the text as you draft it. Use similes, alliterations and other grammatical devices — judiciously, of course — to add flair to your words. Think about where a pause would be powerful. Think about where a gesture would help. Above all, think about what the subject means for your audience and why they should care. Then infuse your delivery with passion.
To end this post, I want to share another of my favourite poems by Taylor Mali. It is entitled “What Teacher’s Make”.