Manner of Speaking

Analysis of a Speech by William Kamkwamba

Today’s post is about a remarkable young man named William Kamkwamba.

William comes from a poor village in Malawi in southeast Africa. Life there is hard. The main source of income is farming. When the rains don’t come, conditions become extremely difficult for people. In 2001, Malawi was hit by a famine and William’s family had to survive on one meager meal per day.

William’s village of approximately 60 families had few, if any, amenities. There was no running water; there was no electricity. When things got really desperate, William was forced to drop out of secondary school because his parents could not afford the school fee (the equivalent of about USD 80 per year).

But William loved to learn and he was particularly fascinated with science. When he was 14, William visited a small, charity-sponsored library and began reading everything he could find found about physics and mechanics, even though he did not speak much English. One day, he discovered a book entitled Using Energy. It featured a series of windmills on the cover and inside explained how to build a windmill. William knew that the one thing his village had lots of was wind and so he did the next logical thing … he built a windmill!

The story of this enterprising young man soon started to garner attention around the world. When he was 19, William was invited to speak at a TED Conference in Arusha, Tanzania. With the assistance of TED curator Chris Anderson, he told his story.

But William’s story did not end there. He co-authored a book entitled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, had a documentary film made about him and was invited to several places to talk about his experience, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Best of all, benefactors raised money so that he could complete his secondary studies in a good school in South Africa.

And, William was invited back to TED. This time, however, he would not have Chris Anderson to help him on stage. This time, he would be on his own.

So, what can we learn about public speaking from this second TED Talk?

Well and truly a remarkable story about a remarkable young man. The lessons that we can learn from William extend far beyond the domain of public speaking.

William’s second TED Talk was in 2009. Since then, he has graduated from secondary school and is now studying engineering at Dartmouth College. No doubt, the world can expect more great things from him in the future.

Photo courtesy of Erik (HASH) Hersman