Monday, August 3, 2009

Limited Preparation Speeches

I wish I could blog more, but honestly these days here at Yale are the busiest I've ever experienced. I've described my day to my friends as "wake up, get ready, walk, eat, walk, lecture, walk, eat, walk, lecture, lecture, walk, eat, walk, lecture, work, work, work, sleep". An instructor here even admitted that the Ivy Scholars Program is more rigorous than college; it's like a whole semester crammed into two weeks. However, the intensity of this program is definitely producing results. I've become knowledgeable on topics such as demographic trends, General George Patton, the Nazi Empire, China in the status quo, etiquette, identity politics, the U.S. healthcare system and reforming it, leadership, and so much more. However, I would like to talk about something other than lectures today: limited preparation speeches.

In the Ivy Scholars Program, every student has to do either a persuasive speech or impromptu and extemporaneous speeches. If you choose to do the persuasive speech, you compose (and try to memorize) a short speech on any topic of your choosing. If you choose the latter option, impromptu and extemp speeches, you have limited time to prepare for each. The impromptu speech is one where you choose one out of three given topics, prepare for three minutes, then deliver a 5 minute speech. The extemp speech is one where you receive a statement about current event topic the night before, then present an evidence-based, 7 minute speech on the statement the next day. I do impromptu speech in Forensics, so I immediately signed up for the impromptu and extemp speeches.

On Sunday night, I did my first impromptu speech. The topic I selected out of my 3 choices was "George Washington". My thesis statement was "George Washington is someone who we must strive to be like not only because he was the first and one of the greatest American presidents, but because he embodied truthfulness, unity, and having a grand strategy." I think I did fairly well, and so did my group instructor, Bryce. He gave me useful feedback as well, such as that my gesticulation enhanced my oration and that I could walk more naturally when doing my pacing from one spot to another to emphasize my change in points.

Today, I gave my extemp speech. I was truly lucky, because the topic I was assigned was "Is victory against the Taliban possible in Afghanistan?" which is essentially my Marshall Brief topic, "How can we preven Afghanistan from becoming a failed state?". I started my speech by describing Afghanistan when under Taliban rule by asking, "Can you imagine a world without music, dancing, or movies? What about one where you can't fly a kite or shave your beard--if you're a guy...well...if you're a hairy woman as well..." The last part of that line was definitely more of a Freudian slip, but it garnered many laughs, which is nearly always a good sign in public speaking. The rest of my speech took on a serious tone, as I described the three not-so-simple steps that would make victory against the Taliban possible in Afghanistan. The first step was defeating them militarily. This would consist of having the US and NATO forces already stationed there training the Afghan National Army and the International Security Assistance Force training the Afghan National Police. Also, the Afghans would have to consolidate their military gains in order to force the Taliban to fight in the traditional way rather than with their guerilla tactics. The second step was legalizing the poppy/opium trade. Right now, it's illegal in Afghanistan despite the fact that Afghanistan is responsible for 93% of the world's supply and poppy farming is the biggest industry in the country. Legalizing it would bring the profits out of the hands of the Taliban and into the Afghanistan economy. It would be based on how Turkey legalized poppy/opium in the 1970s. The third part of the strategy was reforming the government. Right now, the "central" government doesn't control 60% of the country, and this is mostly due to lack of ties between the provincial and central government. In order to reform it, Afghanistan would have to strengthen ties between Kabul and the rest of the country. I explained that although victory over the Taliban now currently seems out of reach, but it isn't with these three strategies.

My final, least impressive speech was one based on a quote by Benjamin Franklin. The quote was, "There never was a good war or a bad peace". I talked about World War II, the Great Depression, and interacting with parents. Truly, by this point I was tired and tired of doing speeches, but I managed to effectively elaborate on each of my examples.

Now, with the writing assignments and speaking sessions finished, I feel very relieved. However, I still have to work a lot with my group on the power point and the presentation for our Marshall Brief. We have a four-hour work session tommorow, though, and hopefully we'll be productive and churn out an exemplary work of grand strategy.

The four of us ate dinner with Ms. Jessie Rojas yesterday. We were able to catch up on what all of us were doing and talk about many other things such as her job as a social worker. I'm very grateful to her for taking the time to meet with us and for Professor Luong for organizing the get-together.


  1. Part 1 of 2

    I’ve written this earlier but I’m going to repeat it now: I just don’t understand why it is that they’re trying to cram so much into such a brief period of time. When the class is concluded I’ll be emailing Dr. Dr. Luong to try to get a better understanding of this.

    Even if you were a seasoned adult this would be a super rigorous schedule but we all have to keep in mind that you’re all 16-17 year old teenagers. We’ve all read the news reports about how you all need about 12 hours of sleep each night or something to that effect so why the super cram sessions?

    At the very least, we can say that we’re getting our money’s worth. I know this won’t make you feel any better but in some of the other programs we had kids in they really only spent maybe 3-5 hours per day in class and way too often they just watched movies. Their nights were their own and they had weekends off.

    BUT, almost without exception, they didn’t come home with anywhere near the education that you four are getting.

    I like this drill about making the speeches. I’m surprised, though, that the impromptu topic is given to you the night before. Whenever I did impromptu in Forensics we were given only a very brief period of time to prepare—thus the title: ‘impromptu’.

    Just curious, when you spoke about Washington, did you focus on Washington the General or Washington the President? Or did you mix and match?

    There’s no question, Yohanna, that gesticulation adds to the impact of a speech. Pay attention when you watch a political speech or even a class lecture and notice not only the hand movements of the orator but the way he/she moves their head around. The idea is to keep looking directly into the eyes of different people in the room so they walk away feeling as though you were speaking directly to them. Play around with your inflections and the tone of speech you use. Even walk around a little. Always remember, though, that sound travels in the direction you point it so if the room is wide you don’t want to point your head at one far side and speak since you risk that your audience on the other side of the room might not hear you. This is even more important if there’s a microphone. Sometimes orators move their heads from side to side but the mic is dead center so the speech seems to oscillate. Also, don’t talk down to the ground—none of your audience is on the floor in front of you.

  2. Part 2 of 2
    Something to consider on your Marshall Brief topic is how we failed in the ‘80’safter we helped to rid the Afghans of the Soviets. We spent billions to defeat the mighty Soviet Empire but we failed to help rebuild the infrastructure we helped destroy. By building a few schools, hospitals and roads we could have put Afghanistan back on the path to rebuilding themselves but instead we walked away and left the door wide open for Muslim zealots.

    Even after we invaded this last time around, instead of paying the farmers to grow the crops they needed to feed their country, we allowed the warlords to grow heroin poppies again. This allowed the country to become fragmented once again with warlord pitted against warlord and all of them pitted against the government and the US. Although the Taliban virtually eliminated poppy farming when they were running the country, they quickly embraced it as a quick means to finance their war against the infidels.

    Your suggestion of legalizing the poppy farming might not be the solution you’re looking for. The problem is that there’s such a high demand for it outside of Afghanistan that the profits are too high to ignore. Ask yourself this, though: consider the total cost of fighting the war on drugs just here in the US and take just a small fraction of that amount and use it to pay the farmers to grow something else. Wouldn’t that be a win/win for everyone? The farmers don’t care what crop they grow—they only care how much they can sell their crop for. And the worst part is that the farmers really don’t make much money to grow poppies. The money is all downstream by those that resell it, refine it and push the finished product. It really wouldn’t cost all that much to pay off the farmers.

    Keep in mind that there’s no market of opium poppies within the country. Legal or illegal the opium paste still has to be smuggled out of the country and that’s where the money is at. No country on the planet would continue to have relations with Afghanistan if they legalized the most destructive drug on the planet.

    Even in Turkey, France and Spain, the poppies are grown for medicinal opium and not for recreational use. Legalizing it on a wholesale basis would cause the price for medicinal heroin to plummet making it unprofitable for the farmers. Given that, perhaps there is an argument for legalization. Considering how weak and corrupt the Afghan government is should we think that they could control the crop so it doesn’t get smuggled out for the illicit drug trade?

    Just as Alexander learned, as the British learned and even the Soviets learned, the people of Afghanistan don’t like foreigners coming into their country trying to tell them what to do. The Afghans have never had an army per se but as armed militiamen they’ve become a formidable opponent. How do you destroy an enemy when you don’t know who the enemy is? They wear no uniforms, they have no centralized head and since they’re fighting for what every countryman holds so dear—their own country—they would be very difficult to defeat.

    So, rather than try to defeat them, why not simply try to control them? Or defuse their influence?

    How do you reform a government where democracy is a foreign concept and where corruption and bribery is a long and widely accepted tradition? How do you convince a people that has centuries of history of assassinating political opponents that democracy would be better for them?

    You have some tough topics to work on, Yohanna, but they all sound so exciting and interesting.