Friday, May 1, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Shabana Basij-Rasikh on educating Afghan girls

This TEDxWomen talk by Shabana Basij-Rasikh is a small wonder--so much emotion, insight and exhortation packed into a brief but elegant space. You may think you've heard the story of the educational struggle faced by girls in Afghanistan, but this is the speech that impressed me more than all, and close to 800,000 viewers, at last count.

Basij-Rasikh is the president and co-founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), the first girls' boarding school in that country. The school draws students from all ethnic groups, tribes and religions in Afghanistan, and SOLA has provided more than $7 million in scholarships. Many of the young women also get a chance to study in programs around the globe. This work as has made Basij-Rasikh an international education superstar: in 2014, she was named one of National Geographic's Emerging Explorers, and one of CNN International's Leading Women.

It's difficult to remember how young she was--only 22!--when you listen to this talk from 2012. She speaks with the kind of poise and conviction that you might associate with long experience. But for Basij-Rasikh, with half a life lived under Taliban rule, that experience taught her exactly what she needed to tell the world about being a secret student during a dangerous time:
I would want to quit, but my father, he would say, 'Listen, my daughter, you can lose everything you own in your life. Your money can be stolen. You can be forced to leave your home during a war. But the one thing that will always remain with you is what is here, and if we have to sell our blood to pay your school fees, we will. So do you still not want to continue?'
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Seize the audience with your opening. Basij-Rasikh opens her talk with an immediate, lyrical start: "When I was 11, I remember waking up morning to the sound of joy in my house." How can you resist that? Instantly, I needed to know what the sound was, who or what was making it, and why the house was full of it. Studies show that there are all kinds of reasons to use a strong, fast start like this in a speech.
  • Illustrate with the "invisible visual." On that memorable morning, Basij-Rasikh tells us, the joy in the house came from "a small gray radio." And later in the talk, we hear about books covered in grocery bags to disguise their true purpose, and about the winter coziness of a living room packed with a hundred students. These descriptions are such small things in a speech about war and women's rights, but they do heavy lifting when it comes to helping the audience understand and empathize with Basij-Rasikh's cause.
  • Show how your story fits into a larger context. Basij-Rasikh uses her family experiences here, notably the support of her father and grandfather, as stepping stones to talk about the broader issues of educational opportunities for Afghan girls and women. By tying the personal to the political, this choice even allows her to speak briefly about the contrast between the growing strength she sees in Afghan families and the international perception of Afghanistan's "fragility."
You can watch the full TED talk here:

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post)

Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!