Taking the message to Korea’s massesRip-roaring speeches filled the air at the Uri Party convention on Feb. 18 at Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Hall as eight candidates did verbal acrobatics in their final bids for the party chairmanship.
“Korean society is deeply divided,” declared congressman Kim Keun-tae. “And [the Grand National Party] is promoting tax cuts for the privileged minority, further dividing our society!”
Such forceful words and a clean presentation propelled Mr. Kim to a second place finish in the voting. Not bad for a politician whose own aides worried he would bore the crowd to tears. Fearing the worst, his campaign team called in an expert speech consultant in the last minute to polish his act.
When he reached the podium for his allotted seven minutes of glory, Mr. Kim’s political stances were his own, but his speaking style was entirely made over by Choi Kwang-ki, a speechwriter for president Roh Moo-hyun and a renowned public speaker known as Korea’s “Emcee of the street” for her rousing talks at outdoor rallies.
Only a few weeks earlier, congressman Kim told an audience, “Regionalism, divisionary tactics, irresponsible tax cuts and a rejection of the private education amendment are the Grand National Party and its chairwoman Park Geun-hye’s schemes to protect the status quo.” After a pause, he said, “If you agree with me, please give me a round of applause,” which he requested at frequent intervals in his speech.
Are you asleep yet?
Ms. Choi said that the final week before Mr. Kim’s speech a week and a half ago was particularly hectic. She received a copy of the speech two days prior to the party convention and then reworked it with Mr. Kim’s aides. In the days leading up to the big event, she spent hours training Mr. Kim and critiquing his rehearsals.
Asked how she was helping, Ms. Choi said, “I try to find people’s strengths. During rehearsal, I often realize [what those are]. I read people very quickly. There are different prescriptions for different patients.”
Because of time constraints, she said she focused on Mr. Kim’s voice, which is his strong point.
“He has a very appealing voice ... and this natural, uncompromising feel, which will be reinforced. I also adjusted the speed of his speech,” said Ms. Choi.
In terms of style, Ms. Choi eliminated Mr. Kim’s showy rhetoric, shortened his phrases and inserted simpler words. Mr. Kim was also told to stop asking for applause.
“Ms. Choi emphasized two things. She advised Mr. Kim to have more confidence, and stressed that he speak in his own words,” said Kim Jong-cheon, Mr. Kim’s chief of staff.
The aide noted that Mr. Kim appeared less nervous on the podium and his speech sounded more natural.
Ms. Choi has known Mr. Kim personally for a long time, particularly for his efforts to bring democracy to South Korea in the 1980s. She said it was a natural choice to help him, considering her own political inclination.
When asked how she became his consultant, Ms. Choi said, “I have lived among the masses, and know how they will respond. They wanted someone with that kind of experience.”
“I talk about what [the people] want to hear and make them feel satisfied. I speak for them, expressing their doubt and rage. That’s my strength,” said Ms. Choi.
Ms. Choi has helped quite a few politicians improve their speech, particularly during the most recent election for the current National Assembly, although she did not give an exact number of her clients.?
“The first time I saw him speak, I instantly liked him. I thought he would be someone I would like to see more in Korean politics.”
The trust between Ms. Choi and President Roh ran very deep and she even asked him to preside over her wedding.?At the ceremony, President Roh joked, “The first encounter between this defective man and this unabashed woman is a result of our history; the groom was once a student activist deprived of a bachelor degree because he was expelled from university.”?
Ms. Choi admires President Roh’s speeches because they often bring “a dramatic reversal in the end resulting in catharsis.”
“He is one of the best speakers among our current politicians,” she said.
Ms. Choi learned to speak well while teaching math and Korean to underpriviledged mothers many years ago.
“I tried to explain things to them. I tried to pass on advanced knowledge. But for the first six months they didn’t understand what I was talking about. During 10 years on the job, I learned ways of making myself better understood,” said Ms. Choi.?
“This is why an audience of 100,000 people can understand me, and why they are captured by my speech,” said Ms. Choi, referring to her speeches at mass gatherings.
One of her most famous was at a protest near Gwanghwamun against the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun in March 2004. With her forceful but delicate voice, she captivated 100,000 spectators at the candlelight vigil.
“You are the hope and the conscience of our nation,” she told them. “We came here not just to protest the impeachment but also to find new hope. We are going to rule the country with our own hands. We can no longer let the congressmen rule our country. We the people will run this country.”
“We are going to wipe out those who sold our nation in the name of our people. Now this is the time we should lead.
“Now we will give a verdict to those who were involved in the impeachment, who stepped on democracy. We will bring new politics and a new voice,” she said.
Ms. Choi first made a name for herself as an emcee for a festival for the underprivileged in 1993 and then at the inaugural event for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in 1995.
At the Feb 18. Uri Party convention, she again realized the importance of public speaking.
“Speeches made on location can be very powerful,” she said. “The speeches by some candidates actually moved the party members.”
Ms. Choi said the basic rule in public speaking is to be considerate of the audience.
“Public speaking is not the same as pouring out one’s ideas. It is more about addressing what the audience is curious about and interacting with them. It shouldn’t be centered on the speaker,” said Ms. Choi.
“But in the end, it is not their words that are important but whether they can deliver on their promises.”
by Limb Jae-un