Using Olympic fame to teach about speaking

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Using Olympic fame to teach about speaking



Every Korean’s heart was touched by the fluent English presentation given by Theresa Rah, former spokeswoman of the Pyeongchang Olympic bid committee, in Durban, South Africa, last year. She was a driving force behind the effort that garnered Korea the 2018 Winter Olympics. With her emotional presentation, she rose to stardom as the “Queen of Durban.”

More than nine months have passed since that moment of glory, but Rah, 39, is back in the public eye. This time, she’s making news as the author of a book on English speaking and presentation skills.

Titled “Rah Seung-yun’s Presentation,” using her Korean name, the 296-page book published last month offers insights into giving quality presentations in English. Having lived overseas with her father, who is a diplomat, Rah speaks fluent English and French. She also majored in French literature at Ewha Womans University before joining the Bank of Korea and then moving to Arirang Television, a state-run English-language cable channel.

Rah sat down with a reporter recently to talk about her life since the famous presentation. In particular, she discussed her passion for delivering presentations and how she plans to deliver her speaking expertise to Koreans. Rah has been a highly sought persona after helping to win the Olympic bid, but she has decided to focus on being an English communications expert, turning down offers to join political parties, among others.

Q. Out of the many tips presented in the book, which do you think are the most important for Koreans?

A. One, remember your main message. Keep it simple, in one sentence if possible. Keeping it simple makes it easier for the audience to understand and remember. Two, support your main message with no more than three points. The audience will not be able to remember more and it will become confusing. Always remember your ultimate goal is to get one clear message across, and the three points should support that. Three, know your audience. Do your homework before the actual presentation to learn as much as you can about the audience, their age, their background, their likes and dislikes. This also means finding out about the venue, the time and atmosphere of the presentation. You must know your audience to tailor your message to them and make it more persuasive for them.

You said in an earlier interview that you once got a C in a public speaking class. How come?

The C was from high school in Canada. It was my first experience in public speaking, and I had no idea how to write a speech. So I just told a bunch of funny stories that I “borrowed” from my dad’s book titled something like “Humorous Stories for all Occasions.” I got my classmates to laugh, but my teacher was not amused, obviously. During university though, I joined Century, an English debate club comprised of students from various universities. One of the main activities during freshman year was an English speech contest. We wrote five-minute speeches and practiced for months in front of our seniors at various university campuses and cafes. This worked wonders in helping us overcome our stage fright. We even received coaching on eye contact and gestures. I won the contest that year, and I wasn’t the only “native” speaker. That experience allowed me to overcome my traumatic public speaking experience in high school and really boosted my confidence. It likely prompted me to apply for Arirang TV.

What does it take to be a good presenter and orator?

I think you have to first be a good listener to be a good presenter. You have to have an ear for what the audience is feeling, thinking and saying, and then package your message accordingly. That’s what the best presenters are able to do. I also believe you have to have an enormous amount of affection for your topic and your audience. That’s also directly linked to how much practice you put into your speech. The best speakers spent hours practicing to sound natural and convincing. Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs are famous for being passionate about practice. No one is born a great orator - but with practice, anyone can be a great presenter.

What would you be happiest or most upset to hear from your readers?

I would be happiest to hear that the book is very helpful and that even after they’ve read the book, they keep a copy nearby for reference and practice. As for the opposite, I would feel most disappointed if a reader never tried to do any of the exercises or practice the tips. Like Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

By Chun Su-jin, Lee Eun-joo []
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