Make no mistake, a winning contest speech is chopped and changed a hundred times. No word, no syllable, no pause, nor even a mini pause, is there, without thought, deliberation and design. Therefore, what I share here is my understanding of the why, of what I saw.
On to the stage he walks unhurriedly, dressed unpretentiously, bends his back to bow with his full light frame, bowing to the Contest Chair. And then, for a good 5 seconds or more he is frozen, looking at the Contest Chair. Is the video feed frozen?, you wonder. Then he turns ever so slowly and starts off: “I … love…” (two long pauses. He loves what? You are curious) and goes on to compliment her for “sounding more Zimbabwean than I do”, referring to the speech title the Contest Chair pronounced with effort and deliberation. Ndini. In Zimbabwe’ Shona language, it means “This is me”. Dim pronounces Ndini, showing both his sets of teeth. He invites the audience to try it. They do and he compliments them. Asking the audience to do things early on, in a speech, is like the ring master ordering the lion to jump through the ring… Risky. Yet, it is also a mark of confidence. Dim passes that test! He has the audience eating out of his hands, as it were.
Two factors help. 1. Curiosity 2. Authenticity/credibility. His pale white Nigerian dress that resembles an Indian Kurtha Pyjama makes him distinct at the WCPS stage. He also brings with him the mystique of Zimbabwe, and the phonetically distinct “Shona” and “Ndini”, with references to Africa invoked occasionally. They deepen our curiosity about the uncommon. Remember Aeron Beverly in 2019 narrating the funny game at a fat Indian wedding?, Unmistakably invoking the inherent mystique around India, among a predominantly western audience. Here it is Africa. Mystique is the exotic wrapped in mystery. It amplifies curiosity.
Secondly, Dim is incredibly credible. He displays a raw honesty. He sounds authentic. He appears in the extreme limit of simplicity that a World Championship stage will allow. It had to be so. Remember: Ndini. This is me. So, no suit or jacket for Dim.
From curiosity, we move to sympathy for a teenager with an unknown father …and a single mother. Understandably, he used to hate his middle name, adding to the identity crisis of the teens. Kids teased that it made a good password (The more long winding and complicated, the safer, right?), they called it “Memorably forgettable” and alleged it was a curse from black magic (The exotic, again, from Africa. Dim spices it up by jovially claiming that he is friends with some Nigerian princes.)
We can understand why he hated his name. Oh the disgrace of existence! Victimhood, vulnerability and pathos, mixed with raw humour leaves you drawn between sympathy and comedy. He longs for a cool name like …, and he comes up with two, ….each the most unexpected: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Contest Chair,…. both drawing laughs.
Dim’s identity crisis only worsens and our empathy becomes full-fledged sympathy when he finds himself in the heart of eastern Europe. He is “a fly in the milk’, drawing a blunt word picture virtually in stark black-and-white. Very non-European! Just like his laugh inducing, yet hard-hitting, line, “It was clear who grew up in the snow and who grew up in the sand”. We can feel it every bit when he says: ”I have never been this different before”.
Then he finds Nick, his redeemer from Congo, “another fly in the milk” but so unapologetically, unabashedly so. Nick has the African swagger and deep voice. He is “Mufasa in slow motion” (more laughter, of course). In one high impact, single piece pantomime, Nick snatches back his ID card from Dim…. Nick is proud of his identity. From Nick, Dim learns Acceptance.”
To me the point of inflection happens in the library. Dim reads loud his friend’s name, it runs into some 12 syllables. The two of them laugh so much, so loud, they get kicked out of the library! That must have been endless waves of loud and uncontrollable laughter. The 12 syllables of the name are a joke, yet I suspect, the laugh was catharsis to wash away years of indignation and hurt. That is one characteristic of Dim’s speech. Even as you laugh, you feel things happening at the gut level.
With the audience as witnesses, Dim conquers his vulnerability, redeems his self worth and reveals his middle name, that he had banished from all records, and his own tongue.
Dim has triumphed over the deeply painful Achilles heel in his self-image.
Having got us on his side, he puts us on the shrink’s couch and asks whether we hated something about ourselves. He includes even those who know someone who had gone through the experience. That pretty much ensures that the entire audience will empathise with him. Stretching it a bit, you can argue.
There is a lot to observe and comment about the usual delivery strengths – body language, facial expressions, voice variety, change of rate and pause!
As you enjoy every moment, hope you don’t miss the essence of this good speech. The psychology employed, presenting the poignant with playfulness, adding to the poignance. And the art of gaining attention, then sympathy, setting us up for the point of inflection and making us feel exactly what the speaker feels!
Yet, “You are different, uniquely different” is a common theme even in Level 2 speeches. The story has no action, no high drama events or episodes. It’s a storyline played mostly in the speaker’s mindscape.
Yet Dim won. Why? Think up your answer!