Public Speaking Lessons from Chimamanda’s “The Danger of a Single Story”

Public speaking lessons from Chimamanda

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prominent and award-winning Nigerian female writer. She writes across genres in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting.

She is an activist and a renowned public speaker addressing various issues, including feminism, the literary arts, race, and the history of war.

We all appreciate TED Talks for inspiration, don’t we?

If you are in search of some inspiration regarding public speaking, then you probably shouldn’t miss “The Danger of a Single Story”, by Chimamanda Adichie.

Here, she describes the powerful impression that British stories made on her as a young girl, and shares about her experiences at university and the way Africa is perceived in the Western world.

You can watch the full TED Talk here,

Quick Summary

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

She delves into the negative influence that a single story can have on individuals and tries to identify the origin of these stories. Adichie further explains that a single story originates from one’s lack of knowledge. 

Such stories have a vicious intent to suppress other groups leading to prejudice.

People, especially in their childhood are vulnerable to believe these single stories. Adichie asserts that the sources like media and literature often portray only one story which makes people generalize and assume about the other.

Adichie shares two primary examples to discuss why generalizations are made:

a. She shares an incident where her college roommate had an image of Africa, or rather people from there are poor and from a struggling background.

However, she talks about the same mistake that she’d made due to the strong media coverage on Mexican immigration considering Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, and being arrested at the border.

These anecdotes emphasize how stereotypes are formed due to incomplete information, and how one story defines a group of people.

b. She also argues the effect of political and cultural power on stories. Power not only spreads a story, but also makes its ideas endure. It can also be used to control– how stories are told, who tells them, when they’re told, and how many are told.

Using power to manipulate one’s understanding of others can be evidenced by Adichie’s trip to Mexico, where she realized Mexicans were not the harmful Americans as the Western media portrayed them to be. 

Influential stories like these have caused people like Adichie to have a limited idea about the other side of the story.

Putting Adichie’s speech in a nutshell– It is very important to seek diverse perspectives of a story in order to break down the power of clichés and stereotypes. The rejection of the single story phenomenon allows one to “regain a kind of paradise” and see people as more than just one incomplete idea.

Hoping that you’ve watched the video and understood the gist, we can now dive into the public speaking lessons and the analysis of Chimamanda’s speech.

Public Speaking Lessons from Chimamanda’s speech:

1. Sharing your Personal Experiences

Importance of sharing personal stories in your speech
Source- Lutan Sahu

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is good at conveying her life experiences in her works. For instance, when she mentioned how she believed a single perspective of a story during the Mexican immigration issue that was going on. 

Sharing personal experiences in a speech can enable your audience to identify and connect with you, but you need to organize those details, so that they illustrate an argument.

Select a meaningful experience that your audience can easily decode. This will make it more powerful and easier to follow with a focused look on one event rather than a checklist of several.

You can share two sorts of experiences with them:

  • An experience that your audience has also shared will humanize you and invite them to re-experience that event with you
  • Sharing an aspirational experience that they might not have shared may reinforce the way they look up to you

2. Tone of Voice

Importance of tone of voice in your speech

Chimamanda’s tone throughout her speech was very passionate, determined and optimistic. Her tone somewhere warns the audience that if they fall prey to single stories about a place or people, it might lead to a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions.

A tone of voice is an expression of your values and way of thinking, and it’s not to be considered lightly. Just how the tone of voice in an argument can instigate hurt feelings, the wrong tone of voice in your content can also put your listeners off.

Basically, it’s about using a proper language to give your piece of information that you’re conveying its own distinct and recognizable voice.

Focusing on your tone of voice is essential and here are the reasons why you should consider it:

  • People like to deal with people, as it helps them to resonate well with you. You can use an emotional tone of voice in order to make your audience connect well with you.
  • It helps you build authority. Taking an example of Adichie, her talk was lively, funny and memorable. The way she spoke and her personality showed how confident she was while talking which added real value to her message.
  • Working on your tone of voice can help you set a strategy and cut through clutter and confusion
  • Lastly, it tells the audience who you are, as it gives you an opportunity to advertise yourself

3. Use of Storytelling Techniques

The importance of storytelling in public speaking

Have you ever wondered how stories can affect your world-view? Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores this in her TED talk presentation.

She believes stories can influence our understanding of other people and places, and therefore emphasizes on the power of storytelling in her speech.

In her speech she uses the Nested Loops technique to make her stories more hypnotic.

Telling stories is a compelling way of presenting because humans relate to them. Stories engage the audience, evokes empathy, increases trust, and motivates action.

By working on your storytelling skills, you will be more effective at persuading the audience about the value of your ideas.

Make sure you spend the time refining these skills, so you can set your speech apart.

You can also check- 15 Powerful speech opening lines and how to create your own.

4. Learn from others

Importance of learning form others

One thing Adichie did well was to learn from other writers, past and contemporary. The writers in her discussion would always refer to their works that influenced her literary insight.

Applying this in a public speaking scenario, making mistakes is an unavoidable truth.

There are two ways of learning from missteps: experiencing it by yourself or taking other’s experience into consideration.

Every speaker has the ability to learn from the mistakes that others make. After all, many speakers are happy to share the lessons they’ve learned.

The hope is that by sharing their experience genuinely and transparently, they can help other budding speakers avoid some of the mistakes that they’ve made.

This generates awareness and saves you from not repeating the same mistake again.

5. Speech Delivery

How to speak with impact

As a speaker, Adichie is a delight: she is articulate and funny. Typically, her talks include dozens of personal anecdotes that she then uses to illustrate a more general point.

When the crowd responds to something hilarious or particularly profound, she pauses long enough for her audience to applaud, or to laugh with them, and then goes on to distil her wisdom into the simplest and most compassionate of tellings.

The importance of delivery is that it can communicate your confidence and preparedness to your audience. Effective delivery shows your audience that you have researched and have clear understanding about your topic. It also allows you to pull it all together—to showcase your work and to speak with confidence during your delivery.

Here are some ways to ensure your speech is effective:

  • You can deliver three-four main points with your key messages and then back them up with examples
  • Do not assume that the audience will know your language, meaning make your concepts very clear and relevant to the public
  • Personalize your speech, so that it reflects your personality. You can use words that are part of your everyday vocabulary and incorporate personal stories or examples.
  • Lastly, practice well

You can also check- 6 Techniques to Stop Saying Filler Words: Eliminate the Ahs & Ums!

6. Language

Importance of language in public speaking

Talking about language, Adichie engages her audience by using a neutral and accessible language. The language typically focuses on appealing to the authority, sharing values, as well as touching emotions.

Adichie also uses references and rhetorical questions to emphasize her points and help persuade her audience.

Using language effectively will improve your ability to be an effective public speaker. Because language is an important aspect of public speaking that many of us don’t spend enough time on developing.

The power of language cannot be overemphasized— language constructs, reflects, and maintains our social realities, or what we believe to be “true” with regard to the world around us.

The major function of a language is to establish a connection between the speaker and the audience, and one of the most effective means of establishing a connection with your audience is to provide them with the reasons why they should listen to your speech.

Next time you plan on giving a speech, make sure you use words that are powerful and easy to understand.

Danger of Single Story in Real Life

Danger of single story in real life.
Source- Sugar Plum

It is clear that you need to consider both the aspects of a story before forming any opinions about a situation

It would be unwise, if you embrace only one perspective without knowing the significance of the other.

Oftentimes, the information we hear on television or read in the newspapers about crimes that allegedly have been committed is very different from the actual facts that are presented in the court.

By being able to know both sides of the story, a person is more likely to get all of the facts regarding what happened in a specific event.

For example, let us consider a fictitious case in which a young adult is found to have murdered his father. Let’s say the murder was witnessed and his son was found to be the culprit.

It may seem like a cut-and-dried case until police speaks to the accused and learns that the entire family has been subjected to years of physical abuse at the hands of the deceased father. While the son is still guilty of murder, there are now extenuating circumstances which may have an impact on his conviction or sentence.

Without hearing both sides of the story, this would never have come to light.

In short, when you believe in only one perspective of a story, you know a truth and when you consider the other one as well, you know the truth.


  • There is never a single story about any place or a group of people; therefore, we always need to read different versions of the same single story
  • Showing people as only one thing and nothing else is the danger of a single story
  • The ability to not just tell the story to someone, but also make it their definitive story is the power that supports the concept of single story
  • We should go through a mental shift in our perceptions of considering every bit before running to any conclusions

How can you Combat the Danger of a Single Story?

We live in a world that is filled with heterogeneity, meaning people who are different from us. In spite of there being so many differences what truly unites us are the commonalities: namely, the desire to be understood, respected and appreciated by those around us.

Adichie in her speech tells us that there are instances where we only know a single piece about a person, group or maybe a country. Knowing that limited information, we subsequently pass judgements or make assumptions which leads to prejudice.

“Show people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Here are some key ways to avoid the dangerous single stories when building and maintaining personal and professional relationships:

1. Read

Importance of reading to avoid singe stories

From her speech, it is clear that reading has always been an important part of her life and that is what made her familiar with the concept of single stories.

According to her, the dangerous part is not that these types of stories are prevalent in our society, but the way we are still ignorant towards it. 

The knowledge gained from reading multiple stories could prove valuable in the long run. It provides you a reality check towards everything that you were ignorant about all this while.

While providing any sort of information to your audience, you need to read in order to be sure of whatever you’re saying is not false or incomplete.

Before providing any data to your audience, make sure you have properly Read, Heard, and then Absorb it forming your own opinion.

2. Don’t jump the Bandwagon

Avoid jumping to conclusions

The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon where people subconsciously (or even consciously) mimic the choices of other people.

We live in a society that is highly dominated by the media. Everything that the media addresses is not necessarily always the truth. For instance, Adichie later realized that all the Mexicans weren’t that bad how the media portrayed them to be.

It is very important that your facts are checked and clear, especially when you are trying to address some political or social issue in your speech.

Providing false information or rather an incomplete one can turn out to be deadly for you. 

3. Understand your Power

Understand your power as a storyteller

We know that stories have the power to connect with people for the greater good or to make this world a better place. Being in the storytelling business, your aim is to share your ideas that can be heard and acted upon. On the other hand, it also has the power to do the opposite.

When you are a storyteller, your responsibility is to provide information without any stereotypes, assumptions or misrepresentations. However, you can always create a room for conversations, uniqueness, fresh perspectives, and newfound understandings.

For your next speech, try providing information that will help you make your session more interactive.

4.  Avoid the Tunnel Vision Perspective

Avoid have a tunnel vision perspective to a story

Tunnel vision is defined as one’s tendency to focus on a single goal or point of view.

You’ve of course heard the old saying, “Every coin has two sides to it.” 

Every story has different perspectives attached to it. We need to take all these perspectives into consideration before forming any opinion about people from different groups.

But the way we all seem to be operating these days is: we hear about an outrageous injustice and suddenly we feel we know the whole story.

Final Thoughts

Adichie’s speech is more like an eye-opener than anything else, as it made people have a different outlook on things.

In this article, we have looked at a variety of techniques that can be used to help you develop the necessary skills for delivering public speeches. Practice in these areas can help to increase your audiences’ interest in your speech.

Hoping that a few of these lessons might help you while sharing your knowledge publicly.

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