For centuries, human beings have turned to literature for lessons about life. Homer (of both The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Simpsons). The Bible. Shakespeare’s plays. The Art of War. More than anything else, it may be our literature that makes us human.
At least that’s my excuse for using The Hunger Games to teach public speaking.
There are public speaking events scattered throughout all three Hunger Games novels. We see many rallies, speeches and interviews, and we’re told that Peeta’s real talent isn’t for fighting, but persuading an audience and winning allies. Unfortunately, it’s Katniss who finds herself being turned into a spokesperson for the rebels in Mockingjay, while Peeta is held as a prisoner of the Capital.
Readers of the previous books already know that public speaking has never been Katniss’s strength. She requires a lot of coaching. So the first step in preparing her to film rebel infomercials is, of course, to give her an elaborate makeover. After all, these are novels where Katniss’s outfits are often more detailed than the characters.
But her new look and the slogan written for her to shout fall flat on camera. No one finds Katniss convincing, so her former mentor convenes a meeting to talk about why:
“All right,” Haymitch says…. “Would anyone argue that this is of use to us in winning the war?” No one does. “That saves us time. So, let’s all be quiet for a minute. I want everyone to think of one incident where Katniss Everdeen genuinely moved you. Not where you were jealous of her hairstyle, or her dress went up in flames or she made a halfway decent shot with an arrow. Not where Peeta was making you like her. I want to hear one moment where she made you feel something real.”
When they do come up with examples of times when Katniss has done something touching, brave or kind, Haymitch asks what they all have in common.
“They were all Katniss’s,” says Gale quietly. “No one told her what to do or say.”
The lesson for public speaking is a good one, both in the universe of The Hunger Games and in real life. It certainly works for Katniss. Afterward she goes off to visit a rebel hospital (the occupants of which are almost immediately incinerated in a bombing raid), shoots down some hovercraft with her bow, and wins a huge PR victory.
You may never excel at archery, but remembering to be yourself can be a powerful weapon when you want to speak persuasively. Unless you’re a seasoned performer, playing a role when you speak to an audience is almost always too difficult to do convincingly and can actually turn an audience against you. Much better to let them see the real you.
As a bonus, being yourself should also render makeovers, stylists, flaming dresses and jumpsuits with wings unnecessary. Just pick something nice from your closet.