3 Communication Lessons from Malala Yousafzai

malala yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a schoolgirl from Pakistan who survived a Taliban assassination attempt at the age of 15. She survived against the odds, and has become a feminist icon in her own right; a worldwide symbol of empowerment for her tireless campaign for the rights of women and girls to education and free speech; a powerful advocate for the rights of women in oppressive regimes. She speaks eloquently and with resilience, and has already addressed influential leaders from the UN to Barack Obama. In 2013, she was awarded the PRWeek Communicator of the Year award. So, what can we learn from her communications? Three things:

1. Be passionately committed to your message

“The most powerful messages are those which come from the heart… a result of my passionate belief in the cause for which I fight: the right for all girls to be educated.” Malala Yousafzai

Her passion and determination to fight for her cause (she wants all children to have access to education by the end of this year) have captured the hearts and stirred the minds of leaders around the world. Her tendency to repeat her main message (rights to education and equality of opportunity for every child) in different ways during her speeches, never deviating from it, is an effective way of emphasising her commitment to her cause, and the upward inflection of her voice during significant parts of her message (as she did so eloquently in her address to the UN) underscores her passion and determination.

Lesson: Have a strong message, and be passionate about it. Use emotion appropriately in your communications, and modulate your voice to demonstrate your passion.

2. Show your character

Malala’s courage and determination shine through her every speech. One of her more famous quotes is this:

“They will not stop me. I will get my education, if it is in home, school, or any place.”

In a video for PRWeek, she spoke with courage and conviction about her ambitions; a refusal to be cowed into supine silence by those who would dare to oppose her cause; a determination to pursue her goals. Few would fail to be moved by such strength of character; few would fail to take notice of her words.

Lesson: Inspirational speakers express their personalities in their communications, enabling others to relate to them as people, and aiding likability. Malala’s personality is that of a strong, confident and resilient young adult whose words and character command the attention of those privileged to hear her speak.

3. Speak with clarity

Key phrases are repeated for emphasis, and she employs effective pauses throughout her communications to emphasise her points. Her language is focused, concise and accessible; she enunciates her words distinctly; there is no ambiguity in what she says.

Lesson: Great communicators understand that what is important in communication is not showy oratory; it is for communication can lead and influence action. Clarity of thought and words are therefore critical, as Malala so keenly recognises.

The best communicators are able to cause others to think and act differently, moving them in the process. Malala Yousafzai, poised and outspoken beyond her 16 years, has achieved this remarkable achievement in spite of her age, and there is much the rest of us, as aspiring communicators, can learn from her.