|Creative Training - A User's Guide (IIRR, 1998)|
· Needs to be planned well in advance
Oral testimonies are talks or interviews drawn from a speaker's actual experience.
Oral testimonies can be used to inspire participants or to motivate them to action.
1. Contact the person or people whom you wish to give a testimony of their experience. This could be someone from within your own group or community like women who have used the local media to raise awareness of wife beating. Or, the speaker may also come from outside, for example you might want to emphasize a lesson on volcanic eruptions by hearing the testimony of someone who had experienced this first hand.
2. If they agree to speak, fix a date and time and give them as much information as you can about:
· What you want them to talk about.
· Whether you want them to give a talk or an interview; if an interview, discuss with them what questions you would like to ask.
· How long the talk should be; you may like to suggest that they break their talk up, so that people's attention won't wander. The paper on lectures gives advice on this.
· The audience, their background knowledge, the number of people.
· The type of venue and the equipment available.
· Clear directions on how to reach the place, including how long it will take them.
· How much - if anything - you will be able to pay them. Most speakers would at least expect their traveling and food expenses to be paid.
· If you have contacted them by phone, make sure you also send them this information in writing.
3. Particularly, if you are having an outside speaker, you should allow at least a month to 'advertise' the event. There is nothing more disheartening for a speaker than to find that they are talking to just a handful of people.
4. On the day of the talk, arrive early at the venue to check everything is in place, and the seats are laid out and the equipment is ready.
An informal setting will make both the speaker and audience more relaxed. If possible, set the chairs in a horseshoe shape rather than in rows, or perhaps even sit outside under a tree.
5. At the time of the talk, briefly introduce the speaker. During the talk, listen attentively and do not distract the audience by fussing around organizing snacks, etc.
6. After the talk, encourage the participants to ask questions. At the end, thank the speaker and invite the audience to applaud.
The presence of someone who has actually had personal experience of the events described has far more impact than merely a third-person re-telling.
· Think of a flamboyant way to advertise the event - for example a talk on freedom of speech could be advertised by a group going around the area wearing gags over their mouths and waving information about the talk. Also, a challenging, witty or controversial title for the talk is likely to excite people's curiosity, although do not mislead people in your choice of words.
· If you can organize a meal or some social activity after the talk, this will give participants a chance to chat with the speaker more informally, and will be a way of thanking the speaker. A cheap way to do this is to ask all the participants to bring food and have a 'pot luck'.
· It is always good to have a fall back plan in case the speaker doesn't turn up. Perhaps you have a relevant video program or slide show?
· If the person is not used to speaking, he/she may feel intimidated. Organize a dry run of what he/she would like to say. An interview may work better than a talk.
· Relevant organizations can often give names of people willing to give talks. You could contact a human rights organization to find a speaker who is a survivor of torture or illegal detention.
· Many speakers are very happy to talk to advocate their
cause. Aim big! You may be surprised at who will agree to turn up at your
humble meeting place or school.
Considerations for testimonies
· Some issues like sexual violence can create strong emotional responses. Are you prepared for this? Also, it is essential to prevent the talk descending into a kind of 'voyeurism', for example, audience being just interested in the intimate details of a rape.
· Be sensitive to local cultures that might be offended by your choice of topic.
· The power of personal testimonies is well known, so be aware that - for some topics of discussion - other groups may attempt to disrupt your meeting. For example, in Milton Keynes, UK, a talk given by a Holocaust survivor on the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps was fire bombed by neo-Nazis.
· It is unethical to 'fake' testimonies. At a workshop in Manila to raise awareness of gender issues amongst people working in the media, a rape survivor came to give an interview on her experience. The aim was to expose the participants to how emotionally and physically damaging rape is to encourage them to report sympathetically about rape in future. A further aim was to give the participants insights in how to interview a rape survivor in a sensitive way. The woman began to cry during the interview, which upset many participants. But in fact this was not a genuine testimony, as the woman was actually an actress. The participants naturally reacted angrily when they later found this out.
· In the Philippines, indigenous people from the Cordillera gave talks to communities in Mindanao on how they have fought off attempts by international mining companies to mine their land, since areas of Mindanao have now been targeted for similar projects.
· The testimony of Lola X on her experience as a 'comfort woman' for Japanese soldiers during World War 2 gave other women the confidence to speak out about their similar experience. This finally led to the Japanese government apologizing and setting up a compensation fund.
· In Milton Keynes, UK, older people gave talks about how life was like in the past, with the aid of old family possessions and clothes. This had led to an interest in researching local history through a Living Archive Project (LAP). Every year, members of LAP stage a play based on past local events.
· In primary schools in Stoke, UK, an ex-alcoholic gives
talks about how alcoholism destroyed his life - both his work and family life -
as a warning to children to be aware of the dangers of
Using testimonies in trainings
Short testimonies can spice up a topic in any training. From among the participants, invite one or two to share experiences and insights in a three-to-five minute talk. While testimonies can be used at the start of a training to create a climate of openess, it is more advisable to introduce them in the middle (e.g., on the second day of a three-day training) when participants are already comfortable with each other. This ensures that testimonies and the open forum thereafter would be more personal and straightforward. Using testimonies effectively emphasizes that "learning from life" is not only a cliche but can actually happen.
Facilitators usually choose vocal participants to give
testimonies. However, it is also advisable to invite shy participants. Based on
experience, seemingly timid participants end up giving excellent talks. They
just needed the right timing, preparation and
Testimonies when used in a training can:
1. Jumpstart a topic.
As an opener, a testimony gives an idea of what the topic will cover. In the process, participants get an overview of the discussion flow, thus giving them confidence to offer their own insights.
2. Show how concepts apply to real life.
Talking about concepts is intimidating to many people and can inhibit participation. A testimony can solve this trainer's dilemma since it first explores the giver's experiences. Together, participants cull insights from their experiences as well, and relate these to concepts that the trainer wants to share. Likewise, this process can generate participants' own concepts relative to the topic.
3. Suggests solutions to participants facing the same dilemmas in life.
Testimonies create connections between participants. While listening, people always relate others' life stories to their own. Individual reflections range from "I have the same problem now, maybe I can try what they did?" to "We have tried that before in our community and it did not work. What could be the new approaches?"
Testimonies can move people into action. However, it is important
to emphasize that experiences are context-based and that copying solutions to
problems may not always work. At the same time, genuine testimonies
should present both successes and frustrations.
· Education for Life Foundation (ELF), a grassroots leadership folk school based in Metro Manila, has instituted giving testimonies as a tradition in its trainings. In tackling the sensitive topic on leadership principles and styles, participants start with "my humble experiences" and then engage their co-participants in a debate on what a "true leader" should be. Participants ended up enlightened because the realization came not from a sermon but from their own exchanges.
· In Westminster City School, United Kingdom, the
testimonies of people who experienced the mass evacuation of London because of
aerial bombing during World War 2, became part of the curriculum. These
testimonies were a key to a fuller understanding of civilian life during the war
and helped to make the topic