Friday, 9th June 2023

Joyce Kelechi Ozonuwe: ‘If you are married to a good man, support him’

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie
13 May 2023   |   4:15 am
As a Master of Ceremony, Joyce Kelechi Ozonuwe never disappoints her audience. Although she read Mathematics at the University of Jos, her creative ingenuity keeps people wondering about the relationship between Mathematics and the arts. A motivational speaker, Ozonuwe, popularly called Her Vocal Majesty thrives majorly as a Master of Ceremony.

As a Master of Ceremony, Joyce Kelechi Ozonuwe never disappoints her audience. Although she read Mathematics at the University of Jos, her creative ingenuity keeps people wondering about the relationship between Mathematics and the arts. A motivational speaker, Ozonuwe, popularly called Her Vocal Majesty thrives majorly as a Master of Ceremony.

In this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, she gave insight into what it takes to be a professional MC, and how women can handle fragile financial issues in marriages.

What does it take to survive as a female MC in today’s Nigeria?
I will first give glory to God, because he directed me. I read Mathematics from the University of Jos. So, you can say that what I am doing today has nothing to do with what I studied in the university, but it has everything to do with the gift of God. And because it is a gift from God, he creates the job. But one thing I tell people is that I never put money first.

From the beginning, I realised that I didn’t pay to learn it and as such, I don’t place money first. I told God to take away the gift any day I decline a job because the offer is little. I asked Him to announce me all the way. This is my 20th year as an MC. I started in 2003. At a point, I was working with a media organization, even though I didn’t study Mass Communication.

Talking about how I survive as a woman MC, it has been through the help of God. I get new contact from every job I do; I don’t reject jobs. I have done jobs of millions of naira and I will still bring myself to do a job of N50,000 or even N30,000. Somebody can approach me for a wedding ceremony and say he or she doesn’t have enough money. Sometimes, when I feel the offer is too small, I will remember my vow and call the person back. And from such small jobs, I get bigger ones. As soon as I am done, somebody will walk up to me and say, ‘MC, you did so well, can I have you contact?’ So, this is how I have been surviving.

For everything I do today, the jokes, the spoken words, it has been God teaching me; it is God announcing me all through. At times, we can be two or more MCs in an event, but God announces me, because once I handle the microphone, everything turns around; God will give me a joke and when I crack it, people will be happy.

What is the story behind switching from Mathematics to public speaking?
God showed me the way, but it didn’t just start. I did little acting when I was in Jos. Coming to Abuja to visit a friend, I learnt that one of the people I acted with then had become the General Manager of Cool FM, Yakubu Laman. Through him, I got a job in a television station. I was initially in Programmes Department and later switched to news. That year, I was second best.

A time came when we were no longer paid, but because of my passion, I didn’t join others to complain. I felt I was learning without paying; I was only thinking how to survive. I greeted someone one day and he became interested in my accent. He told me I could make a good MC and went ahead to offer me the first job. It was a dinner event and the way he announced me, I couldn’t believe he was introducing me. It was a very big event at Sheraton Hotels. I was afraid, but I cracked a joke and was surprised the way people were laughing. By the time I was done with the jokes, the fears were gone. When I was done, people came to say how they loved my voice. That was how I started getting jobs. But before then, I did free MCs for my pastors. I begged to do MC free of charge. That was the seed I sowed and it has been from once success story to another.

Many aspire to become MCs but stage fright dissuaded them. How can this be tackled?
I do public speaking coaching and the first thing I tell my students is that this woman teaching you today was initially scared of the stage; microphone was my greatest enemy. Although I knew I had the boldness to speak, having been a Senior Prefect in my secondary school days and held other leading positions, but don’t give me microphone; I would be shaking. Yet, I knew there was something about microphone and my life. So, I decided to confront that fear – the fear of the microphone. The more I feared, the more I got used the microphone and gradually, I was able to confront stage fright.

The truth is that there is no public speaker today that will tell you that he or she has finally conquered stage fright. The only thing they will tell you is that there are ways of handling it; it happens from stage to stage. I have been privileged to cover events where a First Lady of this great country was present; the way I felt was quite different from the way I feel when I cover a wedding or a dinner event. When you come to a high profile event, there is fear that comes from within, but being a professional, I know how to handle it so that when I pick up the microphone, it will die naturally. But before you step on stage, it will come. It is left for you to handle it.

One of the things I do is to take a deep breath or sip water; it makes me relax. At times, I say something that can make me feel good. I tell myself, ‘Joyce, you can do it. You have done it before. Go and wow the audience.’ When I do that, I feel free. Also, when I mount the stage, I try to spice things up by cracking jokes so that people can feel relaxed.

Tell us more about your training on public speaking
I have a page where I coach people on public speaking. A lot of people know what to say, but they don’t know how to say it. So, I try to bring in people who also had my kind of experience, fighting stage fright. A lot of people, including high profile personalities, are fighting stage fright. So, I bring them in, tell them my story and let them know that if I can do it, they can as well do it. I tutor them from the scratch on how to speak in public and how to handle the microphone.

Each time I go for an event, I watch how people hold microphone. I feel like telling the person that he is not a singer or a wrapper, that there is a way to speak in public. Some don’t have public presence. I feel like going to tell them that they are not standing well; that their posture is wrong, this is how to wave your hand, drop your hand and so on. Some people just mount the stage and start talking. There are ways to keep your facial expression. You don’t laugh anyhow when you are talking in public. Even if it is your closest friend that walks in, you manage the atmosphere at that time. These are some of the things I teach people – how to overcome stage fright, how not to talk in public, how to hold the microphone, how to make maximum use of the stage.

For each class, I create a WhatsApp page. It is an online class most times except where people arrange for physical classes. We also run physical classes for private individuals and some high profile people, who I coach in their offices or homes depending on their respective choices. In future, I intend to have a public speaking school where anybody can walk in anytime, but that will not stop the online class because it enables people from far and wide to join. I will also want to have something steady; people knowing that the coaching takes place within a particular time, running a semester system so that people can plan alongside our calendar.

As one who leads women groups, what practical advice do you give women on marriage?
When marriage is not going the way you planned it, maybe at the initial stage, your husband had a job but along the line, he lost it, how would you survive? I ask this question because I am going to say my story; I am going to speak out of experience.

When I got married, my husband was working, a first class engineer, very good man. Shortly after we got married, he lost his job and it wasn’t an easy time. I noticed that in most marriages where the man is not doing anything, there is usually friction, because women are not wired to sponsor the home. Women are meant to plan the home with what the man brings, but if it turns the other way and the woman becomes the provider, the planner and all that, it brings friction.

When it happened to me, I prayed. I thought it would be one or two years, but it didn’t end there. I felt that raising my voice would not even solve the problem. God asked me if I would rather prefer to be a widow. ‘If you give this man stress and he dies, you become a widow. Ask widows what they go through. So, bear it; it is for a period of time. Help him in whatever way you can.’

So, I decided to turn the situation to an atmosphere of joy. I did all I could to support him. I couldn’t buy shoes or bags for myself, but as MC, I tried to make dresses, because I needed to appear good. The money I would have spent on gold was channeled to school fees, rents and other bills. I also gave him money to take care of his personal needs. I never used these against him; I didn’t nag him. When it gets to my neck, I cried to God, but I will not allow him to see me. I asked God to change the story. And when God gave him a good job, I was the first beneficiary. If you are married to a good man, support him. There are men that would not appreciate their wives, but if you live with a man, you will know if he is a good man or not. I shielded my husband from my mother.

Another advice is to get someone good to share your story with. My story has healed a lot of women; I say things the way they are. My husband permitted me to tell our story and a lot of homes have been healed through it. I always tell women that the hardship is for a period of time. But if you are wicked to the man because he lost his job, what if things turn around? How can you face him?

How does a woman package herself with little and she appear decent?
I love the word ‘packaging’ because the way you dress is the way you are addressed. You don’t need so much money to look good. I cut my coat according to my material not according to my size, because I am a total person. If the material cannot make a long gown, I make a short one. I make do with whatever the material can make. Even if I don’t make a very expensive hair, let it be clean.

A lot of women carry a particular hairdo for three months; some don’t wash their mouth. A lot of women don’t use roll-on. There are affordable body sprays so that when someone embraces you, there is a fresh air. When I had no money to buy shoes, I wore long dresses that is covered by shoes. You must not buy gold to wear jewelries; there are costumes that look like gold. Packaging is not about how much; it is more about looking clean and wearing the right dress at the right occasion. Some people wear big gele for dinner, what would you then wear to church? A cocktail does not require big headgear. Also, your home should be clean. Home and away, everything should be packaged.

Your advice to aspiring MCs
Aspiring MCs should get a mentor, someone to guide you. I am opened to mentor anyone who wishes. Someone needs to announce you. You cannot be known just like that; you cannot be an island. You need to attach yourself to someone. I have helped a lot by training them on what to do and what not to do. For a public speaker, there are dos and don’ts.

In fact, there are certain foods you should not eat if you are going to speak in public. You don’t have a second chance to create a first impression. As soon as you come out, people are looking at you. They want to hear what you will say in the first few minutes. If you don’t use the first five minutes well, you may not get their attention anymore. When you notice that people are chatting or busy with their phones, just know that you have lost them. Use your first minutes to say the important things you want to say.

When you are starting your career as MC, money shouldn’t be your motivating factor. Young people of today are money conscious with less focus on sacrifice. You have to pay your dues. So, upcoming public speakers and MCs should learn to start small and gradually, they become household names. People are the ones to advertise you. They should also keep at it because what one does not keep doing, he may not master. Read books, try to improve in your diction. Even when jobs are not coming, don’t go to sleep. Again, follow your mentor, take notes, when you go home; practice. It is a practical career, you must keep learning.