Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Five, Public Speaking…working with interpreters


When the day arrived for my dreaded presentation, I was fully prepared with a presentation my boss had dictated to me. I knew the presentation word for word but none of it made any sense to me. It was just words.

The conference room at Sony was large and well appointed. It was as upscale, modern and "efficient" looking as anything I’d ever seen. And, it was filling up with of a sea of middle-aged Japanese men in dark suits and boring ties.

I’d been told that Sony was providing an interpreter which I assumed would be a faceless voice in a hidden room. However, I was informed that I needed to meet with my interpreter to go over my presentation ahead of time. That was painless enough. A pleasant Japanese woman asked me a few questions and jotted down some notes, thanked me and that was it. That was deceptively easy. It went downhill from there.

I was unaware of the disorienting effect that working with an interpreter has. Once the presentations started, our Japanese host had to ask the speakers repeatedly to slow down a little and pause to give the interpreter a chance to keep up. You could see guys thrown off their stride, losing energy, losing expression, and eventually becoming a dull droning voice. You could tell from their opening comments that some of these guys were really good speakers, but working with the interpreter took the life out of their presentation. I kept thinking, “Boring is OK. The interpreter just lowered the bar. You can do this.”

My turn in the barrel would come soon enough.

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