Friday, July 17, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Six, Public Speaking…On the Job Training


I was toward the end of the program and kept track of how many more speakers were left before I got up. I was trying to pick up pointers from each speaker. The Sony America guy got up and said something in Japanese. “Konichi…something” Showoff…but the audience liked it…learn to say something in Japanese for the future… The Adaptec guy just read his speech…don’t do that. The Symbios Logic guy shook his laser pointer all over the screen so you could never tell exactly what he was trying to draw your attention to…and it gave me motion sickness. The Molex guy was loud, spoke slowly, paused frequently and naturally, and enunciated clearly…try to do that.

Drat! Two more guys and then I am up.

I’d been in a lot of meetings with the next speaker. He was always calm, collected, unflappable, and always gave the impression that he was quietly confident that he was always right. To my astonishment, and I am ashamed to say, amusement, he was petrified. This was not the same dismissive, confident guy I knew. He could barely get his words out. I was on the front row and I could barely hear him. His face was inches away from his notes and he was reading them word for word. His hands were visibly shaking and I could hear the paper rustling. He was, without a doubt, the worst presentation of the day. I felt a wave of relief. I could be no worse than he. I do not recall who got up next or how they did. I was basking in the relief.


When it came to my turn, I was feeling a lot better. I could do this. I spoke my first words slowly and clearly and paused after the first sentence. All over the room I could hear tiny speakers in 300 tiny earpieces repeating my words in Japanese. I said my second sentence and could hear the 300 tiny earpieces echoing my words in Japanese. The sensation was similar to a bad cell phone connection where your words are echoed back to you a second after you speak them. It is disorienting. I was pausing until the echo stopped which was dragging my presentation out too long. I could see people shifting their weight. I was boring them. I picked up my pace but the echo kept causing me to stumble. I was forcing myself to ignore the echo and to keep talking. Our Japanese host caught my attention, “Cat-san, a little slower please.” I forced myself to doggedly plod through my presentation slowly but not stopping. I had to get it over and sit down.

As I headed back to my seat with sweat making the inside of my suit coat feel clammy, I caught a glimpse of the petrified, shaky speaker who had given his presentation shortly before me. On his face, I saw a look of relief. Looks like I'd returned the favor.

There is only so much you can learn by watching. In the end, you have to learn by doing.

As years have passed, I have worked with a dozen interpreters and have trained my mind to ignore the echo while keeping my pace, pausing instinctively when I get too far ahead, and keeping my energy level up when giving a presentation in slow motion. But there is always a new challenge that will throw you off your game the first time or two you encounter it. You learn to expect that and accept it. It's how you learn.

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