Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Art of Public Speaking

So today, I spoke at a Conference about Employment Law During Volatile Times. Last night, as I was preparing for it, I mused with my friend Carli about why it is that people love going to conferences. Carli and I resolved that it was because of the free hotel pens, bowls of mints, unlimited supply of coffee and the excuse to get out of work for a day. However, Carli and I are not from Asia.

I got up, spoke, sat down again and thought "well, that was pretty rubbish". Why? I felt unsatisfied. Asian audiences are tough. There is no way to determine just how well your content is being received. In Australia, its pretty obvious. Australians doodle loudly, wrap and unwrap their lollies and play on their blackberries - if they are bored. If they are engaged with you, they nod eagerly if they agree, and sigh and shake their head if you say something outrageous and ask really annoying questions just before you get to the punch line.

Today, I felt like I could have told them that the sky was pink and purple polka dotted and I would not have any disagreement from them. That is, unfortunately, the Asian way. I get the impression that they feel are there to learn, to hear people talking and to sit obediently. You simply can't gauge the mood of the crowd, if you know what i'm sayin!

I am going to have to change my "modus operandi" for the next speaking event, otherwise I am going to come away from this with a terrible self esteem. Feedback was good. "You spoke well". "You are very engaging". "I cant believe you are a lawyer, you don't speak like a lawyer." (is that actually a good thing???).... same old feedback, but I still felt like I didn't give them their money's worth. In fact, I feel a bit like a fraud. How can little old me, at the ripe old age of 29, actually tell CEOs and business leaders about the way they should run their business? What am I bringing to the table that is so different from any other textbook reader? Who knows. I don't know. I want to improve my speaking skills, that is for sure.

I like speaking though. It allows me to get out of the office, stop the mundane churn and burn of paperwork, and allows me to get out amongst other business people....

Ho hum.

Bring on the weekend. Bring on the fast cars. Half of the F1 organisers and teams are staying at the hotel where i spoke today. I had to cram into elevators full of grease monkeys and rich people. I wanted to start quoting "Days of Thunder" script lines but I was afraid they wouldn't think it was funny..... and i couldnt have handled both the audience and the elevator crowd being unreceptive to what i have to say!


  1. Hmm, you've actually pointed out something that's been bugging me since the last conference I attended two weeks ago - I realize now I approach conferences with my Asian self.

    I found the bunch I was with very rude - talking while someone was presented, doodling, on laptops, phones, etc. As far as I was concerned, I was there to learn, even if I disagreed with something the presenter said, or found it boring. I walked out of one presentation because I'd reached the end of my rope in relation to the blatant 'isms' that were there...but that was the extent of my protest. If I spoke to any presenters I told them all they were good. I only ever challenged my peers during debates/discussions around the lunch or break tables, but never during question time at a presentation. Hmm, maybe I need to change this? I'm really interested in your experience because I'm hoping to start doing the paper writing/presenting thing myself next year.

    And never worry about your age - you are one of the smartest people I know and you have every right to tell it to CEOs and business leaders, you wouldn't be presenting and in your position if you didn't earn and deserve it. I'm doing the same thing, same age...I worry about it too, but then I tell myself that this is what I'm paid to do, and what I bring is my intelligence. Knowing you...I bet you kicked butt :)


  2. Yes! Clarisa has nailed it, in every way! Thank you Clarisa!

    This can even brought down to an individual level, rather than a regional or ethnic level. For instance ... everyone who knows me knows I crave active, sincere and involved feedback. Always. To return the favor, I have been told I am everyone's "best audience" (something my sister-in-law used to say of me continually, and a trait she reassured me she truly valued because she knew that no matter what, I was always focused and engaged in "the moment", not lost in my own thoughts or my own world). In a nutshell: it really drives me nuts when I can't get responses from folks! My niece, on the other hand, is stoic, quiet and reserved. I am never really sure of what she is thinking, or how she is feeling. Mind you, it's not just with me she is like this ... she is this way with nearly everyone. Come to think of it, much of my family is this way. "Expressing" and "engaging" just isn't in their makeup. They don't mean to be mysterious or unreachable ... they just don't know how to be any way else.

    No matter what - you should never doubt yourself Kate. You have so much to offer people of all ages. It'd be criminal and cruel not to offer it, no matter what the response (or lack of response).