When Public Speaking Becomes Like Driving

Posted by on May 19, 2007 in Beijing, China, Presentations, Public Speaking | No Comments

21:33 (UTC+08:00), 19 MAY 2007 | CHN BEIJING

My driving school teacher back in Winterthur, Switzerland, had some golden words to say about a year I got my driving license. His words of wisdom: Once you know how to drive, you can pick it up pretty much from where you left — even if you had a gap of several long years. The same applies when you grab the microphone as much as it does when you grab the steering wheel.

Having done speeches early on, I know what being in front of the stage means. It means one thing — not having stage fright. If you act stupid, at the very best, expect a hundred blank stares; if it was a mistake on the stage in a fashion contest (as was the case with yours truly on April 16, 2004; the masses, not the mistakes), you’ll look like an idiot in front of a good thousand.

But what if you dump it for the best part of three years? How does it feel picking up after three years? That’s what I did. I haven’t spoken to an audience over around 110 in about the best part of three years. So to me, it felt kind of like of… you know, new frontiers, and stuff like that. I know I’ve been through this before. Yet it’s been three years. My mission: to tell the audience about a five-minute video I’ve done about Beijing in the run-up to 2008.

Tom Chen, a good Mac friend, invited me to join up at Beiwai (that’s the Beijing Foreign Languages University) as they were running a DV competition, where all students from universities around Beijing were invited to share their DV talent. We had some great movies on display — and I enroled with my snip, Beijing 2002-2007: Gearing up for the Games. (Note: This clip has since been lost.)

Now, due to my “nationality problem” (I hold a Swiss passport, which according to Article 9 of the Chinese Nationality Law put my former Chinese nationality in legal limbo), I couldn’t enrol as a competing entry — only as a reference entry. In exchange, though, I got “mic rights” and was given about 5 minutes to tell the audience how I made the film. I agreed — hey, I wasn’t after the prizes, just after the pleasure to share my work with the rest of the gang.

The presentation, as always, was done in Keynote. I used the classic trick — I plugged in a remote — the Keyspan Presentation Remote. It kind of worked — but at times the clicker became a little unresponsive. (I pity The Steve and his semi-dead clicker after the iPhone was released in January 2007 at Macworld.) Not to worry: a few triple-clicks later, we advanced to the next slide.

The slides all used my new “official font” — Akzidenz-Grotesk. This is a funny old font — and I do mean old. Akzidenz-Grotesk came out in 1896 — that’s right, not 1986 — so this thing is about 121 years old as we speak. So why revive such an old script? Because Beijing is fully devoid of this font! We’ve Arial, Helvetica, Univers, Times… and even a bit of the ever-popular Myriad… but no bit of Akzidenz-Grotesk. Plus, Akzidenz-Grotesk looked to be a font that seemed different — even if a bit different — from other “close by” fonts such as Helvetica and Arial (look at the 2, the 7, the G and the Q to see what I’m on about) — and it kind of reflected the type of guy I am — different from the ordinary masses.

There was a bit at the end where I wanted to show the evolution of the Beijing Subway. But I went through the whole presentation and I found that the bit about the subway looked a little way out there. I couldn’t link it up to the whole presentation, so out it went. The next bit that underwent cross-examination: do you have to show those freeways? The freeways slide survived because I added a slide that made the transition from “freeways” to “olympic venues” look a little smoother; instead of going from “freeways” to “olympic venues”, I’d add in this little slide that went: “And where there are roads, there will be destinations; and in 2008, they’ll lead us all to the Olympic venues.” Great little lead-in.

Check, check… Keyspan im Ordnung… fonts all OK… I was ready for the show. My movie would play as movie number five.

The hosts looked pretty good. Yet the male host seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when the spotlight didn’t dim as my movie was about to start. Something went wrong at the back: the way I was told, he’d intro the film first and then get me on stage afterwards. Yet he was told (I think) that I’d be on stage first, and only after that would we see the film. Bang. My movie started; the guy rushed off (and the spotlight flew to the side). 3 seconds of my movie had passed, but hey… we all make mistakes!

Then I got onstage. This wasn’t an ordinary presentation; this was a big one. For one thing, I had a spotlight shone on me — first time for me at all. Suddenly, I was in the center of attention.

A way-too-fast multi-click meant that I skipped a slide. Hey, no worries: I just went to the next slight with nary a hitch. I also remember bits and pieces of the presentation so that I could click away without constantly looking at the big screen to the back. (I swear — the stage and all that kind of stuff made me look like Steve Jobs — only that The Steve didn’t have a spotlight to contend with. I mean — massive screen, the stage, and all that kind of stuff.)

I got through the slide pretty quickly — I admit, halfway through, I was wondering — hey, maybe we could cycle through these slides quicker — we do, after all, have only five minutes, and let’s not bore the gang. I admit — halfway through I internally got a tad nervous — but it didn’t really show through. When I got to the end, I kind of slowed down — and I went through the Olympic bit in a little more detail. That last-minute “slide bridge” between the freeways and the olympic venues, by the way, really worked out well.

My closing remark was a quick “2008 is here next year, so see you around!”. Applause, as expected, and I hurried down the stage. Maybe I shouldn’t have really hurried down… but hey, this was the first time for me in about three years — first time I faced an audience of this size. I wasn’t exactly that nervous. Then again, you can’t — say — drive super-smooth after taking years off, being on hiatus, right? There’s something we call a mohe qi in Chinese — that’s when motors run from clunky to smooth.

Und zur guter Letzt: my presentation impressed both Tom and his friends. I got a nice thank-you SMS at around midnight (aren’t we all night animals?), and was invited back onto the stage — to do an English lecture on making movies as well as a BeiMac 4 U meet — to tell Beiwai people about the Mac and the iPod.

Seems like you can’t pry that mic from my cold, dry hands yet…

This is content posted by David Feng on a separate site, first published before 29 December 2005, before he started blogging on his own domain. All spelling, grammar, and punctuation remain the exact same way they were when the post was first published. The original post itself does not contain this text in italics.