I have to admit, I’ve mixed feelings when it came to the Gemeindesaal (or Community Hall, a “mini” City Town Hall of sorts) in Zumikon, Switzerland. It remained to me a lesser-favourite part of Zumikon, the place I went to school in Switzerland, for a fair bit of time — simply because we sat exams there — and it was rather scary. A grand hall for upwards of 500, converted to a hall of around 200-300 students sitting exams!
However, the whole thing changed on 14 December 1996. I remembered an audience that almost filled the entire hall — parents, kids, everyone, as everyone joined our school for an afternoon of performances just in time for the festive period. On a conservative count, I figured there were at least 200; more recently, I was told this figure could have been upwards of 500. ▶
You will note I am all for Swissness in everything I do. Indeed: Attributes with positive connotations, which include fairness, precision, reliability, political stability, nature-ness, precision, and cleanliness, should be summarised and be marketed overseas as something that is typical of Switzerland. (That’s if you take it from the German Wikipedia!)
My challenge every time I head onstage is how to either host an event or make a talk in such a way that the audience feel like it’s done with Swiss quality. This is particularly big for me, because having travelled to so many different places, one does really see the difference between Switzerland and the rest of the world. There are also the tiny bits and bobs that so define the country that you simply miss when you’re beyond the border.
Having myself been frustrated at times with “things from other places” that might not work the way you wanted them to, I felt it was important to give the audience an evening where everything simply worked like clockwork. I’ve been adding elements from Switzerland in such a way that I’d be happy as a member of the audience myself, and my idea is if I tested the waters with high standards, you as the audience should enjoy the show as well! ▶
I presented a speech in early 2010 at Ignite Beijing about exploring China on Twitter, which featured my tweeted train travels in the country.
My first “go” on the rails in China came as Beijing’s Subway Line 5 opened in a city which was increasingly stuck in awful road traffic. The love of the rails then spread to other cities as the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity High Speed Railway opened on 01 August 2008.
Travels by train to much of Greater China has opened up me to new destinations and interesting people, and as I also tweet a lot on Twitter, nationwide tweetups with my followers and friends have emerged, making travel by train “with the Twitter factor” that bit more special. ▶
We go back all the way back to 1996…
December 1996. I was with — I think — Ms. MacDermott’s French class in school. Assignment numéro un: recite a French poem in front of not just the mic — but a huge aula of like about hundreds of people.
That date loomed large and clear for me. Was this a breakthrough effort my end? Mind you, I was a “behavior”-ish kind of guy in class, too. The class couldn’t escape my presence — I was always “there”. Sure, I got sent out a few times (for apparently burning too much energy in class, so to speak), but I was always “there”. Was I going to be “there” in front of the stage?
Ms. Zita, my 2nd grade teacher, was to bear witness to what she called “her favorite [Chinese student]” — and what he was up to in front of the mic. (Yeah, right — back in the day — the only reason why the PRC flag was there at all was because I was at school!)
I think we were number eight or something like that. (It was a “we” — I had a girl who would read along with me.) I started from the first line.
“Il neige!” ▶
I was the keynote speaker at World Usability Day 2005 Beijing, and made a traditionally “techie” topic such as user interfaces personal and more “personalised” by recounting from personal experience.
I started out from my first experience with a computer that my family had bought in 1989 — then running MS-DOS. It was a huge difference to the Apple Macintosh that I started using in 1991. Even in the days of the black-and-white pre-multitasking interfaces, it represented a world of difference from text-based MS-DOS.
I also touched upon a few relatively advanced features of the Mac OS, some of which were well ahead of their day, like Apple Guide, and Balloon Help. I also took a look at the “dark side” as Microsoft attempted to play catch up or even copy outright from the Mac — when the Mac kept on progressing from one version to another. I also showed how Apple simplicity was on the iPod. ▶