Did I really say that?

by Joe Sinclair

Before giving my first presentation at a conference session in the 1970s, I was offered the following advice:

Introduce yourself

Tell them what you're going to tell them

Tell them

Tell them what you've told them

Say goodbye

With minor variations, this is the advice I have followed ever since.

A decade earlier I had regularly attended the annual Christmas luncheons hosted by a road tank manufacturer at the St. Ermin's Hotel in Westminster.  The company's chairman invariably prefaced his post-prandial speech with a humorous story.  It was a very funny story.  We all, without exception, laughed uproariously.  This was  peculiar indeed, given that it was the same story he told every year: about the camel-castrators who performed their operation with a pair of large stones.  When asked: "Surely that's extremely painful?"  they responded: "Not if you keep your thumbs out of the way."

So why was George Darrington's (for that was his name) recitation greeted with such glee.  In fact it was an integral part of the annual experience.  It was simply because George himself was so beloved of his audience, his idiosyncrasies were such a delight, and it is a facet of human nature that we welcome the familiar with keen anticipation.  Witness for example the "Oh no he didn't" - "Oh yes he did" pantomime dialogue in which audience participation starts with the very young and the enjoyment of which apparently ends only when we are eventually laid to rest.

For most of us, however, recognition and respect does not come so easily.  We have to earn it, as George did over several decades.  He did not have to start his speech with "I am George Darrington", nor did he have to end it with a reminder of his name.  Of course, addressing a gathering of friends is somewhat different from making a presentation to a large, anonymous group who have not heard your camel castrator joke and would, in that environment, probably fail to appreciate it.

So although it is still a useful device to introduce your "tell them what you're going to tell them" section with some humour, it must be used appropriately and judiciously . . . never gratuitously.  It should be relevant to the presentation. If it can be based on a real, preferably personal, situation, so much the better.   Ideally the presentation would start with one such anecdote and end with another.

One of the stories I used to tell when presenting workshops for the co-counselling community related to an experience I had had in Dublin.  At one time it was part of the Highway Code in the UK to make right turns at intersections by driving around approaching cars also wishing to turn right.  This later changed to driving in front of approaching cars as this was found to cause less traffic jams.  Once, when driving in Dublin, I approached a crossing manned by a traffic policeman and stopped, partially turned in front of him, ready to turn right when oncoming traffic permitted.  He approached my side window and said: "I know you do it differently in England, but here in Ireland you always drive around the back of me . . . even when I'm not here!"

I stopped telling this particular story when, on one occasion, it was interrupted by an unidentified voice muttering: "Heard it!".   I guess I didn't have the George Darrington touch.

 I vividly recall another occasion when I addressed a number of world-wide agents attending our company conference in Venice.  This was after I had spent a five-year stint as marketing manager in the Far East.  One of the agents asked me what I had found most memorable during my overseas posting.  I replied; "I think it was the wonder of the exotic locations I was able to visit."  There was no reaction, except for our two Japanese agents who both nodded sagely.

Later the Japanese agents spoke to me.  "Tell me, Sinclair-san," said Mizukami-san, "Was it Shimbashi or Bangkok that was so erotic?"  I laughed, thinking this was a clever play on words by my Japanese friends, not normally known for their linguisitical skills.  I repeated this to one of my colleagues later.  "Didn't anyone tell you?" he asked.  "You actually did say 'erotic' locations."

My name is Joe Sinclair.