公开演讲的危险 / The Perils of Public Speaking

公开演讲的危险

我有一个老朋友,是专业报导船运的记者,他在香港工作、生活多年,对船只、航运及相关事物无所不晓。

20世纪70年代,香港一直被看作中国主要进出口贸易门户、一个繁忙的港口城市,因此,到了1979年,两则重大新闻在香港引起了极大兴趣:中国的改革开放政策和中美关系正常化。

那时,我正担任香港美国商会的中国商务委员会主席,负责为午宴活动寻找合适的发言人。

考虑到船运对中国刚刚出现的对外贸易扩张所起到的作用,我邀请了我的专家朋友乔治,来委员会发表午餐演讲。

一开始,他不想接受,因为他从未发表过演讲。最后,我说服了他,其中一个理由是,我认为,听众规模应该很小。

他同意发表讲话,日期也定了下来,宣传单发给了商会会员,活动将在中环的希尔顿饭店举行,这个地方现在是长江中心,紧邻原来的板球俱乐部(现为遮打花园)。

那一年,在相关重大新闻公布之后,午餐会的注册人数远远超乎我原先的预计,有将近100人预定了位置。

这么一大群人要到场的消息让乔治特别紧张。他产生了打退堂鼓的念头,开始找借口收回其演讲承诺。

我最终说服他不要取消演讲,并让他相信,他会做得很好。一切都在按计划进行着。

我完全不知道,墨菲定律即将袭来,把我的安抚变成了误导。

如今,很多人在做演讲和展示时非常依赖PPT软件,而那个年头,这种东西还没有诞生。乔治把他的讲稿打在A4纸上,放进西装口袋里。

虽然这种场合要求他穿西装和打领带,但对一个船运记者来说,穿西装通常不是硬性规定。在那个早上,他自觉地拿出了一件充满樟脑球气味的旧西装并穿上了它。

在举行午宴的那个早上,他乘渡轮从位于长洲的家中抵达中环,然后钻进一辆的士。就在上车时,他的裤裆被撕开了。

被撕开的并非一个小口子,而是一个大口子,从上到下门户大开,从后面甚至可以完整地看到他的内裤。

这时候出这种事,实在糟糕,也给乔治的精神状态带来了严重影响。随着演讲时间的临近,他一直处于紧张之中。现在,他开始慌了。

他迅速想到的对策,是直接到一家由我们共同朋友开设的裁缝店里去补裤子。他坐在更衣室里,让裁缝把裤裆缝好。

接着,他再从裁缝店赶往希尔顿宾馆,我则早早去了那里,检查活动的安排情况,还不知道他的裤裆出了事。我看见乔治悄悄溜进举办午宴的多功能厅对面的酒吧。显然,他想在这场大型活动之前,喝一两杯马丁酒,平复自己的情绪。

厅里摆放着一张贵宾桌和一个讲台,讲台对面是10张圆形客桌。贵宾桌上摆放了几束花,盛冰水的大玻璃瓶,还架着一支话筒。

乔治走进大厅,跟我讲了裤子的情况。我肯定地对他说,他看上去很好。在我们与一些客人聊天时,我努力让他保持镇静和放松。

我们并排就座于贵宾桌,服务员开始上菜。在交谈时,我再次向他保证:一切都会很好,他的西装很漂亮,等等。至少从表面上看,他似乎已经从对裤子事件的惊恐中恢复过来了。

到了该我介绍乔治演讲的时候,为了让一切更加正式,我决定坐在贵宾桌上介绍,让乔治坐在我的右手边。乔治也打算坐在桌子旁而不是到讲台上去演讲,因为他觉得这样更放松。

我去拿话筒准备开始,话筒的电线正好放在一个花瓶下面,在我把话筒拉到我面前时,花瓶倒了,连带撞翻了一个盛冰水的大瓶子。

最倒霉的是,整瓶冰水都直接洒在了乔治的大腿上。他一下子从座位上蹿了出去,就像一只袋鼠逃离着火的草丛。

可怜的乔治,他的裤子先是后面遭受攻击,现在又轮到了前面。作为他的好朋友,我无意中成了第二次攻击和整起事件的罪魁祸首。

我一个劲儿地道歉,服务员拿来了毛巾,乔治也做好了开始演讲的准备,虽说他的腰部以下湿了一大片。

他完成了演讲,大概有20分钟,但这位可怜的老兄已心慌意乱,以至于他的表达十分不连贯和生硬,在问答环节,他才放松了一点,提供了一些有趣的专业见解。

感谢乔治,对我把他置于这个难忘的炼狱表示谅解。这里面既包含友谊,也包含在公开场合演讲的危险。

The Perils of Public Speaking

I have an old friend who is a journalist specialized in shipping. He was based in Hong Kong for many years, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of ships, shipping and related stuff.

Given Hong Kong’s traditional role in the 1970s as a gateway for much of China’s import-export trade and as a busy port city, there was great interest in Hong Kong in two big news stories in 1979: China’s Open Door and Reform. Policy, and the normalization of US-China Relations.

At the time I was committee chair of the China business committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, and responsible for finding good speakers for luncheon events.

Given the importance of shipping in the emerging story of China’s expanding trade with the world, I invited my expert friend, George, to give a luncheon talk to the committee.

He did not want to accept at first, because he had never given a speech. Eventually I persuaded him, in part because I thought the audience would probably be fairly small in size.

After he agreed to give the talk, a date was scheduled, and a flyer was sent to members of the Chamber announcing the event, which was to be held in the old Hilton Hotel in Hong Kong’s Central District, located next to the old cricket club (now Chater Garden) on the site of what is now the Cheung Kong Centre.

Following the big headline news that year, sign-up numbers for the luncheon went far beyond my original expectation, with nearly one hundred people reserving spots.

News of such a large crowd gave George a serious case of the jitters. He began to have second thoughts about the whole thing, and made noises about wiggling out of the speech commitment.

I eventually persuaded him not to cancel, reassuring him that he would do fine. Plans went ahead.

Little did I know that Murphy’s Law was poised to pounce and prove my calming reassurances to be misguided.

This was long before the era of powerpoint presentations, which have become a crutch which many speakers and presenters rely on too heavily nowadays. George typed up his comments on A4 paper, and put them in the pocket of his suit.

Although the occasion called for him to wear a suit and tie, suits were not normally required dress for a shipping journalist. He obligingly pulled an old suit out of mothballs and wore it that morning.

On the morning of the luncheon, he made his way to Central by ferry from his home in Cheung Chau, and then jumped into a taxi. At that moment, the seat of his pants split wide open.

This was not a minor split in his pants, but a major one. There was a gaping hole from top to bottom which left his underwear in full view from the back side.

The timing and the impact on George’s spirits were of course terrible. He had already been feeling anxious as the time of the speech approached. Now he was on the verge of panic.

His quick-thinking response was to go straight to a tailor shop operated by a mutual friend, and get his pants sewn up. He sat in the changing room while the tailor sewed up the seat of his pants.

From there he went to the Hilton Hotel. I had arrived there early to check arrangements. Not yet knowing about the seat splitting incident, I saw George slip quietly into the bar of the hotel, opposite the function room where the luncheon was about to be held. No doubt he was hoping a martini or two might calm his nerves before the big event.

The room was set up with a long head table and speaker’s podium facing the 10 round tables where guests were being seated. The head table had several flower arrangements, large glass pitchers of ice water, and a microphone on a table-top stand.

Into the room walked George. He told me about the pants incident. I assured him he looked fine and tried to keep him calm and relaxed as we chatted with some of the guests.

We sat down at the head table next to each other, and the waiters and waitresses began serving the meal. As we talked I assured him again that everything would be fine, his suit looked smart, etc. Superficially at least, he seemed to have recovered from the pants scare.

At the appointed time it was my duty to introduce George as the speaker. To keep things more informal, I decided to do this while sitting at the head table with George seated on my right hand side. George also planned to speak from the head table rather than the podium because he felt more relaxed that way.

As I reached for the microphone to begin the proceedings, it turned out that the electric cord of the mike had been placed under one of the flower arrangements. As I pulled the microphone over in front of me, the flower arrangement toppled over, knocking a large pitcher of ice water over.

Most unfortunately, the whole pitcher of ice cold water was dumped directly into George’s lap. George shot out of his seat like a kangaroo fleeing a bush fire.

Poor George. First the back of his pants was under attack, and now the front. And I, his good old friend, was the unwitting culprit behind the second attack, and the whole scenario.

I apologized profusely, of course, the waiter brought some towels, and George readied himself to begin the speech, albeit with a large damp zone around his waist.

And speak he did, for about 20 minutes, but the poor guy was by now so rattled that his presentation was rather clipped and stilted. He relaxed a bit by the time of the question and answer session, in which he shared some interesting expert insights.

And to his credit, he forgave me for putting him through this memorable ordeal. Therein lie both the power of friendship and the perils of public speaking.


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