My friend Heidi asked me a few weeks ago if i would be one of the presenters at an event that her organisation ‘Outliers’ was putting on called Step Up. The idea was 9 presenters each given the space for a 10 minute talk using 10 powerpoint slides with a broad theme of Education.
Not having too much – in the official sense – to do with Education since i got my Primary School Teacher’s diploma at a no-longer-existing Teacher’s Training College [about 100 years ago] i felt a little out of my depth. Seeing a name like Craig Stewart [someone i really respect and admire in the field of social justice, who helps lead the Warehouse] on the speaker’s bill made it a little more so.
Then Heidi [who had recently seen me performing Improv with my Improguise team] added, “You know what would be fun. If you did each slide in a different accent.”
i looked at her. You want a serious talk with each slide being done in a different accent?
“That’s ridiculous bordering on Impossible”, i said, “Challenge accepted.”
The next day, i was looking back at our interaction and thinking that the best possible way to describe it was, ‘I Panic’d’.
i was going to be taking part in a serious evening where serious people would come to listen to educated and influential and legendary people doing legendary things talking about them seriously… and i was going to… WHAT?
But then i had the thought that has been revolutionising the world for centuries: But what if i can?
And so i started to seriously consider it, and the more i thought about it, the more possible it started to become… in my mind.
i eventually came up with an idea that if it worked would quite possibly be genius and if it didn’t would quite possibly be hide-in-the-toilets-for-the-rest-of-the-night embarrassing. And i would only be able to tell about 6 minutes into my 10 minute talk which of those it was… Sounds like my kind of risk.
The plan was simple – if i was going to pull off slides in different accents then there needed to be a starting Introduction slide and a really strong finishing slide. So the maximum accent slides would be 8.
i figured out what my point would be and the title of my presentation went through some drafts but ended up as ‘Lost in Translation’ with the main point and message being this punchline [which was also the last slide]:
The Most Important Message Is The One That Is Received
The idea being that no matter how amazing and incredible you think your message is, what your audience leave with after they have seen and heard you is really the only thing that is important and so what can you do and not do to make your message as clear and heard as possible?
The eight slides following my introductory slide [which needed to include a duck-face posing picture of me to prove i was taking this seriously] had to be complete chaos representing a whole host of things that could ruin a presentation – messed up slides, wrongly pitched volume, typo and grammar errors [for the grandma police lurking in the audience], language only a small percentage of the group would understand, language that the majority of the group but not everyone would understand, distracting pictures etc
ALL HANDS ON DECK
The accents made me a little nervous. Speaking in different accents is one of my Improv strengths so i can pull a bunch of them off, but the line between capturing the heart of an accent and offending someone in the room by seemingly mocking their accent felt quite thin. There were immediately some i knew i needed to stay away from.
i also realised that it would perhaps be easier for me to attempt a foreign language in the accent as opposed to speaking English with that accent and so five of the slides instantly switched language. The Australian slide [which was the first of the 8] would be a collection of Australian sayings and phrases that would sound like complete gibberish to the audience and the Chinese slide would be English in a Chinese accent where i would mess around with the volume and for the most part people would not be able to hear what i was saying, with occasional words being said at full volume, but mostly being mumbled [and yes, i may have been inspired by the movie Picture Perfect for that idea].
My brother in law, Ewald, speaks German, so he was the first person that came to mind. We have a family joke of me reading children’s books to his daughter Sofie, which are in German, by shouting the words at full volume and so that slide was an easy one. Sent the words off to him for translation.
My wife, tbV, and i have just finished studying a beginner’s course of isiXhosa and so i sent off another section to Nkosi, who has been my faithful practice partner.
Then it was an open ask to Facebook to fill in the gaps. Kari [who we recently met at isiXhosa classes] volunteered to do the Afrikaans for me. My friend Patrick Cordery was an obvious choice for the French. Westley volunteered to do Spanish [which i had no idea he spoke] and i managed to source a number of friends and friends-of-friends to supply me with a host of Australian slangerisms [the only slide that didn’t make a lot of sense at all].
i should point out at this time, that after years of speaking at churches, camps, schools etc this is probably the most work by far that i have put into a talk or presentation, and it was so much fun.
Last up was Dutch and i was able to eventually find an old friend, Hanneke, who jumped in and translated that for me.
Because the paragraphs i gave them all were quite technical i did stress to them that the translations could be quite loose. i just needed the gist of what i was saying in a foreign language with the idea that not many people would understand most of them.
Probably one of the best aspects of the talk was the crowd sourcing, social network volunteering that happened meaning that the final product was a completely collaboratory one. Thank you to everyone who gave so generously of your time and skill.
LAYERS UPON LAYERS
Anyone who knows me really well, knows that i enjoy my layers. My favourite joke to tell is one where only a tiny percentage of people in the room get it because it is so clever or obscure or random. So i will do a lot of humour for the crowd and everyone will laugh and then sneak in a higher grade gem and get the satisfaction of seeing the four smiling faces dotted around the crowd. That and the delayed laugh which suggests someone has just explained the joke to the person sitting next to them. The ripple effect. i LOVE it.
So that became the idea with this talk as well – there is one message that is for everyone, but every individual who understands one of the languages used will get a bonus talk or point.
i selected the slides and the languages at the same time and some of them informed each other. The Chinese done with no or little volume was paired up with the slide that was an amazing quote but so ridiculously tiny that no one could read it. The Dutch section talking about the dangers of messing up technology was paired with an Einstein quote that i had on the screen upside down and back to front.
The French was my last slide [and when i saw what Patrick sent through, realised was my biggest challenge as i could not simply phonetically wing French like i had been hoping to] and dealt with slides containing typos and bad grammar which meant i got to use the most incredible expression, the in air quotes “police de la grammaire”. On the day of the presentation i had Patrick on the phone reading out my paragraph to me so i could take notes and practice and try to get it close to right.
THE PRESENTATION [slash ‘présentation/presentatie’]
10 slides in 10 minutes in six different languages and eight different accents. The impossible and ridiculous was in arms reach.
i was going to be speaking 6th and one of the immediate bonuses was not going immediately after Craig Stewart [who i knew was likely to have a ‘drop the mic’ presentation even though i could not see someone with his temperament actually ever dropping a mic] and the second was that with three sections of three speakers, i was just before a tea break. If it all went horribly i could hide in the toilets until everyone had gone home.
tbV was probably more nervous than me. There was a certain moment when i had my idea and started pulling the plans together when i really believed i was very likely to pull it off well, but there was still the potential for it to either crush or be crushed. If i didn’t think i could pull it off i would not have tried to, so believing in it was important, but it probably doesn’t help my wife that one of my techniques for avoiding stress is to simulate being overstressed. So i am not stressing inwardly but in a sense pretend to be stressed and say things like “What if this is a complete mess?” which for some strange reason helps me become calm and relaxed internally and has her thinking, “Wait? What? You think this is going to bomb?”
By Wednesday evening 5.30 we had arrived at the venue and were partaking in before presentation snacks and wine [being one of our non-meat weeks this meant a whole lot of different pieces of cheese!] and there was no going back. i thought i had it, but it could completely still be the weirdest [very likely] and worst [didn’t think so but possible] presentation the academic world had ever seen.
The talks started to happen. There were some that were really good and one or two that had great material but could have had a stronger presentation. Craig Stewart got up [4th] and gave the brilliant presentation i expected from him. Then a guy spoke about fish farming and then, “Keeping with ‘fish’, here is Brett “Fish” Anderson and his presentation, titled ‘Lost in Translation’…