These days, everyone is a public speaker. There are now more Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Ladies’ Circles, et cetera on this planet than there are people. So speaking invitations routinely go to all members of the human race plus a smattering of the more intelligent household pets.
But whatever it is, there is one thing that you can depend on. You will be introduced by a human being with a brain the approximate weight and volume of a sesame seed.
I know about these things. Somewhere on earth there is an “Institute of Introducers” at which citizens have all detectable grey matter surgically removed. They are then released back into the wild as certified Masters of Ceremonies.
Minutes before I was due to give a talk last week, the introducer rushed up to me and said: “I need to check your details.”
What this means is: “I’ve done no preparation and have no idea who you are.”
How to reply? Should one tell the truth? “I’ve been invited to speak because I am intelligent, charming and well-informed, not to mention the single humblest human being who ever lived.”
The trouble is that it is difficult to make such claims about oneself unless one is a totally self-obsessed egotist, or a senior Malaysian politician (yes, I know that’s tautology).
So I decided to be self-deprecating: “Oh, I’m a complete nobody really, and I have no idea why I have been invited to speak. Don’t worry—I won’t talk for long, ha ha.”
Well, lo and behold, that’s exactly what she told everyone: “Okay, sorry to interrupt the fun, but it’s time for the speaker. He’s the first to admit that he’s not exactly famous or anything, but he’s promised to be quick, so we can get on to the really important part of the evening, dessert and the raffle.”
This introduction produced a general groan and the audience sneaked out to chat in the corridor.
A few days later, I found myself in a similar situation. A Master of Ceremonies, with the mental capacity of an unusually dull kidney bean, raced up and told me she wanted to “check your details”.
I gave her a printed list of glowing tributes to myself, each one carefully balanced by self-effacing humour: “He is the top-selling author in the city—but also the only author in the city! He gets more letters than any journalist in Asia—but unfortunately half of them are lawsuits! He is worshipped by women—but only those in his own household! He is incredibly good-looking—but only according to his friends at the Institute for the Blind!”
Anyway, she got up on stage, peered at the piece of paper—and then decided to read out only the first half of each sentence: “Our speaker claims to be the best-selling author in the city. He says he gets more mail than any other journalist in Asia. He reckons he is worshipped by women. He is convinced he is incredibly good looking. Anyway, that’s how he told me he wanted to be introduced.”
At this point, the audience decided that I was not just a jerk but such a raving egomaniac that I was dangerous to be in the room with. As one, they raced onto the balcony to smoke, drink and chat instead.
Okay, Rotarians, next time I’m sending a household pet.
(Illustration courtesy of Florida Centre for Educational Technology)