Some years ago, I had to give talks in Singapore. By then I had given a lot of talks and I had developed some theories of my own, as to how to approach it. I settled into a pattern of trying to break the ice fairly early on with any group I spoke to. I felt, that if you come out smoking with all business, you are too stiff and you lose some rapport. I want a relaxed group and I want them to like me for the most part, because I feel I’m more effective that way and the whole thing goes easier.
Remember, a lot of these folks are there picturing their in-bins stacking up higher and higher while you go on and on and they may not be plugged in.
So I would always try and find some angle, some wrinkle and throw it right out there early. When they are expecting all business, you catch them off guard right away. This was done to me when in London, during the introductions at the beginning, the Dutch guy said, “…hi, I am Roland, I am married with a man”. He was looking for a reaction, naturally, and I didn’t give him one, but it made an impression, trust me.
In France, I think my intro was something like (and through a translator) “…the last time anyone in my family was in France, the Germans were shooting at them”. Not my best line, but when was I ever going to be able to use that one? Later on, I won points by asking them what the French stuff was in the song “Psycho Killer”, by the Talking Heads and I could see some of the especially tougher cases, laugh when they understood what it was that I was asking. You use anything you can.
Anyway, if you can’t use something local, you reach. In Singapore, I was facing a room full of Chinese people. They had flown in folks from Guangzhou and Hong Kong. I was never farther from home, figuratively and literally, and that’s when it hit me. I went over to the white board and drew a picture that looked like the one at the top of this post and I said, “…I’m so far away from home, that if the earth was made of glass and I could see my home clearly, this is what my cat would look like…”
And I drew the ‘cat-from-underneath’ picture on the board.
A few moments of silence. Then some sidewards glances and giggles, and then, the whole room was laughing. Now, you give your talk and you have a shot.