Little Moments, or How to Give a Great Speech
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
I was supposed to give a presentation at the GuruFocus conference in Omaha, a day before Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. I was more nervous than usual. I agreed to give this presentation because I wanted to push myself to explore a brand new topic. I wanted to zero in on the investment process. GuruFocus seemed to have the right audience for this topic.
I need a looming deadline to build the pressure to unleash creativity. Two days before I was to leave for Omaha, I wrote a nine-page speech titled “How to Stay Rational in Irrational World.” A day later I created a 40-slide PowerPoint, which I was still tweaking an hour before my talk.
The GuruFocus conference was at the DoubleTree hotel in downtown Omaha. There were maybe 200 attendees in a typical hotel ballroom. A few minutes into my presentation, the lights went out. Though the lights came back a second later, my microphone and projector were dead.
The speech that followed ended up being the best presentation I have probably ever given, and I have given plenty of them over the last 10 years. Charlie Tian, who runs GuruFocus, emailed me and said, “Went through the surveys we collected from the attendees and found that you were rated one of the best speakers.”
I am sharing this with you not to brag. I find that little, often random moments shape the journey of our lives. Before I go further, let me tell you this little story. When I started writing for TheStreet.com in 2004, my writing was dry and incredibly boring. It would make a corporate press release look like a stand-up routine. It was efficient but didn’t have a soul. Then, a few months into my writing “career,” I penned a short, funny article describing my little adventure configuring TiVo.
These were the very early days of artificial intelligence. The layer of TiVo phone technical support consisted of an AI that demanded, “Please speak in complete sentences.” You may or may not know this, but I have a Russian accent. The system could not understand me. After half a dozen tries I came up with an elegant solution. I gave the phone to my then three-year-old son, Jonah. I told him what to say, and he’d repeat in his adorable Disney accent. The TiVo system did not have a problem understanding him.
That was the gist of my article. It was a very short piece. It was funny, and it was by far the most “human” article I had written. And yes, it exposed my frailty, which is obvious to anyone who has ever heard me speak – I have an accent.
I received a few dozen emails from readers who loved the article. I can say that this little article, this little moment, had a huge impact on my life. I realized it’s okay to be myself – funny, sarcastic, and even frail. In other words, I learned that when I write I should be me.
If I hadn’t written that TiVo article, I might have arrived at that conclusion later. Or I could have given up writing all together before I ever arrived at it.
The lights going out at GuruFocus was my “TiVo moment” for public speaking. It was a gift that made me completely rethink how I give speeches.