As we began getting into the details of the event, I recognised something was terribly wrong.
“Sorry, just to clarify, the 1 hour Keynote will of course be in English, will it not?”
“No, of course not. Brittany, this the German Entrepreneur and Enterprise Day.”
Admittedly, I’d be somewhat shocked if the Australian Entrepreneur and Enterprise Day was held in German.
She heard my silence.
“Brittany, your German is perfectly fine. We’re speaking German now, and the workshops you do are outstanding, that’s why I’m calling you.”
Before I go on, you must know about the Honourable Lord Mayor of Melbourne, John So. John So was remarkable for many reasons. Not only was he the first Lord Mayor ever to be elected by the people, he was also the first Lord Mayor of Chinese descent and consequently, the first Lord Mayor to not speak the Queen's English. Queue the Commonwealth shock. He endured heavy criticism surrounding his accented English from the mainstream media, yet his ability to win the hearts of people never faltered and until very recently was the longest serving Lord Mayor of Melbourne.
I remember precisely the "John So is my Bro" t-shirst and thought if the Lord Mayor of Melbourne can have an foreign accent and win the hearts of people, then by jolly, so can I.
I went ahead and said yes.
Then I remembered, I am not John So.
And got nervous again.
Being able to speak German is one thing. Being able to speak German in a coherent 60 min Keynote is quite another. In moments such uncertainty, I turn to my secret guiding star -YouTube. I came across an endearing video of Ariana Huffington at the infamous INBOUND conference. Ariana, originally from Greece, made her money and moreover, her legacy in media and communications. She refers her accent as "the bain of [her] existence" and unapologetically opened her speech with, “For those who have not heard me speak before, this accent is for real.”
I laughed out loud.
Brilliant, I thought, I've just found my introduction.
I'm not Ariana but perhaps I can use her joke.
Statistics say people would rather die than speak in public. Jerry Seinfeld joked that the person giving a eulogy would rather be in the coffin. Yet, people LOVE being entertained, particularly at your cost. All the audience wants to do is learn from the times you’ve thrown yourself on the line so they don’t have to and all the speaker wants to do is come across as polished as possible. It doesn’t work. One has got to give.
My goal was to allow my terrible accent to inspire them. Perhaps, they'd have a 'if she can do with that accent, so can I!' moment. Perhaps, they'd leave the room with more courage and fire to present their businesses in public forums. I wanted that of the millions things they had to do that today, they left feeling more excited and inspired about their lives simply from remembering one must not need to be perfect to share their story.
This also explains why a speaker can deliver a talk with all the "right" information and do all the "right" things, yet you still feel something is missing. Do any of your university professors also come to mind? That something was them. They weren’t there. They were scared to show you they make mistakes, so they stuck to the facts and left stories at the door.
Your audience wants to learn from you how THEY can be better. Not simply have you explain to them how great you are for 60 minutes. As the speaker, it’s your job to lead by being vulnerable and representing, in real time mind you, how to make mistakes and move forward anyway. An accent is a short cut to building trust and a closer relationship with your audience.
Until next time my fellow explorer,