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Think local every time you speak

When you visit another country as a speaker, remember Saint Augustine’s line: When in Rome, do as the Romans do…or, rather, a version of this:

‘Take some time to observe what locals think and do and see how you can include this, in small part, in your talks. Used well, these new insights can be just the ticket to quickly boosting your audience connection.”

And here’s a case in point I was able to use when meeting professional speakers in New York over the recent Thanksgiving holidays – when I got to share an up close and personal example of just how short a New York minute can be (for some folks):

When walking briskly the 10 plus super-crowded blocks between Macys and the event venue near Times Square, I was surprised to hear a loud male voice behind me.

“Son of a gun! You walk right into me and then I get ‘Watch where you’re going?’ What? No apologies! Yeah, that’s right buddy…Keep walking! Son of a…”

Of course I look around, thinking I somehow cut this man off while scooting around a bazillion pedestrians and see a red-faced businessman who takes one look at me and shaking his head says: “Not you dummy. Him!”

And he points at a guy who is already half way down the block in the opposite direction but was still looking back with a scowl on his face while making a rude gesture (which involved a finger in the air!). Nice!

Seconds and a roll of his shoulders later, Mr. Grumpy raced by me and runs straight across the next street which has a red pedestrian light – without checking if there were cars coming and oblivious to the fact that a taxi driver was speeding up at exactly that moment to get through a still green light.

I was afraid to look. I was 100% sure I was about to see carnage. And had the taxi driver not managed to slam on his brakes at a silly speed, Mr. Grumpy would surely have been mowed down.

Next thing…And although absolutely in the wrong…Mr. Grumpy thumps the taxi driver’s car bonnet and yells out at the top of his voice:

“Freaking ass. What’s the matter with you! Don’t you look where you’re going?”

‘Hmm’, I think. ‘Eaten bread is soon forgotten and I guess things really do happen faster in New York City. You need to have your wits about you here.’

That quick story about just how quickly and brusquely everything seems to happen in New York got instant nods from my fellow professional speakers – especially when I asked if this guy was unusual. ‘Hah. Of course not! Welcome to a little New York attitude. This is a survival of the fittest city!’ were the common refrains.

Now, I hasten to add a wee caveat here about sharing local stories or encounters. While it’s true that New Yorkers have a reputation for being direct and walking, talking and doing most everything fast…be cautious you don’t mention any local stories that could be seen as embarrassing or taken the wrong way. Context, sensibilities, and finessing do matter.

Over to You

What local stories have you learned from when preparing for a talk? Do tell. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Kevin Case