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In this issue: Boo!
What better topic to write about at this time of the year than presentation horror stories?
I am preparing to go back to Beijing , China in a few weeks, to teach an "Executive Communication" class to 45 employees of Pfizer. This all reminded me of a horrific (at least for a few minutes) situation that happened to me in China in April of this year, when I was teaching essentially the same class to a group of HIGH LEVEL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS (as the nervous administrators constantly referred to them, alternately with "Dear Leaders").
One of the participants in the class was a man named (so my interpreter told me) "Mr. Ma." Mr. Ma was a nice-looking man, always smiling, always seeming to be paying attention. I remember thinking early on in the class, what a nice guy. I wouldn't mind having a class full of participants like him.
It was only on the second day of the class that I noticed that Mr. Ma was participating more than anyone else in the class. But that didn't bother me too much, as I was able to deflect many of his remarks by using body language to encourage others (on the other side of the room) to speak up as well. And besides, Mr. Ma was still smiling.
My interpreter, however, was getting nervous. "He is not asking relevant questions," she whispered to me. "That's OK," I whispered back, "I can deal with him. After all, this IS a class in presentation skills."
Then suddenly, during a bit on "how to deal with the Q&A," Mr. Ma asks me, "What is your opinion of your President Bush's stand on the war in Iraq ?"
THAT was an unexpected question.
Pause. Deep breath. OK (I think), watch this.
I turn to the other members of the class and say, "Mr. Ma has just demonstrated an example of an irrelevant question, meant to distract the presenter. Now, let's discuss how to handle this situation . . . ."
And I would have led right into a discussion of how to handle someone like Mr. Ma, when suddenly, a very tall Chinese man in the back of the room, stands up, and begins SHOUTING ANGRILY IN CHINESE!!!!
I am struck dumb. What is he shouting about? Is he shouting at me? My interpreter, who has turned very pale, is also stunned. Then she turns to me and says, "The man in the back of the room is the Human Resources Manager who set up this training session. He has just said that everyone here has come to this class to learn, and that if Mr. Ma does not want to learn, he should leave the class now."
Mr. Ma just smiles.
And does not say another word for the rest of the class.
To this day, I am convinced that I could have handled this situation WITHOUT the help of the loud HR Manager, but it was nice to have a "training policeman" resolve the problem for me so succinctly.
I've showcased many training horror stories in earlier issues; if you'd like to revisit them (or read them for the first time), they're here:
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