Friday, March 18, 2011

Organizing your speech - Meaning lost in translation

My second speech at toastmasters club was about Organizing your speech. It was a hot seat speech. Hot seat speech is the one in which a speaker gives a speech without a prior intimation when some scheduled speaker does not show up. I was asked whether I am willing to give a speech and i took up the challenge. In the competent communication manual, the second speech is about Organizing your speech. This was going to be my second speech after the ice breaker speech. I selected the topic 'Meaning lost in translation'.
I started my speech by explaining how in day-day life there are many instances when we tend to lose the true meaning in translation gaps. I elaborated this by sharing two incidents. First one I heard while I was learning Japanese language in Ramakrishna Math and the second one was one, which I experienced.

First incident was about this German scholar who came to give a session in one of the Indian universities. Since the scholar had very limited grasp over English, he was provided with a translator to translate his speech while he was delivering. During the speech, scholar thought of lightening things up and said that he would like to narrate a joke. And then went ahead and told the joke in German for couple of minutes. After finishing, the scholar looked at the translator for him to do his bit. Translator said something for few seconds and entire audience started laughing. Scholar was obviously impressed and asked the translator, how he was able to translate a couple of minutes long German joke into few seconds long in English language? Translator looked embarrassed and sheepishly admitted to the scholar that he actually did not get the joke. So he told the audience that since the scholar took so much effort in sharing a joke, please make sure that you all laugh

Second incident happened with me while I was working in Japan. I learned Japanese language till level III and was comfortable enough to have small conversations. But I understood my true limitations when I reached Japan and actually stated listening to native Japanese speak. One evening, I and 3 of my colleagues decided to have dinner at KFC. We went after work around 6:15 PM to KFC. Once there, lady at the counter said something in Japanese, even gesturing at the clock. I interpreted it as that the lady was indicating that if we come after 7, its like happy hours or something. I shared this with my colleagues and we all thought that if we can save few bucks, it makes sense to just wait. So we headed out and decided to kill the time by roaming around in the streets of Kawasaki near Musashi-Shinjō Station. One of my colleague was finding it little uncomfortable since he wanted to use a rest room but decided to wait till 7 and use the one in KFC. We roamed in the streets for 45 minutes during a chilly evening and once it was 7 PM, went back to KFC. Once we were in, lady in the counter greeted us and gave us a menu to choose from. I tried asking her about 'happy hours after seven' and she looked surprised. She said she was earlier indicating that if we are interested to wait, then after 7 PM there would be more menu items to choose from. Well, rest I leave it to your imagination when I shared it with my colleagues, especially the reaction from the guy, who wanted to use the rest room desperately.

I shared these two incidents to explain the topic of my speech 'Meaning lost in translation'. I concluded it by sharing how most of the Indians face a cultural gap when new in US of A. Most Indians have this tendency to nod their heads more diagonally side to side,

confusing Americans, who are never sure whether we are responding with a 'yes' or a 'no' to their question. That's when they specifically ask us to nod head straight sideways if its a 'no'

or vertically up and down if its a 'yes'

This was my hot seat and second speech at PSU toastmsters club 'Organizing your speech - Meaning lost in translation'


  1. I have never given a hot-seat speech & it terrifies me. Was there preparation that you did (could do) in case you were ever called on to do a HS speech? I have an evaluation TM club of which I am a part & many times they are asking for someone to do a HS speech. Do you just keep a basic outline with you that you have ready if called upon? Any other hints on being prepared to give a hot seat speech?

  2. Cal Habig,
    Thank you for stopping by. I have given hot seat speech couple of times. In fact this very speech was my HS speech. That day when I came in to attend TM meeting, I was asked whether I would be willing to give a speech. I agreed to it and then took couple minutes to organize my thoughts. I had started my job career as a faculity teaching people who were more often elder to me and some who had taken voluntary retirement. Teaching such students and making them learn computers is never easy, so I had to mix story telling along with course content in the class. So I had many such stories handy and it did not take me long to organize them in the form of a HS speech.
    That day I learnt a lesson though, that I need to come out of my comfort zone and try giving a speech on a topic or subject that I have never spoken before. So I have kept some topics handy in case I need to give a HS speech next. I have an advantage that I am working in US, born and brought up in India, lived in many states of India, worked in Japan, and have got some interesting cultural things things to share with my fellow TMs. Topics like marriage, education, social life, society, then and now culturally, rich history, diverse culture, etc.
    I would encourage you to go for it. You have joined TM to make a difference and this is the way to go. Try collecting humorous stories, one liners, jokes, quotes, etc and keep them handy to use them in your speeches. I am sure you will be just fine. Let me know if you have further questions and I will be happy to help