Growing up in a large family and being number seven of eight kids, I learned at a young age to speak up. I learned that if I was ever going to get a word in, I better have something important to say. I learned that I had better say it loud, have a point, get to that point quickly and know when to wrap it up.
Each night at our dinner table, the conversation was typically sports. With 5 brothers, 4 who played football, we talked football. Well, not we, my dad and my brothers. When my mom saw what was happening, that my brother Joe and the girls were being left out of the conversation, she initiated The Family Conference. If one had something of importance to share, and let me tell you importance was loosely defined, they called for a conference and when one was granted, everyone else at the table had to remain quiet while the storyteller spoke. I learned quickly, that your story had better be good to hold the attention of the older siblings or you may just get whipped with a wet towel while doing dishes.
I credit my mom and The Family Conference for giving me the confidence for public speaking. It has helped me through many presentations. But NOTHING could have prepared me for what I was asked to do the first day on the job here in China.
I received an email the week prior to my arrival sharing that on Monday, September 16, NIKE would be announcing a 3 year partnership with the Shanghai International Marathon at a press conference. The email continued, stating that our PR team had drafted a speech that the Shanghai Government was reviewing for approval and would I like to deliver the speech after the official signing of the agreement. Absolutely was my response. No way was I going to say no to that opportunity. I have a blog to write.
So, on Monday morning, at breakfast, I was briefed and given the protocol for the press conference. I was escorted to a V.I.P. room where the Director General of Shanghai Administration of Sports and the President of Shanghai Sports Federation and I were seated at the front of a room on gold, velvet couches, smiling at each other while cameras flashed in our faces. I’m feeling like Madeline Albright and (insert any countries government official) at the start of any peace talk.
We shared a brief exchange of small talk delivered through an interpreter all the while, cameras flashing. When the Director General had had enough, he raised his hand, said Xie Xie (thank you) and we both rose from our thrones to exchange gifts. He gave me a book on the history of sport of Shanghai and I gave him a NIKE Fuel band. When I gave him the band, he reached in his pocket and proudly pulled out a pedometer that he uses. Channeling my dad, the ultimate charmer, I quickly grabbed his pedometer and stated “you have to trade that in for the NIKE Fuel Band.” As his interpreter quickly shared with him my comments, he laughed a hardy laugh accepted the Fuel Band and refused to take back his pedometer.
From there, we were led into a room with a stage where the signing and speech would take place in front of my new NIKE teammates, media from around China and other government officials. No pressure. We were called to the stage, seated at a table draped in a red tablecloth, with 4 sets of agreements placed in front of us we did the official signing. I was disappointed that I had to use the same pen to sign all 4 agreements.
After the signing I took to the podium and delivered the pre-approved by the government script about NIKE’s excitement and commitment to the Shanghai International Marathon. Knees shaking I delivered each paragraph and then waited as the interpreter repeated the comments in Chinese. I looked out to the audience and thought to myself – square melons.
Thursday marked the Mid Autumn Festival, a national holiday in China. The festival is for lunar worshiping and moon watching where mooncakes are offered between friends or at family gatherings. Typical mooncakes are round pastries and are filled with fruit or meat and usually enjoyed with tea.
It is customary for business professionals to present them to clients as presents. NIKE of course put their own twist on the mooncake, offering a customized, chocolate variety. I was given a box and decided to enjoy mine with a nice bottle of delicious red wine. That evening, I toasted the moon, ate some chocolate swooshed mooncakes and gave a little shout out to The Family Conference.
*learn more about the meaning of square melons on the home page of this blog.