Mikki Williams Speaking in Germany

Danke Schon fur die einladung. Ich bin sehr troh um hier zu sein. (Thank you for the invitation. I am very happy to be here.) That was the opening line in my keynote address in Germany. It immediately shows the audience you care by using their language and respecting their customs. "This is Herr Horn from Germany." "I would like to have you present at my annual conference, however, I heard you use humor and that would not be appropriate." He said, "Germans are very serious, don't have much of a sense of humor, prefer facts and details and besides humor doesn't translate well." Phew! I knew when I set my goals to speak internationally there would be challenges. This was a classis example of an opportunity disguised as a problem.

Arrived in Frankfurt where a company representative picked us up. We drove to the new convention center at Karlsruhe. If you've never driven on the Autobahn with a German at 120 miles per hour, I suggest you review your boy scout motto - "be prepared." My best humor came from that experience. My American companion noticed that every exit said Ausfahrt. After about an hour, she turned to the driver and commented what a big city Ausfahrt must be. After he stopped laughing, he told us that Ausfahrt meant exit. That joke is still a big hit in all my German-speaking countries.

I love challenges and risks and the self-satisfaction one achieves as a professional speaker after winning over the most difficult of audiences. I was determined to make it work and in essence learned the most valuable technique when speaking to a non-English speaking audience. He asked me to send a script for translation. I told him that I don't use scripts and decided to schedule pre-speech time with the interpreters instead. AHA! (In general, translation refers to written, interpretation refers to oral.)

I met my interpreters, Heike and Gunther, and went over each presentation explaining words and most important points. I used the same pace (American fast) and emotional and humorous vocal inflections. AHA! A script would have been translated literally - the shortest distance to put your foot into your mouth. Words take on different meanings, gestures often misinterpreted and some words are just unable to be translated.

I did six presentations during my week long stay and each time I worked with the interpreters. Simultaneous translation is difficult from all standpoints. For the client, it is most expensive as the audience wears head sets and the rentals can be very costly. It is difficult to find licensed, trained interpreters, and their fees are respective of their qualifications. It is the best of all circumstances for the speaker as they are speaking at the same time and there is not that much delay in reaction time.

On the personal side, the Germans were very gracious hosts and anxious to show off their country. I had the opportunity to enjoy the spas at Baden-Baden and Bad Hamburg (sans clothes, your choice). I worked out at several health clubs and was surprised as I exited the dressing room and was passed by several nude men and women en route to the club sauna. Europeans are much more relaxed about this. I drank German beer and wine, ate great bread and pastries, as I'm not a lover of all that pork and sausage. At the convention banquet I was helping myself to the buffet when the German behind me started yelling at me, "Nein, Nein" (no, no) as I helped myself to what looked like a scoop of vanilla ice cream. "Nein, nein, fettballe, fettballe." Only to find out he was sure I wouldn't like the ball of pork fat (fatball) I was about to put on my plate.

As far as accomodations, hotel rooms are never as large as in the U.S. and some taken for granted amenities are nowhere in sight (there is great entrepreneurial opportunies for a Charmin toilet paper distributorship). I've been to Germany for several clients now and have stayed in everything from charming guest houses, which are very common, to the five-star Frankfurter Hof and the indescribable Kronburg Castle at 900 German Marks per night. I am looking forward to returning again in September, 1994.

P.S. In case you're wondering, the client testimonial read "You've changed Germany - they laughed!"
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