PUBLIC SPEAKING PAIN

Yesterday I finished the first week of my face-to-face classes to become an adult educator. It was a tough week of learning and trying to absorb new information, and doing things outside of my comfort zone.

The class was small with about twelve students of differing ages and backgrounds being taught by a knowledgeable trainer. Everyone had similar challenges in balancing studies with life commitments, and so they were supportive and helpful with one another. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.

Despite some experience with public speaking in previous jobs and volunteering in classrooms, I get nervous standing in front of a group and talking.

It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to children or adults, I’ll still react the same. It could be a bunch of staring lizards and I suspect I’d still get the shaky hands, tremor in the voice and sweating.

On the first day of classes, we had to do introductions. Say your name, why you’re there and what you want to improve on. If you wanted to elaborate further, you could talk about a hobby. There were talking prompts on the board. Sounds easy right? You’re talking about subject matter that you’re an expert on…you.

There’s just something about having the focus of your peers and standing in front of a room that automatically has my pulse racing and my hands wringing. I got through it but internally berated my performance, dissecting it to pieces. I wondered how others felt despite everyone seeming to sail through their introductions.

The next few days, the trainer got us doing one on one, small group and class activities. There were fun learning tasks, short quick “energisers” (quick games to refresh during the arvo slump), and public speaking tasks.

It was rather clever how the trainer worked on building group rapport to create a supportive and comfortable environment for us to do talks. Initially, the trainer got us to do micro public speaking tasks, increasing the time and complexity as the days went on.

By the last day, we had to give a lesson to last twenty minutes that involved a resource of some kind and ideally involved class participation.

I used a PowerPoint presentation on customer service and looked at some of the worst scenarios I’ve experienced. One example involved a customer double parking his Mercedes-Benz in front of the pharmacy and demanding I did his prescription quickly because he didn’t want a ticket. That was used to explain the entitled customer.

After each slide, I tried getting audience participation by asking them their ideas of how I chose to respond in each of the scenarios, using multiple choices as options. It generated some interaction but nowhere to the extent of other people’s talks.

I also got a couple of people up to role-play a scenario but that didn’t work too well. I think I needed to work on my lesson plan and found better ways of generating fun, practical and engaging activities. What I learnt from watching other people do their presentations was that I needed to make my delivery more engaging.

I knew that I’d be more critical of myself, and how I thought I performed wouldn’t necessarily be accurate, so I asked the trainer for her feedback.

Hand tremors, sweaty armpits and hands, shaky voice, racing pulse and jitters aside, I needed to know how I “presented” to others.

The trainer opted for the sandwich method. You know, one good comment on either side of a constructive comment.

“You’re really professional and presentation was great. You could smile more. You look stern, a bit serious. You could inject a bit of humour to lighten the talk. Otherwise, it was good.”

I need to work on my delivery. The problem is, I’m pretty sure smiling isn’t possible when I’m in fight, flight or freeze mode. As for humour, does laughing at your own jokes count?

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DRUNK AND DISORDERLY

What is it about weddings that bring out the drunkenness in people? Is it the free booze mentality? Or is it that people are so happy for the bride and groom that they overindulge? Whatever the reason, drunk people are hilarious to watch and makes any event that little bit more interesting.

We had my brother’s Vietnamese tea ceremony last Sunday. It was basically a Vietnamese engagement party and formed part one of my brother’s two-part wedding celebrations. Next week will be the civil ceremony and reception.

How was the tea ceremony? It went off like a rocket. Let me give you a rundown of the day.

At 6 am that morning, I had a makeup and hair lady come to my home to turn me from an ugly duckling to a Swan Princess. Unfortunately, she missed the brief and instead of making me look like Elle McPherson on runway day, I resembled a drag queen. Not that there’s anything wrong with drag makeup! It’s just the dramatic look didn’t quite fit with the daytime event.

Anyhow, my husband and daughter took great pleasure in teasing me, comparing my look to that of a clown. Not nice, right?

“Oh you know I’m just teasing you. You look beautiful!” said my backpedalling husband when he saw my angry face. Or at least what looked like anger under the cake of foundation on my face.

“Mummy, you really do look terrible. You look like a panda or a clown.” My eight-year-old daughter’s bluntness was not refreshing in the least.

It didn’t matter what anyone thought as there was little that could have been done about the makeup. At least the Ao Dai fitted and that was already half my battle won.

The tea ceremony started at the bride-to-be’s family home at 10:30 am. While introductions were being performed, my four-year-old son decided it was a good time to complain about being hungry, not just once but repeatedly. Luckily he wasn’t the only child being disruptive. To their credit, it was hard to stand in one spot for 30 minutes while oldies rambled in a nonsensical language.

My dad reluctantly gave up the role of cameraman to his brother but was unhappy with his camera abilities and made a fuss about angles and shots. My dad had to be reminded several times like a child to behave and to keep his focus on the role of father-of-the-groom and not a cameraman. Let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy task for those around him.

After our obligatory feast at the bride-to-be’s family home, the party of people travelled to my parent’s home for the second part of the tea ceremony.

It was at my parent’s house that I had to do a small speech. Part of the tradition involves the bride-to-be and groom-to-be offering tea to their elders and receiving well wishes and a gift in return. As public speaking isn’t my forte, I was worried about giving a good speech that would encompass how I felt. My brother is eight years younger than me and growing up, I was more of a mother figure than sister to him. And so, the moment meant a lot to me. Thankfully, I was able to get the words out in a coherent manner despite heckling from someone to speak louder and the billions of cameras and phones shoved my way.

With the official part of the tea offerings done, people let loose. My husband, children and I went upstairs, away from the noise and crowd, and the alcohol-fuelled ruckus. Being a part of the immediate family meant that we couldn’t leave early. We spent time upstairs with other families until it was socially acceptable to leave.

The only downside of leaving was missing the part where my aunty chucked her guts after challenging my brother to a vodka slamming contest. Apparently, she was out after six shots. And by out, I mean she passed out on a couch where she laid for several hours after the party ended. She wasn’t the only aunt passed out on a couch either.

There were lots of boozy, half-drunk people everywhere but we left before any of any real fun started. It’s a shame because I’d have captured those moments for your viewing pleasure. Anyhow, this post was just an update on how the tea ceremony went.

Part two of the wedding celebrations will be next week. How long do you reckon a hangover lasts when you’re in your sixties?

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HAGGLING HASSLES

My brother is having a traditional Vietnamese wedding tea ceremony. What does this mean? Hell. I’m just kidding… I haven’t been to Hell, so I can’t compare but I can imagine it’s pretty close.

I didn’t have a tea ceremony or a wedding that my parents were happy with. My mother wanted a church wedding with a priest, while my dad wanted a lavish over-the-top wedding with the entire village and then some. Instead, I chose a no-frills, all-in-one venue, Sunday lunch wedding with a celebrant and invited only close family and friends. It was a simple understated affair and suited us perfectly. 

Unlike me, my brother and his fiancée are doing the whole shebang. It’s so big that they have to split it into two separate events. The tea ceremony is going to be held this weekend while the civil ceremony and wedding reception will be held in a fortnight.

The tea ceremony is a tradition where the groom’s family visits the bride’s family bearing gifts (dowry) and the groom officially asks the bride’s parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. It’s basically an elaborate engagement party.

The groom’s family (my parents, my family, uncles and aunties, groomsmen) will arrive with a $500 suckling pig and five trays full of alcohol, tea, jewellery, fruits, Vietnamese mung bean cake and Vietnamese sweet glutinous rice. 

There will be a formal introduction (aka awkward meet and greet) then the bride and groom will serve family members with tea in exchange for their well-wishes and a red pocket. A red pocket is a red envelope with money. How much money they will get depends on the generosity of the family member. There’s a celebratory lunch and then the groom’s family head back to my parent’s house and await the bride’s family to visit us. The same process then occurs at our place minus the proposal. 

By the end of the day, the bride and groom will have officially met the family on both sides and will be richer for the experience. And by richer, I mean literally richer with money. And it’ll only take a whole day.

Anyway, my brother is keen to do things the traditional way so it means my mother, my daughter and I have to wear something called an Ao Dai. It’s the Vietnamese traditional dress, usually worn by women and only looks flattering on thin people.

I’m not what you would call a typical looking Vietnamese woman. I could give Shakira a run for her money in the hip and bust area, so I don’t particularly like the idea of wearing an Ao Dai. I mean, if I wanted to rock the toga look and it was a Greek themed wedding then sure, but this is a traditional Vietnamese wedding and I want to look hot not a flop. 

A couple of months ago, I ordered a cheap purple Ao Dai from an overseas online company. According to their measurement chart, I was a heffer and needed a 3XL, the largest size available. When it arrived in the mail a month later, the thing didn’t fit me. The arms and legs were so long that I could have made myself an extra pair of pants with them. Despite being way too big in the limbs, the body of the Ao Dai was too small. It was obviously made for a willowy giant. I tried salvaging it but even with my reasonable sewing skills, it was impossible.

With only three weeks until the event, I felt the pressure to find something to wear and reluctantly agreed to go with my mum to the store where she bought her yellow Ao Dai.

Shopping with my mum is like going to the dentist. It’s painful, costly and it feels like an obligation. You just gotta suck up it and get it done. That’s how I felt going to this Vietnamese fashion store with my mum.

The minute we stepped into the store, my mother started barking at the poor owner to get me a size 14 Ao Dai. Fortunately, the lady didn’t take offense at my mother’s poor manners and simply told her to step aside.

“I think you’re a size 12. Let’s try that first and we can see what we’re working with.” The lady passed me an Ao Dai to try on. As I was in the change cubicle, I could hear my mother and the lady argue about sizing and whether or not my ass would fit into a size 12. Talk about mortification!

“She’s got a big ass and boobs but has a small waist. That’s why it’s so hard to find clothes for her.” I heard my mum tell the lady. “She eats too much pasta.”

Why do mothers do that? It was so embarrassing. I felt like a teenager again with my mother choosing hideous outfits for me to wear and me having to grin and bear it.

“Did you have a big bottom before having kids? Do you eat a lot of Western foods?” The lady asked me a bunch of in-your-face questions before giving me a size 10 to try on. “You should eat purple wild rice; it’s much better for you.”

Ignoring her comments, I returned to the cubicle to try on another Ao Dai. The two women continued to argue about sizing but then changed to what colour would suit me best. It was basically a pissing contest. Eventually, I found a purple size 10 Ao Dai that didn’t offend my sensibilities too much and went to pay fo it. 

Now, if there’s anything worth knowing about my mother, it’s that she loves to bargain. And she’s ruthless about it. It’s mortifying and embarrassing. To a spectator though, it’s utterly fascinating human behaviour to observe.

“Can you give her a discount? Your prices are too high!” As my mother was likely embarrassed about being wrong with my sizing, she doubled down on her efforts with haggling for a discount.

“This is not Vietnam! You can’t just haggle for what you want. It has the price on it, and it’s already discounted!”

This went on for about ten minutes with me holding my money out for the lady to take. Why wasn’t she taking my money?! My mother wasn’t paying for it but for some reason, the lady felt obliged to argue with her on pricing. It didn’t matter that I was willing to pay whatever damn price it took to get the hell out of the awkward situation. I didn’t want a discount! I wanted to skedaddle and find myself a nice hole to bury inside.

“Fine! I’ll give her $5 off. Take it or leave it. But there’s no guarantee this dress will still be there when you come back.” 

“Round it down. Make it $10.” 

Another round of arguing and hard stares between the two women ensued and it was at this point that I lost patience with the whole situation. I cracked the shits. 

“Mum, I don’t want a discount. I am happy to pay the price. I got what I wanted, and that’s what is important here.”

I shoved the money into the lady’s hand and all but dragged my stubborn mother out of the door with me. 

“You paid too much! Five dollars is still money. Your husband works hard, and you shouldn’t throw money around.” My mother was still ranting about the lady’s overpriced Ao Dai by the side of the road.

Exasperated with my mother’s antics, I turned to face her and putting on my “mum” voice, I told her that not all juice was worth the squeeze but I’ll bet it won’t stop her next time.

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