Analysts (and authors) research fascinating things and find new truths. A lot of people want to hear what you have to say — I estimate that I gave more than 500 speeches over 20 years. Wherever I went, I seemed to experience the quirky side of things. A few exotic examples.
- Italian joke. I gave a talk to a group in Rome in a room with 50-foot ceilings, angels on the ceiling, and classical statuary all around the perimeter. I made a joke that I thought would translate — about looking for a family car and trying to find it on the Ferrari.com site. Nobody laughed. Lesson: jokes depend on culture and delivery and probably won’t survive the simultaneous translation.
- Chinese glitter. Chinese computer giant Lenovo tapped me to speak at its supplier conference in Wuhan, China. The audience turned out to be huge: 1200 people supplying Lenovo with everything from chips to travel services, many of them Americans and Europeans who traveled all the way to central China. The lavish production featured executives singing karaoke, women in ballgowns delivering awards, and neon-clad dancers cavorting acrobatically in the dark. They paid a nice fee and business-class travel — it took days to get there — so I could give a 20-minute speech on the future. Just before the trip, they asked me to cut it down to 10-minutes. (I negotiated it back up to 15.)
Austrian fairy tale. I scored a speech in Austria and turned it into a family vacation. The four of us rented an apartment in Vienna and a house in the mountains, but the final spot where I was giving the speech was a hotel in the countryside and we knew the room would be a tight squeeze. Instead, we ended up with a suite that took up much of the top floor of a lakeside castle. Nothing like that to put a smile on your face at the end of a long trip.
- Tokyo pampering. When I spoke at Ad:Tech Tokyo, the toilet in my hotel room stood at attention when you walked up to it and operated by a remote control on the wall. (Figuring out how to flush was hard enough; I didn’t use the feature that washes and dries your undercarriage.) The Tokyo Tower, Japan’s homage to Eiffel, was visible out my window.
- Brazilian blabber. A Brazilian media mogul hired me to moderate a digital media conference in São Paulo. Five minutes in, the speakers on the first panel switched from English to their native Portuguese, which most of the audience spoke (but I don’t). That’s when I learned that the essence of moderation is interrupting people who go on and on . . . which is pretty hard to do when the translation in your ear is 15 seconds behind the speaker.
- Island fortress. A startup funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen asked me to contribute to a strategy session at Allen’s home in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. We boarded a seaplane to his compound, which took up a huge, secluded peninsula, protected by a small but impressive security force. We passed a totem pole at the dock and entered a cavernous great room with a massive stone fireplace — the property also included an olympic-size swimming pool in its own building. Allen arrived separately on his own plane and was in a bad mood because the Seahawks had lost earlier in the day. It turned out that I was the dinner entertainment while Allen and the startup execs dined on a gourmet meal. Then security escorted me off the peninsula to the other side of the island, where the regular just-plain rich spend their days off. The next morning I waited with 6 vacationers at a different seaplane dock. When the plane arrived, the pilot said “I’m sorry, this is only for Mr. Bernoff.” The hoi-polloi had to wait for the next plane.
People everywhere are weird, but people everywhere are people. No matter how jet-lagged you are, there’s always something exotic worth noticing.