John’s biggest challenge in public speaking sneaked up on him in 2003, very un-suspiciously and un-audaciously.
He had been featured as guest speaker at a few PhotoWorld Manila conferences before, so he did not hesitate to accept an invitation from Apple Philippines (before Apple decided to uproot themselves from Manila) to speak on digital photography. We switched from film to digital in 2000, and the ensuing three years had established John as the then most knowledgeable photographer on both the technical and creative aspects of the new technology.
We were told that he would be the only photographer among the various speakers, and that the conference would be held at Dusit Hotel. A week before the big day, the people from Apple, and their local distributor, Power Mac, came to visit Adphoto to brief him on the program. I made the mistake of asking how many people were expected to attend, and John and I were both shocked at the number they cited: 700!
When they left, John approached me (and Kathy, who was there at that moment) – very tentatively, very nervously. He said he would like to back out. Kathy and I chorused, “You can’t – your name as speaker has been announced.” “But I may freeze and blank out. When I do, I will walk out.” “No, you wont. We will close all the doors,” Kathy answered back, and then to coax him, she offered to prepare his audiovisual presentation. “We’ll help you rehearse, and we’ll prepare cue cards – everything you need,” Kathy reassured him. Still, John was so unsure of himself. I had never seen John so nervous (although I remember that when I first met him, he was shy). We explained that he was the most qualified person to speak on digital photography, and would he really pass up this chance and let a competitor take the limelight? That calmed him down a bit, but everyday for a whole week, he begged to be excused from giving this talk.
And so it was that that fateful day came. I handed the emcee the intro on John that they had requested. John was the first speaker. I don’t remember – but I think he was seated with us in the audience as the emcee introduced him, and then, he walked up the stage. He started his spiel, and then, very smoothly, and with tremendous confidence, he talked about digital photography, adlibbing and joking. He was informative and he was entertaining. Even without looking at the cue cards that Kathy prepared, he delivered his talk FLAWLESSLY. John was confident, funny, authoritative and convincing. He looked and sounded as if he was born to speak before a large audience. Although standing ovations are not popular in the Philippines, Kathy and I gave him one!
While the emcee was introducing the next speaker, I whispered to John, “You were really something! You were fantastic! But, considering how nervous you were earlier, what happened? At what point did he feel that you could swing it?” He whispered back – although whispering is not easy for John to do – “When I was being introduced, the emcee mentioned that I volunteer at the zoo and that I take care of Maali. I thought then – if I could talk to an elephant, then I could talk to photographers!”
That’s John’s secret to his confidence - talk to an elephant and conquer all your fears! Elephant talk, anyone?