The Banana Song

A few weeks ago I gave my introductory Toastmasters speech. I wanted to capture that speech and write it for you. I nailed the presentation because that’s what I do. Instead of the whole five-minute speech, here are my notes on back of a business card1.

Allow me to step out of character (because I don’t like to brag and I don’t like people that brag): that business card is the only set of notes I need. I practice by using the outline, but I leave the rest open for creation on the fly. That card represents about seven or eight minutes of speaking, which I pared down to five during the speech as I figured out what the audience wanted to hear. I gave up on trying to write the speech in full here. What I said in person was a one time only event. I don’t even remember most of it.

Let me tell you what it’s like, even if I can’t tell you what it was. On stage I am a different person. You wouldn’t recognize me if you knew me elsewhere. It’s almost schizophrenic. My everyday persona is awkward, ungainly, uninteresting. My onstage persona is garrulous, friendly, confident. I like him better. He’s more interesting. I should hire him to be me full time.

Time slows down when I’m on stage. I wonder if that is what it feels like to be a talented musician or athlete. I wonder if Deron Williams feels the game in slow motion, giving him an advantage over lesser basketball players who feel the game at real speed. I can only wonder. In my simulated slow motion I become aware of cues from the audience and I feel like I have extra time to react. I can casually sort through different words and phrases — like thumbing through a rack of albums at a used record store — and come back with the one I want without losing any time. It feels amazing. All I need is a few prompts and I can construct the rest of the speech from the laughs, grimaces, surprised gapes, and hanging silences of the audience.

My speech was a meta-speech. It was a presentation about how I do presentations. The idea developed in December when I was planning to meet a few old friends from Ingersoll Scout Reservation. Offhandedly I mentioned to Joe that I talk about “The Banana Song” in job interviews. He asked how I could do that in a professional setting. As you might guess from the title, “The Banana Song” is a silly song. It doesn’t conjure an image of selling yourself as a reliable engineer, does it? It is one of the many ridiculous ways we kept Scouts entertained at camp. It involves loud, stupid singing — yelling, really — on a stage in front of crowd of people you don’t know. It involves dancing — jumping around, at least — and doing it with such enthusiasm that you can get a hot, humid, mosquito-filled amphitheater full of restless Scouts and stodgy Scoutmasters to dance and jump and yell and sing with you. It is a strange thing of beauty.

So, how does “The Banana Song” fit into an engineering job interview?

In a job interview for a technical position, it is customary for the interviewer to ask: Are you comfortable making presentations to other people? (It’s an important question. Engineers are not noted for their ability to communicate with other humans.)

Easy. I tell them that once you’ve sung “The Banana Song” in front of 250 strangers, every other presentation is simple. Now you know.

1 The red “KV” stands for the invocation I like to give to start off a speech. I stole it from the opening of the Book of Bokonon in Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: “All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”

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