The first time I spoke to a crowd of people that wasn’t comprised of students I made a very big fool of myself. This happened during the Captain America IMAX competition that I beseeched you to nominate me not too long ago.
That night, I showed up at IMAX Kenya in my favorite blue faded jeans, a purple t-shirt, and gray trench coat. After all, who goes to a dark movie theater all dressed up? On arrival, I found fellow contestants pacing on the steps next to where they sell popcorns, a man-bag on one hand and eyes glued to a phone in the other.
“Dude, don’t you know they will be asking us questions about IMAX and the Captain America movie?”
I also took out my phone, began googling and cramming every piece of info I could find online. A half-hour later we were ushered into the theater. To my uttermost surprise, it turned out to be a fashion competition, the kind men in ridiculous outfits strut on the runway doing all manner of turns. Everyone else had carried at least 3 different attires except yours truly.
I had two choices, either wing it or run away to save face. Being the kind of man I am I stayed.
I went on the runway for the first time with my coat on, second time without it and lastly with my t-shirt sleeves and pants rolled up to represent three different outfits. The other guys must have been professional models. I was clueless on how to walk or turn.
Nonetheless, I half-moon-walked adding a little flair to it and other times like how the bad guys in the movies walk just before a car blows up in the background, much to the judges chagrin.
Thereafter, we were asked to move into the lounge next to the theater for the questions session. The lounge is such that the bar area is at the bottom, closest to the entrance, with seats and tables arranged in a theater-like manner. All the participants stood on the tiny stage right above the bar. Two gents and a lady who were the judges took the first table below, while the audience filled the rest.
When it was my turn a microphone was handed over with the accomplished fashion judges readying to fire salvos.
Being my first time standing before an impatient crowd of Nairobi’s cool kids with numerous piercings, neon-colored pants, fake-American accents and a stinky attitude, I began to sweat excessively. The bright spotlight shining on my face wouldn’t accord me the decency to hide it.
“Mark Maish, right?”
“Are you ready for the question?”
“We can’t hear you. Hold the mic closer to your mouth like this.” He put his mic an inch to his mouth.
The audience bursts into laughter.
“Good boy, now how many buttons are on your coat? And don’t count them now!”
He must have pitied me for having zero knowledge on fashion matters so he asked me the simplest question a man in his position could possibly think of. I mean what else could a guy like me do every morning other than to count the number of buttons on all his coats?
The other guys were asked questions like what they intend to do with the title should they win. He must have thought I was too dumb to get that right.
“They are eight,” I whispered.
“Are you sure?”
Sacred to the bone marrow I tried to speak but no words came out thus I nodded my head vigorously.
“Alright, you can now count them out aloud”
“…9..10..11..12,” apparently there were twelve buttons, not eight.
“Mark, you don’t even know the number buttons on your coat. Next!”
I emerged number 9 out of 10 only beating the other guy who couldn’t speak at all. I was given a free ticket to whichever movie I like as a consolation prize.
I went ahead and worked on my public speaking skills by pouring over articles, YouTube videos and practicing all alone in my room. Thanks to that embarrassing incident, I improved my eloquence to a point I was the highlight of an international conference I presented a paper to, emceed a couple of events and even co-hosted a show on national radio five days a week.
In life, we are constantly faced with situations where our shortcomings humiliate us in public or bar us from doing things important for our advancement. However, we always have a choice to either let these shortcomings define us for the rest of our lives or do something about them.
Written By Mark Maish