You probably know this thing: it´s the first day of a seminar or the beginning of some business meeting. The host suggests everybody introduce her- or himself to the other attendees (more or less succinct). Following the common social script, most of the times people will now take turns and give an account of their education, job histories, and – on a good day – their personal status. From my own experience I have to admit: I tend to forget most of the information instantaneously – except for the rare occasion when there´s some shared background with another person.
So why not do it a little differently? I have to admit this may not be the best of ideas on each and every occasion – but then I can imagine a lot of place where this feels really appropriate.
A Serious Introduction
A serious introduction consists of telling a meaningful story about a specific moment in our lives. It could be a moment that is just very important to us, or a moment that shows us at our best, thereby displaying our unique blend of character strengths. To quote my lovely MAPP classmate Patricia De La Torre: It’s a fantastic way to learn about somebody else and to instantly connect with them in the non-cheasiest way possible. So here we go…
This is September 9, 2010. I have a glass of champagne in my hands and feel a one-of-a-kind combination of exaltation and relief. My dress shirt is soaked with sweat from the room temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit – and from the 30-minute lecture I have given a couple of minutes ago. The first supervisor of my doctoral thesis at European Business School Oestrich-Winkel, has just pronounced I will be awarded the doctoral degree in business sciences with the best possible grade, “summa cum laude”. Now this evaluation consists of the grade for my thesis, which accounts for 70 percent of the total grade; and the grade for the disputation which has just taken place – which accounts for the remaining 30%. My thesis had been graded in-between the top marks – and in order to receive the overall “summa cum laude”, the disputation would have to be an absolute top-notch performance.
Let´s go back in time for a week…
During that final week before my disputation, I did something very unusual: I practiced. In fact, I practiced my ass off. I am used to lecturing regularly, either at conferences, or at the business school where I teach – which has given me a lot of confidence in that matter over the years. I typically will prepare my PowerPoint slides some days before due date alright – but I never ever really think about what to say in advance, let alone learn something by heart. That often results in entertaining but hopelessly overlong lectures. But for once, it had to be different. There are very strict regulations pertaining to the disputation process. You have exactly 30 minutes to convince the doctoral committee of your research, not one minute more, not one minute less.
So I practiced – and I learned my text by heart.
As usual, I prepared my slides. In the morning seven days before the disputation, I practiced for the first time – and went over 45 minutes. I practiced again in the afternoon, talking a little faster, and still went well over 40 minutes. So I cut out one of the slides, practiced again in the evening and finished at 38 minutes. I practiced again before going to bed and stopped at 37 minutes.
For the upcoming six days, I practiced four times a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, once in the evening and once before going to bed. I cut out further slides but never made in less than 33 minutes – until the day of the disputation.
I had thrown out another slide spontaneously in the morning and was a little nervous, but clearly not too nervous. I was wearing a tailor-made suit – and my wife, my parents, my parents-in-law and some of my best friends joined the audience to witness the culmination point of a strenuous 5-year period of my life.
Due to practicing hard (I believe), I was at my best that day. Speaking quite clearly, convincingly, seemingly without much effort, and most of all: according to the rules of this extraordinary occasion. I hit the mark in 30 minutes sharp.
Now all this accounts for the exaltation. But what about the relief?
The truth is: joining that doctoral program was – at least from a certain point of view – one of the worst decisions of my life. I´d had lost interest in my research topic during the first year. I felt out of place and out of tune with myself for most of the time. I knew this doctoral thesis was leading neither me (nor someone else) anyhere. I wanted to quit at least once a year but my parents managed to convince me to go on over and over again.
Now it is over. I made it. And I made it worthwhile.