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L’esprit de l’escalier

I recently emceed the convention for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.  Emceeing a convention definitely requires a specific skill set. And emceeing an event that includes a room full of your peers, and not just any peers, a roomful of professional speakers, requires, perhaps a thick skin.So what did I learn in those crazy three days?

1.  Self-effacing humor goes a long ways towards helping you calm your nerves in a stressful event. Self-effacing humour that laughs at yourself and acknowledges your own foibles can help you build trust, break down barriers and make a connection with any audience – whether it be an audience of 1, or an audience of 300 of your peers.

2. Having fun in stressful situation always begins by having fun yourself.  Trite advice perhaps, but we all know it’s true. When I have fun with myself as the emcee, the audience will have fun. When I don’t they don’t.

3.  Emceeing an event such as this successfully means getting over the phenomenon of l’esprit de l’escalier. This great French phrase loosely translates into the “wit of the staircase” and refers to the phenomenon that we all experience – coming up with the perfect retort/comeback/funny turn of the phrase AFTER THE FACT!  You leave the meeting with your boss and 15 minutes later think of the ideal response to the uncomfortable question your boss asked.  And it drives you batty. You think to yourself  “WHY? WHY didn’t I think of that ten minutes ago! What an idiot!”

Whenever I emcee an event, this happens ALL the time.  I  have three minutes to say the announcements and be hilariously funny.  I pick what I think is the funniest line.  And it tanks. I walk off the stage and the PERFECT line pops into my head.  And then I have a choice.  Beat myself up for being an idiot to not think of the ideal line beforehand….or….GET OVER IT!

Now when you’re talking about this phenomenon in a more serious work situation, there is another thing you can do besides getting over it and moving on. You can learn from it- make a mental or written note of it-and remember it for next time.  Or you can be so bold as to create a next time by scheduling another meeting so you can create an opportunity to use it again.

Michael Kerr.

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