Today was one of the most embarrassing day of my life. Ok, maybe I'm dramatizing.
I did my CC4 for Toastmasters today, whose goal is to pay attention to the words and expressions and the general 'How to Say It'. To be original, I titled my speech the same and talked about greetings. Since the last speech was such a success without notes, I decided again, not to bring notes to be at the lectern. WHAT A BAD DECISION! First, the chairperson did not introduced me as convened. So as I walked to the lectern and thinking about all the reasons why she did not introduce me the way I asked her to introduce me, I started the speech but 3 sentences in, I had the biggest mental block EVER!!! I stood there not knowing what to say, I breathed in and out and tried to recall what my next sentence was without success. Everybody was watching me, I was getting quite uncomfortable. Finally, I gave up, and excused myself to gather my notes at my seat and came back to the lectern to resume my speech. It went smoothly from there, I just had the biggest mental block on that one sentence.
The reviews are in, and most people said I handled it well. But man, I am so disappointed in myself. I knew it by heart of course. The only problem might have been that I did not practice it enough. I only finished the speech on Monday night and had it reviewed by Mark on Tuesday and started learning it Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening to do the speech today. What to say, other than I better be ready for the next one in 4 weeks!
Here is my speech:
What do we do quite a few times a day, at the beginning of every interaction we have with each other?
Toastmasters and honored guests, this is my greeting to you. What is in a greeting? It may come in different forms, we extend a hand to shake, we wave or verbally acknowledge each other. Have you ever thought of the risk of an awkward moment happening when greeting another person? Think about it. Unconsciously, we all have a personal, unwritten set of rules for greeting another person under different circumstances. I have found that those rules are loosely based on 3 factors for most people.
First, gender. As a woman, I do not always shake people’s hands. In casual, non-business situations, men are more likely to shake hands than women. In some countries, handshakes are rarely performed by opposite sexes because it is considered inappropriate or impolite. Even in my circle of friends, the male friends shake each other’s hands, but when they come to the girls, it is usually a kiss on the cheek or a hug. I never quite mastered the handshake myself although my brother spent hours trying to teach me how to relax my fingers before the shake while giving a firm handshake when hands make contact. Hence, I am always very self-conscious doing it. Imagine what Toastmasters meetings do to me with all the handshakes!
The second factor in how to select the appropriate form of greeting is the relationship between the two people. The way you greet a coworker or an acquaintance is often not the same way you greet a friend. The trouble with this is when both parties view each other at a different level. For example, my coworker thinks of me as a friend, but I only think of him as a coworker. If we happen to see each other outside of the workplace, say, on a spry stroll along the beach, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, he might come in for a hug and but my unwritten set of rules dictate that I may shake his hand, so I would naturally take a step back and extend a hand. How awkward is that? However, a hug would have been entirely appropriate if I also thought of him as a friend. It all depends on the relationship YOU THINK you have with the other person.
Just like meeting a coworker outside of the workplace is an unusual situation, you also need to consider the accepted forms of salutation in the situation you are in. Cultural context is the 3rd and most important determinant in my opinion. In Mauritius, where I grew up, we follow the French fashion of greeting each other with a kiss on both cheeks. It applies to family and friends and acquaintances alike. Numerous times I have kissed my parents’ friends, friends of friends or even people I have just met, on their cheeks. That is the norm, I would not think twice about it. Here in Canada, people start hugging you after having spent a couple of hours with you. That was strange to me at first! It is however, all about what is perceived to be acceptable. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, they say! I have therefore learned to suppress the instinct to back off when a new acquaintance move in for a hug! I am not against hugging, mind you, I just haven’t been brought up in an environment where it is acceptable to hug people I barely know.
Taking into consideration one’s gender, one’s relationship to the other person and the cultural context is sometimes not enough to avoid a faux pas. Some of my friends with similar background have now assimilated the Canadian way of greeting, whereas others revert back to the Mauritian way when amongst Mauritians. What do we do now? Shake hands, hug or do we kiss on the cheek? Doing all of this, might just be a little bit over the top for a greeting! The safest way I have found to avoid any awkward moment when saying your greeting is to allow the other person to choose how to say it. Who would have thought that something as fundamental as greeting another person could be so complicated? Now, let’s not talk about the various ways to say goodbye!