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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Training Day

The last time I stood in front of my co-workers, the first time they saw me, my suit coat dripped beer and I held a broken baby bottle in my hand (read here). Now, standing on the raised platform in front of 200 scientists, I’m about to speak. The first scientific impression my co-workers will have of me, and at this point I have no idea that what I say next will make them gasp in shock. A stunning, unexpected collective involuntary reflex from the audience that stops me cold. And that is from the first two words of my scheduled 90min presentation.

Training a medicinal chemist takes time. Lots of time. Some rules of thumb state it takes a new chemist 6mos to produce on a project and up to 5yrs before making strategic decisions that push projects forward. New people take time, And this company brims with new people, growing by 50% a year. Many, many new chemists need training in basic aspects of industrial chemistry and medicinal chemistry. Few boast work experience, and fewer have western business exposure. To address the lack of experience, mentoring…teaching…training…forms a large part of the work load for those of us with both work experience and western business exposure. As my first task at my new company, I put together a short technical training seminar. And it’s this training presentation that evokes “the reaction”.

I think about what the scientists in the audience experience. They must come to the presentation. Attendance required and tracked, a graded quiz following. Pressing, important matters await them in the lab and they will likely be anxious about getting back to the bench. They acquired English as a second language and boast varying degrees of proficiency.

I cut the presentation to 30 min, one main idea per slide…which I will say slowly, twice. I don’t use slang and I stick to high level concepts which can be applied to their own work. I shy away from boring bulleted lists. I am not didactic. I speak slowly and try not to rush, de rigueur when the excitement of the presentation takes hold. That is the plan as I listen to the introduction of me and my presentation. The introduction is in Chinese, with the last word in English. “Paul?”. I alight the platform and take a moment to arrange myself. I look up and scan the crowd, look over at the host and say…

Xie Xie. Thank-you.

*gasp* from the audience. Then stunned silence.

Wow. Did I say it correctly? Did I just utter a horrible curse? Did I not use the right tones? I look at the audience looking at me for a few seconds, then press on. Later, I realize they did not expect to hear any Chinese from the laowai, the foreigner. Low expectations will be good for my language acquisition goals.

1 comment:

  1. They may have been too shy to respond.

    ReplyDelete