Chynna or China?

I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking lately:  keynotes, workshops, “chapter” meetings, business group talks, etc.  This is an activity I really enjoy and have been doing for years.  I’ve been fortunate to speak to business, academic and professional groups all over the world including Warsaw, Eindhoven, Zurich, Lisbon, Prague, Beijing, ShangHai, and Mumbai as well as great domestic locations all over the U.S.

 These experiences have been notable for a number of reasons:

  • People of all walks of life all over the world want to be connected with their counterparts
  • The issues and concerns of these populations truly are more alike than different
  • There is a continued thirst for learning everywhere in the world
  • Technology usually works (don’t know why that is notable, but it is)
  • The audience is always surprised (pleasantly, I think) at my desire to really connect with them in a personal way
  • The people who introduce me usually get some important fact wrong in the introduction

I was promoted to CEO by introducers long before I was ever in the C-Suite.  More than once I’ve been introduced as Chynna Phillips – the only other “China” people have ever heard of.  A couple of months ago I was introduced as the COO of (In my dreams…I do use a case study in some of my speeches on employee engagement and retention).  Being introduced as “China” in China was interesting.  Kind of stopped translation traffic a couple of times. 

Public speakers have to quickly get over being bothered when the introducers don’t get the facts quite right.  Especially in other countries when the introduction is in a language you don’t understand and the only words you recognize are your name and your organization’s name!  That’s when I smile warmly, shake the introducer’s hand and say “Thanks you for that lovely introduction…I think!”

If you’re contemplating speaking in front of groups whose first language is not your own, you have to think about what kind of translation you prefer.  If you use simultaneous translation you have to really prepare a speech script and stick to it because the translator is reading off the script into the headphones of the audience.  If they’re really, really good they can follow when you go off script, but it makes their job horrendously difficult, your message may not get through and you’d never know.  This approach is typically used when the audience is quite large, more formal, and, in my case, their comfort with English is not strong.  It’s an expensive proposition.  The benefit for your message is that an hour-long presentation takes an hour.

If you have a translator translate as you speak, it’s difficult to build enthusiasm and momentum because you have to stop every 20-30 seconds for the translator to translate.  PowerPoints really help in this scenario because they keep everyone focused during the starts and stops.  (In many places around the world business people and students have comfort with written English, but not spoken English.)  The real rub here is that an hour’s worth of content takes two hours to present because, essentially, everything is presented twice:  once in your language and once in theirs.  So you choose whether to have the audience sit for two hours and struggle through the content or to edit your content like mad to have a much shorter presentation.

Honestly, my preference is the simultaneous translation.  When I get going on some data, a real life example, or an anecdote that proves my point, I find it almost impossible to stop and wait for the translation.  On the other hand, when I get going on some data, a real life example, or an anecdote that proves my point, I frequently wander off the script so I can tailor it to the audience and that’s hell on a translator.

All that notwithstanding, whether I’m introduced as Chynna Philips or China Gorman, whether the technology works or not, whether they got my title right or wrong, whether a translator is involved or not, public speaking is about creating moments of learning, inspiration and, for me, connectedness.  That’s why I enjoy opportunities to share with audiences of all types in big cities and small communities, with students and with professionals, in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. 

Public speaking isn’t the only way to understand that, truly, we are more alike than we are different.  But it’s one of my favorites.  And if you’re going to get my title wrong in the introduction, I really like Queen.



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13 responses to “Chynna or China?

  1. Actually, I am wondering how you pronounce your name – Chynna?

    As in China? Or some other way?


  2. Great post China! A friend of mine is an American Sign Language translator and she has shared some nightmare stories about trying to translate for people who are fast-talkers and barely pause to take a breath. Her wish for all speakers is that they slow down and not speak at a frenetic pace.

    Thank you for sharing the tips. I’m looking forward to hearing you speak IRL someday soon.

  3. China / Chynna ,

    At least you have not yet been introduced as Sheena…comic book heroine. That probably wouldn’tsuck either.

    I enjoyed the laughs from your post, but thanks for sharing the practical speaking tips as well. I find them very helpful.

    I have been doing paid speaking for a year or so now, and just had my first keynote gig in January to a group of recruting company staffers, and agency recruiters, which is not my typical HR generalist auidence. It was interesting to find myself adjusting the perspectives from whoich I talked to better fit the crowd, and worrying that the jokes I tell – which I know will get a laugh in an HR audience may not play the same way to this slight different crowd. Your points on language and working with a translator are invaluable for those of us who have yet to experience that stuff.

    Thanks,mand say hi to tour boss Tony Hseih when you run into him in the halls at Zappos! 😉

  4. Coachij

    Another great blog!

  5. China, love the insights on speaking. I’ve heard you speak many times and I always marvel at your ability to connect to the crowd, no matter the size. Glad you are adding Oakbrook Terrace to the impressive list of speaking locations.

    BTW, could be worse than being introduced as Chynna Phillips. Someone (don’t know how but they could) could’ve introduced you as that Chyna who was a wrestler in the WWF. Naw…that would have never happened. I see you wrestling ideas, not other people.

    • Thanks, John. Can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be keynoting at the Illinois State SHRM conference this year! A highpoint for sure for me. As for the WWF wrestler named China, it might be kind of cool to be mistaken for her. A different kind of power, but still…

  6. Kathy Claytor

    I had the opportunity to hear you “create moments of learning, inspiration and connectedness” in Mumbai – you were terrific! Look forward to crossing paths with you again.


    • Kathy: thanks so much! We had a great time, didn’t we? I look forward to connecting soon, too. I’m going to be at a Garden State SMA/SHRM chapter meeting in March presenting with Gerry Crispin. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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