Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boardroom Toddlers

I had not experienced this for almost a decade. The last time I remembered walking into a room with almost 10 pairs of eyes staring at me, waiting for "show and tell" was right before I moved to the US. Making a Sales Presentation to a board of directors on how a $500K automation project could save the prospective customer $3 million in 5 years.

Last week, I was surprised. I never knew making a Chinese New Year presentation to a group of Toddlers would rekindle that same boardroom feeling.

I didn't plan much at all. They were toddlers, how hard could it be? "They only have very short attention span" was the only hint I got from the teachers. I know, this meant I had to make it almost as good as an elevator pitch. Give them what would interest them and what they cared about. Short, Sweet and Memorable. They were only toddlers, how hard could it be ?

Was I Wrong.

When I walked into the room, every one of the 12 active children stopped, froze and stared at me. I made my way carefully to "the spot". With the help of their teacher, one by one, they followed, slowly, suspiciously. Took their seat in a semi circle. Alas, the sacred semi circle boardroom configuration.

My heart started to race. Lips got dry. Then the Boardroom looks began.

A couple of them had the " what'cha got for us today" look.

Then one started to sigh. Geez, I had not even started yet.

Ok, blood was rushing to my head so much, my legs felt numb. Why did it start to feel hot in a relatively cold room. " I am Not going to break a sweart" I kept telling myself. It's been 10 years, but I can do this!

First thing first, Smile. It always buy time to strategize. Then, start asking questions, small talk, break ice. I know the drill, did all that long enough. Read body language,  pay attention to personal choice of style and accesories, anything that could give a hint of their personality and lifestyle. Key to managing emotional response. Except, Toddlers don't choose what they wear. Ok, deep breaths. I have to treat them all to be alike. Except, they are not.

One started to look bored, rolling on the floor almost starting to fall asleep. Ok, I better start. " Right Words, remember, loud and clear."

So I whipped out my book on Chinese New Year. More animation, I thought to myself. They are kids afterall. I told the story as if I was an old  worn-out record player - loud, soft, out of pitch with jumpy body language and exaggerated facial expression. Paused at every page and all I got was -  Silence....and Blank Stares.

"Inject something different, that always work". I told myself.

"Ba Ba, Ma Ma" I started to say in Mandarin " You have a Ba Ba -Daddy and Ma Ma - Mommy right?"
The teacher's face turned. Oops. As I followed her gaze, one child started to have a reverse smiley face. The assistant teacher hurried by and took the boy away. I learned later his mom has been away and he cried whenever someone said the word mommy.

"Now what?" the rest of the kids looked at me, "You going to make us cry too?"

"Let's look at these beautiful Chinese New Year things I brought. Look at this boy and girl traditional dress. Would you like to feel it? " I handed one out to the closest child. He just stared at me. Then I handed to the child next to him, he reached out for it. " You can pass them around when you have finished looking at it." He looked at it, then set it down in front of him and stared back at me. A few of them were walking away to engage in their own activity.
One of them went and got his own book to read.

I didn't know what happened in the next 15 minutes but when I did, I had finished reading the book and started to pack. One child has almost fell asleep on the floor. Everyone else stared at me. The teachers started clapping and said the nicest things but those still sitting around just stared in Silence. Expressionless.

This is harder than any Boardroom meetings I have ever had. Who knew honest attention could be so challenging. I leaned back for a few minutes by the windows. Watched the almighty toddler class teacher took over. She looked like a giant to me suddenly and I thank God for people like that. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth". Boy, I can fully appreciate its meaning. The kids started to talk and sing. Their personalities completely changed back. I did not know what it was, but it seemed like they were in twilight zone for about 20 minutes and now, they are back. As for me, I was content with standing in a corner and observing their absolute adorable innocence. Next year, perhaps, I could bring a magician.  I should plan way ahead to avoid a Bored Room of Toddlers!

( I am not permitted to post the toddler's real pics. All pics from Shutterstock.com. Spent several hours just to pick the identical expressions.)






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