Accustomed as I am…

Nowadays, with all-pervasive social media and the universal availability of the tools to produce it, seeing and hearing yourself is a commonplace, However, it was not always thus.

The first time I saw myself on ‘video’ – although back in 1964 it was called film – I was standing around aimlessly playing in a school cricket match. It was a black & white home movie, without sound, that must have been made by a proud parent of one of my schoolmates.

The second time was in a brief few seconds – again in silent black & white – six years later, sitting in a tent at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. I was talking, although obviously without the benefit of sound I’ve got no idea what I was saying. Probably how irritating Joni Mitchell had been.

‘So what?’ you may reasonably ask, always assuming you haven’t already breached your attention span and clicked away in search of another kitten video.

Allow me to explain. À propos two recent daily prompts from WordPress (typical: nothing for ages then two come along one right after the other) I’m exploring two related questions:

  • What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? 
  • When you do something scary or stressful – bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. – do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? 

When I was younger I was painfully shy and terribly tongue-tied. Now, though, while I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to take a selfie or post a video of myself (perhaps playing artfully with a ball of wool), I’m pretty relaxed about seeing and hearing myself – usually in the bottom corner of my iPad during a Skype call.

It was my job that transformed my attitudes. For twenty years I was an investment analyst, back when it was quite an honourable profession. One of the non-core activities that this involved was speaking to the media: the idea being that you should project an air of calm authority which would reflect well on your employer. Basically, it was unpaid advertising.

My first foray into this was an interview for BBC Scotland (this was when I worked in Edinburgh) in which I pontificated about one of the Scottish banks which at the time was the subject of an (unsuccessful) takeover bid. I recorded the interview at my office, but the BBC didn’t use it until about a week later. My interviewer kindly gave me a call to tell me that it would run on the early evening news. So, the family assembled in front of the TV to await the great event – me on the sofa, my three-year old son sitting on the floor in front of me.

Run VT and there I was, in my best suit and droning on in my flat Merseyside accent. I was quite surprised that I found myself feeling quite dispassionate about it all. Others were more impressed, however: after about fifteen seconds my son turned round, looked at me, then turned back to the set. He turned round again:

“Daddy, is that you?’

‘Yes it is”

‘Does that mean you’re under arrest?”

“Not yet”

After that impressive debut, I graduated to the white knuckle ride that is ‘going live’, on CNN more often than not, usually in relation to some or other European bank’s latest, tediously dull, results announcement. Since the repeat cycle of CNN Business news is (or was) about two hours, I had plenty of opportunity to ‘watch myself back’ later in the day. Although I say so myself, I got quite good at this and was usually able to speak in short, jargon-free sentences that were grammatically correct and with a decent soundbite thrown in. They kept coming back for more anyway.

Sound advice...

Sound advice…

So, in response to the first prompt, neither sight nor sound of myself bothers me any more.

From which it follows that it really doesn’t make much difference to me whether I’m among friends or strangers when I’m making a show of myself. Again, it wasn’t always thus and again it was work that brought about the more relaxed attitude.

A key element of the analyst’s job is ‘marketing’ – a polite term for flogging explaining your latest stock recommendations or thematic research to investors.


This marketing could be either on a one-on-one basis or involve making a presentation to a group – which could be anything from a couple of portfolio managers to hundreds of people at a Conference. It was a very nervous experience the first couple of times, of course, but after a while it got to be just part of the job. The worst part wasn’t the ‘performance’ aspect but the ravages wreaked on my voice – never strong at the best of times – by spending most of the time talking.

My most surreal public speaking experience was at a conference in Italy which featured simultaneous translation. I met with the two lady interpreters beforehand. They were very nice, but they told me that, because it takes much longer to say anything in Italian than in English, I should speak very slowly and pause meaningfully between sentences to allow them to catch up. Slightly nonplussed, I followed instructions, with the result that I gave every impression that I was addressing an uncomprehending bunch of seven year-olds.

Can't wait...

Can’t wait…

And the daft thing was that all the Italians in my audience spoke perfectly good English anyway.

You could say, therefore, that I’m inured to public speaking. The way I look at it is that if I’m among friends they’ll still be my friends even if I do make a complete arse of myself. And if they’re strangers then I’m never going to see them again anyway, so what does it matter?

But you can forget the bungee-jumping. I’m not doing that for anyone.


3 thoughts on “Accustomed as I am…

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