Have you ever been invited to be the chief guest of an event in India?
All sorts of events need guests and speakers (business, cultural, religious, educational), and outsiders, even on short trips seem to be a great choice for these things.
We’ve already talked about what to do if you are supposed to introduce someone, but actually giving a speech is a whole other thing entirely. Here are some things you need to consider.
Should you even accept the invitation?
Most people in the world are afraid of public speaking and would run from any invitation like this. To add to that, these events in India tend to be long, late, and not very interesting. So what would make you want to accept?
For the most part, speaking at an event is for the benefit of the person organizing the event, not your own. Therefore, the first question to ask is “Who asked me, or recommended that I speak?”. If it is someone with whom you want to maintain or build Relational Capital and get into their inner circle, you should accept the invitation.
Other good reasons to speak are to build a network with the other guests/speakers, have a cultural experience, or add to your collection of shawls and personalized trinkets.
Playing the part
Similar to playing the role of a god when you are a guest, your job as a chief guest is to play a particular role. There are some prescribed things you should always do, and deviating from them will make everyone feel awkward, so it’s better to just accept and enjoy it.
Once you accept, make sure the organizer has a good profile for you. This profile will likely be read in its entirety, so set the length accordingly. But don’t make it too short. Your profile is a gift to the introducer. If you don’t give them enough to say, they will feel forced to come up with their own introduction which gets awkward quickly. Include your full designation, any advanced degrees, prestigious companies you’ve worked with and anything else you might feel pretentious about sharing in your home country.
If one reason you accepted was to network with the other speakers, you will have time before and after the event. Don’t waste this opportunity to meet new people, and arrange for follow-ups later on. Bring plenty of visiting cards with you to share.
Your primary role as chief guest is to follow the appropriate formalities. These will not be explained to you in advance, and you will have to flow with them as they come.
You may be asked to do any number of these things:
- Light an oil lamp or other quasi-religious things
- ‘Launch’ items or products by removing the wrapping
- Give awards to people you’ve never met
- Receive/give flower bouquets, shawls, and other gifts
Take these all stride and don’t be surprised at anything that might happen. The most important thing is to keep smiling, and pose for pictures.
When it is time for your speech, the first thing out of your mouth should be appreciation for being invited as a speaker, and then greeting all the other ‘dignitaries on the dais’. Use as many titles as possible and don’t leave anyone out.
Short speeches are nice, but not necessary. Always include something positive about India, and never say anything which could be taken as offensive. It’s good to add humor, but stay away from sarcasm, irony, and other forms that don’t translate across cultures. Share lots of positive stories from your experience. When in doubt, pull out a quote from Steve Jobs and have a seat.
Most Indians speak extemporaneously and can go on for a long time. If you are more comfortable with written notes, it is fine. Just be sure to speak as slowly as possible. It’s also a good idea to reference earlier speakers when you are speaking.
Never worry about the time. If things are going late, don’t think that you’re doing anyone a favor by cutting down on your speech. Just relax, go with the flow, and make sure you don’t have anything scheduled immediately after.
Being the chief guest at an Indian function can either be incredibly uncomfortable, or really fun. If you take these tips, you can have a great time while building a lot of relational capital!
Image Credit: Joel’s Goa Pics on Flickr