Splitting my trousers on stage in Johannesburg

I’m smiling in the picture above, but a few hours earlier I wasn’t feeling as comfortable. I was in Johannesburg at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa’s international convention. It was held at the very swanky Emperors Palace, so swanky it doesn’t have an apostrophe. I was honoured to be the only European to be asked to speak on the main stage at the three day event, but there was a big surprise in store for me. A real ripper.

Maybe I’m getting a little too big for my boots, with lots of positive feedback recently, but as I took to the stage, I realised I’d got a little too big for my pants. As the previous speaker left the stage, I bent down to connect my laptop to the projector and felt the seat of my trousers tear open.

At that point the MC introduced me and I ran onto the stage with my trousers flapping open at the back. (see pic below, taken afterwards in my hotel room)

I decided to come clean and tell the audience what had happened, but of course they didn’t believe me. I was there to give a talk called Putting the ‘U’ in Humour, about using comedy to brighten up your speeches, so of course they all thought it was part of the act. I think some of them still do.

It took me a few minutes to regain my composure. If I seemed a little two dimensional, it was because I wanted to stay front on to the crowd of one hundred odd professional speakers. Some of them very odd. In the end I just turned round, showed them my pants, took the humiliation and moved on. At least it was an icebreaker and I received some lovely comments. Some were about my speech, but mostly of course about my pants.

The event was brilliantly organised by Michael Manley and Andy Brough, seen with me below. I’ve still got that slightly wild look in my eye, even though I’ve now changed into my dinner suit.

The previous night I was invited to dinner by my good friend Paul Du Toit along with Gustav Gouss, the President of the PSASA and many other former presidents and global presidents and some soon to be presidents. I seemed to the only one who had never stood for presidential office. I do have the box set of The West Wing, so maybe that’s why I was allowed in. (I would kill for a re-elect President Bartlett bumper sticker)

There’s always someone at these events who decides to go native. On this occasion it was NSA President Phil Van Hooser. It’s not everyone who can keep their dignity in that sort of African headgear, but I think Phil pulls it off.

I’m always amazed at how friendly speakers are. My background is in the broadcasting world, where it’s dog eat dog. The speaking world is very different, with everyone offering tips to each other and being very supportive.
At the gala dinner I sat next to Craig Ferreira who speaks about great white sharks. A few days later I found myself a guest at his home in Cape Town, enjoying a lovely meal with his family.

Gary Bailey is South Africa’s equivalent of Gary Lineker. He fronts the football on the SuperSport channel. UK football fans will remember him as the white haired South African who played in goal for Manchester United in the eighties and won some England caps before injury ended his career early. He went back to SA and played for the Kaizer Chiefs, the team not the band and then moved into TV.
He now does a lot of professional speaking, and does a great job in promoting the benefits of the World Cup to the people of South Africa and the world. He was inducted into the speakers hall of fame at the event, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I loved the South Africa event. I saw some brilliant speakers like Steff Du Plessis, Billy Selekane and Anton van der Post. Paul Du Toit made the compering look easy with his relaxed yet authoritative style.

I’ve been invited to speak at various events as a result of my trip and I hope to get back to South Africa later in the year to fulfill some of those. I’ve cancelled plans to attend the World Cup itself as it was going to be so expensive, but I’ll be cheering on Bafana Bafana along with England, and blowing my vuvuzela, which has already had a trip to the hallowed turf of the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park.

Jem – back from South Africa 10th May 2010

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