A Master Lesson in Speech Delivery

I had today the opportunity to be part of EBI‘s 20th anniversary celebration. As an outsider, I was very intrigued about some of the comments and remarks that many eminent participating scientists gave. I congratulate Mary Todd Bergman, Lindsey Crosswell and Spencer Philipps for organising the event. Everything run smoothly and everybody seemed to have an enjoyable time.

I was able to learn quite a few things from this event. Things that deserved my tweeting included comments from many well known local EBI scientists and a few other invited speakers. But instead of focusing on the many remarks that I twitted about today, I would like to talk about the master speech that Mark Green, EBI director of administration, delivered.

Mark Green [Photo kindly provided by EBI]
Mark Green [Photo kindly provided by the EBI]
Green’s talk had such a lot of thought put into it that as an speech evaluator I would like to record it for future reference. Here are the main points as I recall them:

  • His presentation had a story, a clear beginning, a development and an end.
  • He mentioned the story of the “red book“, making reference to the old book keeping accounting notebook. It was funny to see how despite all the technological progress, the red book could always “be trusted, be reliable and fast”. He compared repeatedly the red book to the different upgrades that his department went through as they adapted to more sophisticated technologies. I feel his remarks contained a more profound reflection than just the superficial joke. Perhaps sophistication may solve some problems but it also brings new ones.  How this was presented, in a sequential manner, every time they upgraded their information systems, comparing them to the red book, worked really well in a humorous way that brought the point home.
  • The story of how the institute developed throughout his tenure was fascinating. Every time a new building was created for the institute, it meant that a migration had to be organised. He made clear that each institute building expansion meant migration of the whole institute, not just a few people, and how these experiences have shaped his knowledge of people was telling (e.g., who is in a relationship and what people would not like to sit next to each other).
  • The witty usage of self-deprecation humour: “the reason why admin works so well at the EBI is because I am surrounded by people a lot better than me”. “I hired people who are very different to me”.
  • The story of the ducklings. A Friday afternoon at 4.55pm he found a few ducklings on the roof of the building that were trying to get to the ground. He explained how the mother encouraged them to throw themselves to the ground, despite the great height they had to jump. He tried to avoid the inevitable to no avail. To his amazement these ducklings were extremely resilient; after the great impact they received when crashing against the ground, they all managed to reach the nearest pond as if nothing had happened. This is a very good story about the importance of resilience or, as he puts it, “bouncing back” after every great impact or crisis.
  • One last thing that really impacted me was the description of how administration glues together all the different sections of the institute. I liked very much the image he created, comparing the different parts of the institute to cells in a multicellular organism, the admin part being the connective tissue that keeps everything together.
  • The conclusion of Green’s talk ended with a summary of the essential points made in his presentation: the role that migration played for him to understand people in the institute, the importance of bouncing back in times of crisis and of being surrounded by people better than oneself.

Mark Green’s was perhaps one of the presentations with the least scientific content in today’s 20th EBI anniversary celebration, but the wit of his remarks, his thoughtful images and his analogies between science, administration and informatics gave me a powerful source of inspiration which I want to capture for future reference in my speaking engagements.

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