My life was about to take a dramatic change. A journey to Malaysia was the first of a series of three events in as many months that demonstrated I was careering in an exciting yet unintended direction.
I travelled to Petaling Jaya near Kuala Lumpur to deliver another presentation at Malaysia Social Media Week (MSMW). I was honoured to be one of only four returning presenters from MSMW 2013. I knew early that MSMW 2014 would be special, for I was given an upgrade to business class for the seven hour flight from Doha to Kuala Lumpur. I’ve flown Qatar Airways business class before, but never with an upgrade. The experience was just as pleasurable.
I usually arrive the week before any presentation to finalise the script and rehearse, and it was during this time that I was invited to appear on The 8TV Quickie
to talk about MSMW. This is a frenetic 15 minute variety television programme that airs across Malaysia. The studio was much smaller than it appears on the screen and the mood was very relaxed when we arrived. But once recording commenced, the intensity immediately increased and after what seemed only a couple of minutes,
the show was complete.
MSMW commenced in a low key manner with a welcome function once again hosted by an exemplary emcee – Terrence Dass
. However, once the first session started the room was packed with 500 attendees, and the numbers never dwindled over two days. I met some incredible people, most notably a trio of males who are an expert in their respective craft. The ebullient maestro of Twitter, Scott Eddy
, the vibrant social media practitioner, Andrew Chow
who provided the best piece of advice from MSMW (“Content is King, but Conversation is Queen”) and the inspirational entrepreneur Evan Carmichael
who provided MSMW’s most memorable moment. Knowing a lady had been cyber-bullied so severely that her friends were afraid to appear in photographs with her in case they were too bullied, Evan inspired a hundred people
to take photos with her and place them on social media. It takes a special person to inspire such a plan, and Evan is such a person.
My main purpose in attending MSMW 2014 was not to learn from social media luminaries, but to present. My panel session, “Flogging the Blog”, was shared by two returnees from MSMW 2013, Malini Agarwal
, Kounila Keo
, and we were joined by first time
attendees Sue Lynn
, and yet another impressive Philippine blogger, Anton Diaz
Following an introduction from Malini to my talk entitled ”Once Upon A Time”
and after a technical hitch with my microphone was rectified, I uttered the opening quote by the 14th
Century Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta, “Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”.
The audience was very quiet and I could not discern if I had their attention – it felt different. It was not until I walked to stage left around 90 seconds later that I glanced out of my eye and saw all faces following me. Their attention was held, but it felt more intense than usual.
My presentation included my mantra “Effective Blogs Evoke Emotions” which is achieved through telling a story with great imagery, descriptively detailing a few incidents instead of briefly covering many, and including a human connection. The most effective emotion is pride – and I illustrated this with three experiences: the beauty and warmth of the Irish people (Embraced by Irish Pride
), the hospitality and safety of Somaliland (Somaliland is not Somalia
), and the most poignant – an encounter with a man in Afghanistan fleeing the Taliban (The Different Faces of Afghanistan
I seek to
inform and inspire by using psychological techniques – a presentation should have both light and shade. The light was obvious – Ireland, Somaliland, Malaysia – but I wanted the shade to be very dark. I almost dropped the Taliban story because I thought it too heavy a tale, and it posed difficulties conveying that conversation in a musty room in Afghanistan. I thought of different poses to show the conversation and different body positioning – but all felt awkward. However, after nearly 40 hours of preparation and rehearsal, the final idea came only the evening before. I would squat on the stage to recreate sitting with the man in Afghanistan. A novel idea, but a risky one – was it too theatrical?
Two-thirds through the 14 minute presentation came the Afghan story. Squatting was a sublime decision – it was easily the most photographed moment during the three full days of the conference and workshop – and it was plastered across social media. I could literally feel the intensity of the audience weighing upon my body. I even added another unrehearsed sentence in order to prolong this scene.
I concluded this segment by describing the life of the
man running from the Taliban: “Here was a face consumed by fear. Here was a life hiding in shadows. Here was a victim of violent intolerance.”
An oppressive silence.
You could have heard a person breathe.
I sat there without saying a word.
500 people with neither sound nor motion.
I held the silence.
It was intense.
It was intoxicating.
I stood again and continued when I noticed two audience members looking at the Twitter feed on a large screen (not visible to me) and shake their head. I was unsure what this meant, but was later informed that the Twitter feed became so frenetic that people could not read all the Tweets.
My presentation concluded with the following statement: “If your travel blog contains a story that evokes emotion and especially pride – then instead of you flogging your blog to the world, the world will flog your blog for you.” I thanked the audience. There was sustained, loud applause.
This was the best presentation I have given at a major conference. There was something very special about the mood in that room. Difficult to describe, but something you
could feel. Even after more than 20 years of public speaking this experience taught me valuable lessons that I shall incorporate in future presentations.
Afterwards, I was stopped and photographed by dozens of people who thanked me for the presentation. It took almost three hours to respond to every tweet about my appearance on the MSMW stage. This reaction, along with my social media work since MSMW 2013, helped open many opportunities.
The first was a visit to Merapoh in Pahang state, a destination largely unexplored by tourists. I was a guest of the Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) and the major attraction was a series of caves – the most challenging being the Frog Cave. I did not espy any frogs, but it did test any claustrophobic feelings, and to my surprise I was better than expected. Our group walked through water, climbed rocks, and crawled on our stomach through tight fissures; it was enormously enjoyable.
We also visited the serene Kelah Sanctuary in Tamen Negara National Park, a place of lush greenery and solitude. Here one could catch the local fish with their hands as they made their way upstream across
the rocks. I chose not to partake, but watched as people attempted to grab the slippery fish before releasing them again to swim in the cool waters.
A few days later, I addressed travel industry professionals at the MATTA Academy on the relationship between travel bloggers, social media and the travel industry. A detailed summary of this presentation is described in MATTA Academy host Shane Dallas
Probably the most exciting opportunity was a private tour of the Sepang International Circuit, which hosts the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix. I was driven around the circuit and even allowed to step onto the track. I visited the driver’s briefing room, race control, media centre and podium area. I was also given a pit straight ticket directly opposite the garage of race winner Lewis Hamilton. Sitting with MATTA friends Zamiel and Uzaidi, we enjoyed a superb afternoon, and from a distance we witnessed actor Benedict Cumberbatch interview drivers on the podium. His appearance caused the women in my midst to visibly swoon.
Such excitement was against the background of an extremely sobering event. The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing cast a pall over the nation. People waited,
hoped, prayed and talked in disbelief. The Malaysian mood was affected by the actions of certain international media. I watched almost all the relevant press conferences live on television, but shortly afterwards could observe respected international news channels misreport statements from Malaysian officials. Further, social media was filled with spurious speculation on this mystery that was entirely incorrect. Malaysia has been subjected to much unfair criticism due to this misreporting. It was an important lesson that both traditional and new media have a weighty responsibility to report accurately.
So much has changed for me in twelve months. Slowly at first, but now with increasing rapidity, my shift from a hobby travel blogger to a full time travel blogger continues to unfold. It is both unintended and unexpected, for I am merely doing what I love – travel, writing, photography and public speaking. My experiences in Malaysia were a strong indicator on my changing life, and it was a precursor to two further events that continued this trend. The first was my return to Germany after more than a 20 year absence to speak at a prestigious travel blogging event.
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