Saturday, December 3, 2016

The most humiliating experience of my life (so far)

What in the world was I thinking when I decided to do that?

From 1990 until 2000 I was involved in the activities of the (now, unfortunately, defunct) Israel Neurofibromatosis Organization (INFO). I was in charge of publications, organized a support group for patients and families in the Jerusalem area, and organized three medical conferences. It was my way of dealing with my child's unsolvable medical issues. Even if there was nothing I could do about his situation, at least I could change something for someone else.

At some point, I became the INFO representative to ZVI (צרכני בריאות ישראל) - The Israel Health Consumer Organization.

In 1994, in the course of drafting the Israel National Health Insurance Law (חוק ביטוח בריאות ממלכתי), ZVI was asked to send a delegate to represent the Israeli health consumer in a panel discussion about the proposed law that was to take place at a national social workers' convention at Binyanei Hauma, before an audience of 2000 people.

The other speakers on the panel were Minister of Health Haim Ramon, the CEO of Kupat Cholim Clalit, and a third person whose name and position I don't remember, but who had once served in the Knesset. Rafi Reshef was to be the moderator.

ZVI was having trouble finding a volunteer for the job because the panel discussion was to take place in the middle of the day, and most members worked full time. I was not working full time, so I ended up volunteering to speak.

Each member of the panel was to present their position for ten minutes and a discussion was to follow. I was scheduled to be last in the lineup.

Well, each of the first three speakers went way over their time limit (hello, moderator?) bringing us to the time listed for the lunch break, and I was told that I would only have two minutes to speak.

It was not easy for me to shorten my speech on the spot from ten minutes to two, Hebrew being my second language. I had planned to stick closely to what I had written out. As I spoke, droves of people in the audience left for lunch, but even worse, the other three panel members started yelling at me, "That's a lie!" "You don't know what you're talking about!" and "You're an idiot!"

Somehow, I made it through my presentation, but I cried all the way home on the bus, and every morning for the next few months, as soon as I woke up, I repeated my new mantra to myself, "I will never speak in public again!"

It was only 10 years later, when I went back to school and took a required class in speech, that something occurred to me. I was reading in my textbook about how important it is to keep your audience in mind, when the light bulb went on over my head: Those men had all served in the Knesset! That's what they do in the Knesset - they verbally abuse each other! It wasn't about me, it was all about them!

I know, I'm a slow learner when it comes to certain subjects.

The second lesson I learned that day, was not to prepare for something like that on my own (not that I have any intention of doing anything like it again). I would have had much more confidence in myself had I prepared the speech along with other members of the group.

A possible third lesson: Prepare a few versions of a speech in different lengths just in case.

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