Speech day… I’m in the hotel room, polishing off my speech. I’ve just come off the phone with my other half and have learnt some really useful Arabic phrases.
I’ve written them phonetically, and my pronunciation is quite appalling (so I’m told) but I’m going to open my speech with the traditional Arabic greeting of "Peace on you" and the audience should then reply "Peace on you, too".
I’m feeling quite excited now!
Several hours later: Well that went down like a lead balloon! I just gave the most wooden presentation of my life.
Devoid of jokes and subtleties, I had to recite it at a snail’s pace so the translators could keep up. My normal style is fast and up-beat as I tend to get excited about my subject, but my host from Shell was sitting in the front row signalling madly for me to slow down – so I did, and I hated it.
Still, the audience seemed to love it; I was completely mobbed afterwards. During the Q & A session, I was handed an anonymous note asking what my advice to the government would be given that the economy is closed, businesses are routinely snatched away from their owners and corruption is rife. Hmmm… think I’ll skip this question for the time being.
After 30 minutes of solid questions, I managed to escape the auditorium and was shepherded towards the buffet. However, it was impossible to reach it because of all the people queueing up to talk to me.
Departure day: My return flight is not scheduled to leave until late afternoon, so my itinerary includes a trip to Sabratha to see the magnificent ancient ruins on the Mediterranean coast 40 miles west of Tripoli. My tour guide is incredibly knowledgeable (he used to be a history teacher) and recalls in detail the story behind every building and each bit of stone we come across.
Flying home: I reflect on my trip. I’ve met many interesting people, but there was one person me who stood out.
It was during the buffet reception after the speech. I had been mobbed by delegates, most of whom, although complimentary on the talk, took the opportunity to bemoan the fact that doing business in Libya is not easy.
After wrestling with a particularly cynical old gentleman who wasn’t buying my positive attitude, I noticed a young man who had been waiting patiently in the sidelines to meet me. When everyone else had left, he smiled and introduced himself and told me that he has just set up an office cleaning company.
And the reason he is smiling” He is literally cleaning up the market – he wins every job he pitches for because there is absolutely no competion in Libya. At last, a true entrepreneur!