Patrick: In nearly 40 years working in the newspaper business, I have never been invited to speak at a conference in Vietnam. The call to arms came last autumn from Ted Glynn, formerly of Northcliffe Media Group.
The visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was going to be truly groundbreaking stuff. It had never happened before and newspaper, magazine, radio and TV are all, to a degree, subject to state control.
The newspaper sales conference was originally planned for 15 delegates. But word of our impending arrival soon spread across the country, and, on arriving in Hanoi, the numbers had swelled to 38.
On day one, we counted them in and we counted them out; 38 delegates had indeed all turned up! This was a great start, but could we really keep these bright, enthusiastic publishing executives interested in what we had to say for four days?
Ted: On the whole, yes. There was an unwillingness to commit initially, mostly, as it transpired, because their experience of courses was of a very authoritarian style of lecture.
Lecturers talked at the audience, they took notes, no questions, no jokes, little interaction. Our style is emphatically not like that, and it did take them aback, but by the end of day one, we were getting lots of feedback.
They were keenly interested in the video material we took to show, and there was much debate about the concept and difference in hotspots between Britain and Vietnam.
They kept asking how one acquired a licence to publish and clearly found the notion of not needing such a licence hard to believe.
The English-language press in Vietnam was a good source of provoking questions, and had the useful side effect of making us appear more knowledgeable than we were.
There were many useful gobbets buried in among the (fairly boring) reams of speeches reported therein, which we suspected, perhaps unfairly, were not featured in the indigenous press. The delegates certainly studied them hard.
In the final analysis, it is difficult to properly evaluate such an experience. It's an impressive country, with a terrific work ethic and considerable scope for tourism thanks to its natural beauty.
There is a refreshing hunger for knowledge and expertise. The print media seems a little traditional, but there are lots of products on sale and sale seems to be increasing, although there is a lack of a decent certifying system.
The delegates announced at the end of the course that they had decided to form an association, which seemed like a step in the right direction... and the beer tasted good on Friday afternoon!
Patrick: Did we learn any lessons from our trip? Yes, plenty!
* Have fun, the language may be different, but the smiles on the faces of delegates said it all at times. We had got through to them more often than not.
* Engage the services of the best interpreter you can find. We found an excellent interpreter in Miss Ly, who was studying languages at university in the USA.
* Don’t worry if delegates don’t understand all of the course content; many were happy enough to ask questions with or without the aid of the interpreter during lunch and coffee breaks.
* Don’t assume that delegates do not speak English. Nobody spoke English on days one and two, why should they? But, by days three and four, a good number of the delegates were confident enough to ask questions in English and help Ted and myself out with difficult subject matter.
* Laugh at yourselves; we did regularly; we had to! The delegates all laughed a lot. We had no idea what they were laughing about, but a laugh is a laugh wherever you are in the world.
* Do not worry too much about having reading material translated into English. Most publishers have access to translation services.
* Do not submit to any request for scripts beforehand; this is really for the interpreter’s benefit. If you stray from the original script, as you will, then you will be in trouble if the translator reads from the script or it is distributed to delegates before you actually speak.
* Break up the numbers into groups at some stage. The delegates loved it; they were all chatting away in their own language about publishing issues in Vietnam.
* Give delegates an opportunity to present to the other groups – stay quiet until the end of the sessions before you ask questions; do not try and be too clever.
* Take enough business cards! It’s common practice in the Far East to ask for a business card at a first meeting; people may feel slighted if you run out.
We were told that it is common in Vietnam for delegates not to turn up after day one if they’re not impressed. Well, believe it or not, I counted 39 heads on the final day of the course; one ‘uninvited’ body had sneaked into the room. The newcomer even asked Ted and myself for our business cards, I swear!
If the delegates invite you to participate in a drinking contest (Hanoi beer) on the last day of the course, do not do it.
Oh, by the way, Ted and I won it; the result was never in doubt, although we are both past our prime…
|Patrick and Ted would particularly like to thank Nguyen Anh Tuan, Nguyen Phong Doanh and Le My Ai Linh for their hospitality.|