I’m pretty good at following up right after blogging about posting weekly on here missing the next week. I did have a reasonable for me excuse though: I spent 1.5 weeks writing a speech for my friends’ wedding in Santa Barbara that I delivered this past weekend.
I have a love/distaste relationship with public speaking. It’s usually stressful for me to think about it, and immediately before it happens I hate life in that moment. During the performance I’m usually pretty neutral though. Depending on my preparation it either goes smooth, or at least good enough. I’ve learned from watching others that even if you appear nervous no one really holds it against you, and in fact it often buys a little sympathy. Nothing beats the aftermath of feeling like you gave a great performance though.
I can understand why comedians, singers, etc. do what they do even though it can be stressful. In highschool I was forced to take speech class and I encountered these mixed feelings every few weeks. My natural style that I can’t avoid was explained to me as dry humour.
I’ve learned that certain styles come to people in everything that they do. In poker and trading I tried every strategy: crazy aggressive, very conservative, middle of the road etc. Even though I often wanted to be ultra conservative never losing money and just waiting for the easy situations, I couldn’t do that. I always gravitated towards the riskier end of the spectrum going after almost every edge that I could find. Even though I would get more volatility by going after the 1-2% edges, I would also never miss the 10-50% that came along as well that I second guessed when I was playing things too tight. You can be successful in games and life with so many strategies, and the sooner I realized my disposition I was able to relax and get into a better flow.
When it comes to public speaking I realized that since I’m not a very animated person I have to accept that my speech is going to be taken in a more serious manner. As much as I’d love to be jumping around and animated like Kevin Hart or Dave Chappelle, it’s not going to happen. My disposition in life is that I really don’t take things that seriously though, so I can’t help but slip in some subtle humour if possible.
Writing this wedding speech was one of the first times I actually visualized everyone laughing and how much they would love it. I really thought that it was funny and interesting, which I think was a good frame of mind to be writing a speech. I stopped myself a few times while writing though and imagined that no one laughed at all just to prepare myself for that possible outcome. Who the hell am I to think that my writing is brilliant and witty, let alone my presentation skills that complete strangers are going to be tearing up in laughter? I finally resolved to keep my headspace in the middle ground; someone will probably laugh, even if many of the attendees have no clue what I’m referring to with the inside jokes.
Besides going through several drafts of writing, I also practiced presenting it out loud which helped a lot, particularly with my confidence giving it in front of 60 or so people. I realized how important it is for me to prepare for speeches. It’s literally the difference between a semi-traumatic experience, and one that I can somewhat enjoy.
Ironically after all of this prep and being completely ignorant of how weddings work I asked one of my friends at the wedding dinner when everyone would be presenting speeches. He gave me a surprised look, and ushered me quickly to the Wedding Planner. The Wedding Planner shot the idea down immediately, insisting that the father of the groom (one of my closest friends) was the only one giving a speech. The idea of being off the hook from delivering the speech was very alluring, especially if it didn’t feel like my fault.
My friend gave her a quick persuasion that she should allow it to happen, and she agreed to ask the wedding party if it would be ok. Presented with a plausible reason to not do the speech I asked my friend if perhaps I shouldn’t upstage the groom’s father? Internally I felt a battle between the fear of giving the speech, and the fear of remorse from putting together a speech for one of my best friend’s wedding only to chicken out. Luckily my friend refused to let me back out, and the wedding planner reluctantly came back giving me the ok.
Sitting back down at the dinner I glanced at my wine glass that was overly full, and embarrassed myself by giving into taking half of it down in a big gulp. I rarely drink these days, often going weeks without a drink, so I knew I was straddling a fine line between liquid courage and disaster.
About 15 minutes after the father of the groom gave his talk, during the middle of the second course, I was ushered up to the middle of the room to give my speech. Taking precautions against nervousness/presentation ability/unknown I formatted my speech as a letter written to me by my friend about what to say at the wedding that I would read. This gave me some confidence that no matter what happened, worst case I just needed the ability to read and speak into a microphone.
Fortunately as the first joke rolled off I could hear a fair amount of laughs, and then before I even got to the next funny part people started laughing at whatever I was saying as well. People couldn’t tell what I meant to be funny, but in a good way. There were a lot of laughs during what to me were random parts, as well as no laughs during what I thought would be the big jokes. Once the laughs started coming I felt calm, and even tried to pace the flow of speech depending on how the audience was reacting. When I finished I got a big applause, and couldn’t believe that I almost tried to slither out from giving the speech.
During the evening I got a lot great compliments about the speech, and people kept asking me if my friend actually wrote the letter, or if I made it up. I certainly tried to channel my friend’s voice in the letter, sprinkling some subtle language that he distinctly uses, but I didn’t think people would actually think it was him. To me that was a great compliment, and made me realize that from blogging and my occasional spats writing fiction that my abilities have greatly improved. With these blog posts I often just put out into the world whatever is on my mind, but when I truly hone in on a piece of writing it revitalized my confidence that I can produce something good.
Outside of the speech, I had a phenomenal time catching up with old co-workers from my trading days, as well as other long-time acquaintances from days in Chicago. It was really interesting seeing how many of these (the company was pretty much all men) guys that were fired or laid off from the competitive world of options market making ended up becoming millionaires in different fields. Besides just the benchmark of money, many of them also now have great families, creative lives, etc.
On my data science front I’m teaming up with my brother to do a machine learning competition to predict what Zillow will assess a property value vs. what it actually ends up selling for. There’s big money involved to the winners ($1,000,000), but for me it’s going to be a great way to get to the current state of the art methods in this area. Machine Learning/Deep Learning/AI is advancing monthly, so doing these competitions where people are incentivized by money and competition brings out the best techniques. One of the things that I most love about this industry too is that people share. On Kaggle you can find solutions that you can copy to get a respectable score, of course not as good as the super tricks that the winners end up deploying, but often very close. When the competitions are over the winners often share their solution too which is fun to read after you’ve given it a shot.
During the drive back north from Santa Barbara we took a detour and stopped at Hearst Castle, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. One of my favorite autobiographies of all time is J. Paul Getty (famous from the Getty Museum) As I See It — Getty
who intrigued me with his hints of jealousy regarding how awesome William Randolph Hearst’s Caste was.
Hearst Castle definitely delivered! I’ve met several billionaires and many wealthy people during my life, but Hearst had a level of extravagance that I have never seen. If you get the chance to visit I would highly recommend. It was donated to the state of California, and even though they charge $25 a tour, it’s totally worth it. I’ll leave you with a picture of the main house.