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What I Learned This Week: The Importance (and Fun) of Verbal Defence

10/28/2013 12:24 EDT | Updated 12/28/2013 05:12 EST

As mentioned in this very space this time a week ago, I spent last Sunday evening giving a speech at the Consumer Goods Forum International Conference. Subject of said speech was actually culled and expanded from an original blog post here a little while back, in essence trying to explain to a gaggle of global foodstuff execs that "The process and stories behind their products are every bit as important as the products themselves."

Since I was the final speaker on a very long day spent inside a windowless hotel ballroom (or as I put it in my opening words: "The barrier now standing between you and freedom"), I knew I would have to pump up the volume and the energy a notch or two to get my point through. Despite the hurdle, I thought I did quite well, and hoped that at least some of the fatigued gathering retained and benefited from the message.

Cut to the next night, a little more than 28 hours later, when I'm walking my dogs near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. A few people wearing nametags were huddled outside the museum before boarding a bus waiting to take them back to their hotel. As I walked by, one of them called out to me:

"Hey Mr. Nulman! What are you doing here?"

I looked up and recognized the tags, and some of the faces, from the conference the day before. After exchanging niceties, I explained that I lived two blocks away, and that this route was a nightly ritual for me and my dogs. A few more people, exiting from the conference event being held inside the museum, joined the conversation. One of them had perhaps a little too much to drink and recalling my words, smirkingly asked:

"So...is there a story behind the jacket you're wearing?"

Well, at least the message got through to this guy.

And luckily, there was indeed a story behind the puffy black jacket on my back. I had bought it in New York at the Japanese retailer Uniqlo specifically for a trip to Kenya, needing something warm for the cold safari nights but small enough to fit into limited baggage space. Given that this down-filled beauty rolled up into a bag the size of a small loaf of bread made it ideal for my trip...and for this impromptu street-side story-telling challenge.

"And what about your dogs?" the guy continued. "Is there a story behind them?"

Thanks for the lob ball my friend. Indeed, both Shaydee (my beagle/spaniel mix, born from an indiscreet kennel affair between a friend's dog and some horny pup they all thought was neutered, and the first dog I ever held in my ams) and Rawqui (the wheaton/poodle mix we saved from certain euthanasia, coming to us as a last-ditch attempt to find a home, malnourished and sickly but adorable, on a late Sunday night a few years ago) had pedigrees of compelling tales for me to tell.

Given my three strikes, the guy was out of the conversation and onto the bus. His conference colleagues apologized somewhat on his behalf, but there was no need...for the encounter had actually left me buoyant and energized. What's more, his test was the root of this week's lesson, namely:

You can say whatever the hell you want...but you'd better be ready to defend it.

These days, with so many avenues of "talk" (including this blog), we are going through an unparalleled era of free expression.

But with this exponential explosion of expression comes the almost immediate counter-attack of disbelief. Most people don't merely accept and believe what they're told anymore. What's more, since communication lines now go (at least!) two ways, people feel empowered -- perhaps even expected! -- to challenge what they're told.

Even if it's as innocuous as a platitude at a business conference.

And even if it's in a setting as unlikely as a late-night urban dog walk.

So the learning of the week goes to the root of this blog:

Being able to say something is exciting and liberating...but being able to successfully defend it is even better.

So...any takers?