You’ve literally had weeks to get your shit in order. There have been countless meetings in which all the materials have been changed, changed back, and then altered a dozen more times. But for some reason here we sit at 4:45PM the day before the goddamned meeting starts waiting on “final final” changes so we can go forth and kill a few dozen trees in this mad quest to build the Briefing that Saved the World.

Here’s the secret I’ve learned after sitting through, easily, hundreds of very similar gatherings of the great and the good: What you have written on the slides generally doesn’t matter all that much. Conveying information isn’t about the damned slides. It’s about what you say, how you say it, your body language, and the connection you can forge with the person you’re trying to communicate with in the few minutes you’re in front of them. By contrast, 75% of the handouts you’ve slaved over are going to end up in the trash can. If your audience is polite they’ll at least wait until they’ve left the room to throw them away.

I’ve often theorized that if people knew how much time (and salary dollars) were wasted in the endless transition of “happy” to “glad” or trying to pick out just the perfect shade of blue, they’d rise up in bloody revolt. They’d be well justified.

Slide monkey…

Being the designated slide monkey, there are an outsized number of meetings I sit in for no other reason than they need someone well trained and fully capable of hitting the forward arrow and advancing to the next slide. I’m mostly resigned to that being my fate for the foreseeable future. Whatever. As long as the checks don’t start bouncing, what the hell do I care about how my time is allocated, right?

Human Chess.jpg

It’s a rare day when something in a meeting catches me off guard. This last couple of weeks, though, has been a string of exactly that – surprise piled on surprise. Today I had the distinction of being designed “the human forward arrow.” This distinction comes along with the mission of flipping the three foot by five foot printed foam core posters that we’ll be using this week to replace the information that every other office on the planet would present using some kind of electronic presentation tool.

I’m fairly sure that this isn’t what anyone meant when they said we should think about briefing information without using PowerPoint. Taking what would be projected on three 60-inch monitors and printing it on one 60-inch poster doesn’t quite feel like fully embracing the call to do things differently.

Then again, what do I know. I’m just this meeting’s equivalent of a pawn on a human chess board.

Not much fear, but a shit ton of loathing…

Today, perhaps as much as or even more than any other, reflects one of the biggest reasons I’ve learned to loath Monday through Friday. Sit back and let me tell you a little story…

It was supposed to be a run of the mill briefing. Spend an hour talking about Topic A, find out the new whims of the powers at echelons higher than reality, and drive on smartly towards the finish line. A few hours before show time, they also added Topic B to the lineup. That’s fine. A little bit of fiddling with the material and all will be well. Thirty minutes after that they announced the need for a pre-meeting meeting. Fine. Good. Let’s talk about what we’re going to talk about. Ten minutes later, a message comes out adding an additional 30 minutes to the meeting. Now we’re weighing in at 90 minutes with Topics A, B, and C. Finally, an hour before everything is theoretically supposed to be in place, the final call comes that we’ll really be discussing Topics A, B, C, and D so please have that prepped and printed in the next 30 minutes. Also, your 60 minute meeting is now scheduled for 120 minutes.

At the appointed time, the people gather – the deputies, and strap hangers, and clerks, and slide flippers, and administrators that accompany every movement of important people. The court of a minor royal house, if you will. And then, when all were assembled and the proceedings were just getting underway, the Gods on Olympus decided to take a pass. More commandments would be issued. More perfect explanations offered. And opportunities to revise and extend remarks concerning Topics A, B, C, and D would be offered before laying the motion to reconsider back upon the table.

Fuck all if we don’t make every little thing 10 or 100 or 1000 times harder than it needs to be if you’d just let common sense prevail instead of spending all day every day worried about what asses need covered and which ones need kissed. I use to be good at just turning off my brain and letting the stupid flow over and around me like a river in spring flood. The older I get, though, the harder it seems to keep my mouth shut and my own ass out if trouble. At this rate I can’t even begin to imagine the things that will come flying out of my mouth 17 years and 11 months from now when self-preservation is no longer an operational consideration.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Strike 3. With the USPS fighting for it’s life, one of the simple issues they could work on is get things from Point A to Point B when they say they will. The last three items I ordered online that were shipped through USPS all encountered inexplicable delays. Maybe I’m just finicky, but when I pay for second day arrival, I generally expect to get my items two days after I ordered them. It doesn’t feel like that’s an unreasonable expectation. I know it’s a trifle, but logging in to a website a day or two after the “guaranteed arrival date” and still wondering where the hell my package is is just infuriating and just one of the many reasons I don’t use USPS when I have an option. On time and to standard; that’s the way to build a happy customer based. What USPS is doing is pretty much just telling me that they’ve given up.

2. Mission: Impossible. When the assigned mission is to give a 3 minute presentation about what you’re working on, that’s what you should do. Actually, you should wrap it up in two minutes, thirty seconds to allow a moment for questions, but that’s not the point. What you shouldn’t do is ramble all over the damned world while everyone’s eyes glaze over in benign indifference. Remember, it’s called a “brief” for a reason.

3. Dropped calls. Cell phones drop calls. Since they’re magically connecting to far away towers without the benefit of wires, I’ve learned to accept that limitation. When using a land line to connect to another land line, there’s just no justification for dropping the call not once, not twice, not thrice, but four effing times in the span of 35 minutes. After attempt four failed to take hold for more than three minutes, I officially lost interest in whatever was being said. If it appeared to anyone that I had thrown my hands in the air like I just don’t care, well, there’s a good reason it looked like that.

Hot sweaty death by PowerPoint…

I’ve never really understood the need of management to convey information by jamming as many people as possible into a room and then throwing PowerPoint charts at them until they want to gouge out their own eyes. These events are even more near and dear to my heart when the information could have been just as easily sent to me by email so I could read it at a convenient time rather than rejiggering my calendar to free up three hours in the middle of the week – a task I accomplished by cancelling my one actual productive meeting this week.

As a rule, 120 slides constitute just a few too many in any presentation. That’s doubly true when 31 of those slides fall into the “org chart/wire diagram” category. 1) Nobody in the room can read the eight point font used to squeeze that graphic onto the slide and 2) After ten or twelve wire diagrams, they all look exactly the same. That’s just an observation from a guy sitting in the back rows, so take it for what it’s worth.

When I’m proclaimed King of the Bureaucrats, my first edict from on high will be a proclamation that no briefing will use more than five slides. Ever. If you can’t distill the essence of what you’re trying to convey into five or fewer slides or (gasp) talk about your idea without the visual aids, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll think you don’t know what you’re talking about and will be sorely tempted to send you to sleep with the fishes. Since I’m somewhere just above the janitorial staff on one of those 31 org charts we saw, I suppose everyone is safe for the time being.

But you’ve all been warned. Oh yes, you’ve all been warned.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

A matter of trust…

After more years than I care to think about in service, there comes a point when the operational assumption should be that you know more or less what you’re doing. Sure, that’s probably not true for some people, but I’m fairly sure that I’ve earned enough stripes to be at least considered competent in most situations. Sure, I’m not going to be the most dynamic presenter or dazzle them with the brilliance of my PowerPoint slides, but I’ll get the meat of the matter across in a clear and concise way that our glorious leaders should at least find informative and useful.

I’m absolutely not asking for carte blanche to do whatever I feel like doing, but I think a reasonable basis to proceed would be to start with the premise that I know how to build slides using a template, I have a better than average grip on the subject matter, and won’t, as a rule, say things to the most senior of senior leaders that would reflect badly on me, you, or the 4 layers of management between me and the guy at the end of the table. As I’ve said before, my goal is to do whatever is going to cause me the least grief in the long run. I believe strongly in the importance of self preservation. In this case, that would involve making a solid enough presentation that the number of questions at the end will be held to a minimum. I know I’m still pretty new in this office, but at some point you’re going to have to trust that I’m not going to walk in and call the Old Man an asshat and piss my pants.

If nothing else, let us consider that I’m going to be the lowest graded guy in the room by a country mile. The chances of the mighty and powerful jumping up and down on my head for a minor mistake are between slim and none. If the worst happens and I completely lose the bubble, you can always blame it on me as the new guy, so really, no matter how it goes, the bases are all covered.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Prep time…

We’ve been over this 20 slide PowerPoint presentation four times now. The last “dry run” – which lasted just shy of three hours – cost about $3500 when you account for the labor cost and overhead of the nine people who were stuck in the room listening to the Uberboss dither about changing “happy” to “glad” and deciding that he didn’t like sentences that he personally added to the charts three days ago. The lunatics are plainly in charge of our asylum.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.