Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I have a talk

Tonight I had a five-minute talk to present.  I've known about it for a little more than a week, but -- typically -- I waited until the last minute to prepare it.  I even had off work yesterday ALL DAY and I didn't spend any time preparing.  At 10 PM I started reading the source material, and organizing my thoughts a little until I was too exhausted at 10:45 and I had to go to sleep.  I woke up at 6:30 (which is not enough sleep for me) and fleshed the rest of it out, making myself 20 minutes late for work in the process.  But at least it was done.  So I thought.

The meeting starts at 7:30 PM and I want to be early so I can rehearse a couple times before delivering it.  So I need to leave the house at 6:45 and that should be fine.  I called the other lady who normally rides in my car and explained we would be leaving a little earlier than usual.  At 6:45 I was ready to walk out the door, just need to print it out and off we go.


Something about the print server.  It won't print.  Reboot.  It won't print.  Gnash teeth.  It won't print.  Consider writing it out longhand as a last resort.  No, not enough time.  The other lady is waiting for me outside and it's probably raining and there's not enough time for writing it out.  Think.  Think.  Ugh, I can't think when I'm panicked.  What time is it?  Ack!  It's 6:55 and I was supposed to leave ten minutes ago.  Do I have a fax machine I can fax it to?  Then the fax machine can stand in as my "printer."  Think.  No fax machine.  I have a fax number, but it's a "virtual fax" that delivers an image to my mailbox.  No good for printing.

Ah! I know! They have a computer at the meeting site.  It's an old computer, might not have Word or a USB port.... I'll have to format it in RTF so old software will be able to read it, and I'll have to find a floppy.  Good, found a floppy.  This one should be blank I think.  Put the disk in my computer.  Doh.  They don't sell computers with floppy drives in them anymore.  I don't have a floppy drive anywhere.  (Then why do I still have all these floppy disks in my office??  Not now.  Decluttering the office will have to wait.)  Darn, it's 7:00 now and anyone I can call for help has already left for the meeting.  Why did I do this to myself?  If only I had prepared better, I could have prevented all this anguish.  Who can I call?  Who can fix my print server error message?  Nobody. What an odd feeling -- normally *I'M* the one fixing my friends' computer frustrations. I've been using computers since I was 11 and I've never had a printer error that I couldn't fix. I heard a lot of stories in college like this - frantic students struggling to print the term paper that is due by midnight... but I've never personally experienced anything like this.  Who can print this for me?  Who has access to email so I can send the file, is coming to the same meeting tonight, AND has not already left for the meeting that begins in a half-hour?  STEVE!

"Hi Steve, are you going to the meeting tonight?"
"We sure are."
"Oh, good, because I've got a printer meltdown and I have to give this talk tonight."
"Just email it to me. I'll print it out for you and give it to you when I get there."
"Okay, thanks!  Bye!"

Quick, get the books, get the keys, grab these papers, go to the door, set the alarm, no - I don't need these papers, toss them back in the house, lock the door, and dash to the car.  Pick up the lady who's been waiting for 15 minutes outside, apologize for asking her to be ready so early, and call Steve to make sure he was successful.  That way I can still turn around and resort to handwriting my notes if needed.  Where's my cell phone?  Argh! I left it on the table.  That's okay, I have my company cell phone right here.  Um, Steve's phone number isn't in this phone.  I think I know it.  Two wrong numbers - okay, I guess I don't know it.  Who DOES know it?  Whose number can I recall from memory who will have Steve's number, who has NOT left for the meeting yet?  The lady in the passenger seat knows one number we can try.  Whew, okay, will you dial it please?

"Hi Ter, it's Jen"
"Oh, hi Jen, how are ya?"
"Well, I'm quite anxious because I've got a printer crisis and a talk to give tonight and I need Steve's help.  Do you happen to have his number?"
"Right here."
"Thanks, bye!"

Man, I had been so close.  That 3 should have been an 8 and I would have had the number myself the first time.  Dial Steve.  He got it.  He's bringing the prinouts.  Okay.  Converse with my poor passenger and for the rest of the ride reassure myself out loud that everything's going to be okay.  And anyway there's no point being anxious now because there's nothing more I can do until Steve gets to the meeting with the papers.

We arrive at the meeting at 7:15 and I had conversations that I don't remember now.  I notice at some point that one of the books I'll need for my talk is in Spanish -- I've brought the wrong book.  I borrow someone else's copy.  Finally Steve arrives, I thank him again, and go downstairs to rehearse.  They won't need me till 8:00 or so, and I haven't even timed my talk yet to see if it's within the strict five-minute limit.  I wish I brought a timer.  The thought crossed my mind during the rush to leave the house, but clearly I forgot it in the end.

First run through the talk, with lots of stopping for explanation and adjustment and such, takes ten minutes.  Yikes, this is way too long.  I can cut this -- and this.  Try again, timing carefully.  Four and a half minutes later I'm nowhere near the conclusion.  Cut that right there and let's see if that's enough.  Try again.  After three minutes, I'm not halfway through the material yet.  But I'm not sure I counted the time right because my watch doesn't have the best kind of markings for this sort of thing.  I knew I should have brought a timer.  Start over and time it even more carefully, calling out each minute mark verbally to be sure I don't mis-count again.  At the four-minute mark, I should be beginning my conclusion and I'm not even close!  Okay, fine, let's keep going and see how much I am overtime.  It's six minutes long.  I have to cut off a whole minute.  Holy mackerel, I have to cut something substantial.  Think out loud, re-state the main points and see if I can cut this section and also that section without undermining the logic of those main points.  Uh huh, explain to myself why those two sections can safely be cut.  Yup, with those two sections gone I think this should be better.  Let's run through it again to make sure.

The "one last" run-through doesn't happen though, because right then the door opens, the man points to the ceiling, and says "they're calling for you upstairs!"
"No.  You're kidding."
"No!  They're calling for you."

The clock says 8:05 -- where did the time go?? as I scoop my papers and books and bound up the stairs.  There's another part being given now.  They've quickly adjusted the sequence to put on someone else in my time slot and I will go on afterwards.  I'm relieved that there's not any dead airtime waiting for me to get there.  Stand in the back and wait for her part to finish so I don't distract anybody unnecessarily.  During that standing-in-the-back time, I whisper to the man who retrieved me: "Did they really call for me and call for me and look around and so everyone knows I was downstairs?"  Yep, really.  I'm mortified.

Okay, she's done.  The chairman thanks her and begins his transition, so I need to make my way up front now.  I get to my spot, and smile while the meeting is handed over to me.  Give my talk.  I'm in the zone - it goes great.  I'm speaking in a smooth conversational manner, I can hear it in my own ears that it's sounding good.  It seems like I just got started and I hear myself starting the conclusion.  Boy, five minutes is not a long time to develop things is it?  For a half-second I find myself thinking maybe I cut too much, but no way.  No way.  I needed to shave a minute and I'm sure those last two pieces were a minute of material.  I finish, and the chairman thanks me and I return to my seat WITHOUT the chairman rapping his pen on the chair, which is what he does when you go overtime.  Okay, so I must not have gone overtime.  Good.

I sit in my chair for the next fifteen minutes of the meeting but I'm still wired.  I never had a chance to unwind all that anxiety that had been building since 6:45.  Or really, since last night when I realized I had a talk that was not even begun yet.  I have to talk to someone.  The chairman is done with his duties for the night, so maybe he's in the back of the hall and I can go talk to him.  Oooh, he IS back there.  I didn't actually expect him to be there.  I tell him how horrible I feel about being absent when he was depending on me to be there.  He pokes a tiny bit of fun and assures me that everything's fine, the schedule didn't suffer, stop beating yourself up, and anyway you did just great up there.  He goes back to his seat and I don't feel better yet.  Still wired.  My eyes are moist, maybe I need to cry.  Yeah, I need to tell someone to keep me accountable.  Don't let me do this again, because this is the second time in a row I've handled my talks poorly.  I should have learned this lesson the last time and clearly I didn't.  I'm gonna go downstairs and cry and think about who I can unburden on.

Walk down the stairs.  Shucks, there's someone already down here.  Need an excuse.  Ah, yes, I took that pencil out while we were practicing before and I didn't put it away.  I'll go put it away.  It's not very sharp anymore though - I should probably sharpen it so that the next person who needs it will find a nice sharp usable pencil just as I had found.  Ask the other person down here if we have a pencil sharpener.  He opens and closes drawers and declares that we don't.  Wipe my eyes because now they're welling up and maybe he will notice I'm tearful and he'll let me talk to him.  He doesn't notice.  He leaves.

I sit down and cry a few little tears of regret -- I feel so stupid for going through all this anxiety when it was perfectly preventable.  And it's the second time in a row I've done this.  I promised myself the LAST time that I wouldn't make the same mistake again.  And I'm embarrassed because after the meeting surely everyone's going to have to make some comment about how I wasn't upstairs when I needed to be.  Then I pull myself together.  After all this is not a really big deal.  It's not worth the time I'm spending now wallowing in self-pity, and not even close to being worth these tears.  Sniffle, blow my nose, check the mirror to be sure my eyes aren't red from crying, and go back upstairs.  At the top of the stairs I realize I still can't go back to my seat because I'm still too wired.  There's not much to distract you when you sit so close to the front, and at least if I stay standing back here I can look at the whole hall and keep my mind busy by watching all the people and the comings and goings at the door.  I certainly couldn't sit and pay attention to the speaker with my mind racing like it is now.

After some time in the back, hey, the meeting's ending in fifteen minutes.  I better go sit down and pay attention or I will have missed practically the whole thing.  And before I knew it, the meeting was over.  After the dismissal, I make a conscious effort to hide my feelings of self-doubt and just thank people when they tell me I did a good job.  Resist the temptation to blurt out how HARD my night had been.  They don't need to know -- just let them think I was really just as relaxed as I looked on stage.

Then Dee tells me I did well.  I know Dee gets super-nervous when she has talks.  I've helped her prepare once before, and when we worked on it together I made sure we were prepared days and days ahead of time to minimize her anxiety.  Just now it dawns on me that the "special" effort I put forth in that instance is really what I SHOULD be doing all the time.  Tell Dee everything.  With the timeline even.  Ask if she'll keep me accountable next time, call me weeks before my talk and start asking questions to force me to start working on it.  I want her to demand a written outline, like a schoolteacher would do.  I really want her to force me to prepare well next time.  She starts to see I'm serious and okay, she agrees to help.

So now I can finally, finally relax.  It's 9:45 and I've been stressed for three hours straight, but now I have a solution.  Even though I've done this same mistake two times in a row now, I feel like I really learned from the experience because I've put a safety net in place and I can be sure it will be better next time.

And not one person commented about my horrifying absence.  What a great crowd.


  1. How stressful. On the bright side, you weren't working on a closing argument to a case in which the lives of two youths dangled in the balance.

  2. It is said that most people work well under pressure, but I don't believe this is the kind of pressure they meant! LOL. wow. I sure am glad you were still able to give your talk, had an obviously understanding assistant & school overseer, & ALSO the ability to learn from the experience. Most people can't do that; not humble enough. It's great you have a friend like Dee. She no doubt feels you're wonderful too: )

  3. I've had similar experiences and promised to do better. Now, let's see if I can borrow some of your stress to make the adjustments to my own preparation. What a loving congregation to have just known when not to tease you. I love having you as my friend-so sincere and well meaning.

  4. Aww... sounds like you're going through a rough time right now! Preparation really does cut the stress to manageable levels. I'm a hideous procrastinator myself, so I should know!

  5. Hey, you're normal like the rest of us. Yippee! 5,000,000 years from now, you will have a funny story to share right after the one where someone accidently had their skirt tucked into their panties and walked to the front where they are suppose to sit. Fortunately the person sitting behind them said something, but still they had already walked to the front. Not me, my aunt.