“The Judge’s mind would have already wandered into his lunch box or what would his wife be expecting for her birthday”. A lawyer was explaining to me what happens when a hapless is judge is compelled to listen to dull and uninteresting arguments. I remembered this when I was sitting thru one corporate meeting.
Now, Corporate India strongly believes in Meetings splattered liberally with Power Point Presentations. So every executive has to master the art of simultaneously staring at the screen and audience in smooth swiveling movement and also communicating something. While today’s generation start on power point the moment they give up feeding bottle, late starters like me ( don’t remember if I drank out of such bottles- too expensive then) fumble and wonder helplessly whether to stare at the screen or the print out in front or brave it out spouting what reaches the tongue directly- by passing the brain.
The Meeting Agenda contained around 150 slides –some of which were packed with dense writing. If we gave two minutes per slide, my rough calculation was that it should run for an uninterrupted 5 hours. Indians are not known to listen without interruption for more than two minutes unless the speaker was enclosed in a television screen and was a character in a serial. So my estimate was that the meeting should run for 8 hours.
Our business leaders can’t be faulted for lack of ambition. So the meeting timetable indicated commencement at 10 a.m. with thirty minute fixed slot for each individual. I still believe that such ambition is important as meeting without timetable (I have seen enough of that) represents a train journey where only the starting point and destination is fixed, the rest of it is left open. However at 10.00 am only one executive was sitting in the conference room with a pad spread in front of him. I wondered why he had come so early- was he escaping from some pesky call from our Plant?
Around 10.30 the attendees were seen hanging around the conference room seriously chit chatting (whether Sachin would score century, what would the Union Budget bring). I felt the Meeting had picked up tempo. I wondered whether it was time to walk briskly towards the conference room clutching few papers in a determined manner. During this brisk and brief morning walk, I have to be seen communicating with a reasonably senior executive on a seemingly vital and confidential issue. I was trying to settle between two equally senior execs when I saw that the Big B had just made an entry in the Office premises. The die was then cast.
Clutching a few papers, I way laid a senor chap to ask about his inward flight (keeping a serious demeanor) and then walked with determined steps towards the conference room. I plumped for a place not too far from the door ( so that I can rush out staring intently at the hand phone – mobile for uninitiated- seemingly to attend to some terribly important business , but really to escape ennui). It was now time to look serious and committed to the business at hand. I flipped thru the papers I had, read thru my PPT for the first time (some one more knowledgeable had prepared it for me.)
The Meeting started in time – only 40 minutes late- with the first item on agenda. I won the bet I had laid with myself that the third item in the first slide is where the train would halt l due to chain pulling. Now every meeting has ‘chain pullers”. These are those up and coming executives who have a compelling need to express their view somewhere early in the meeting. There is a knack in being first to pull the chain ( somewhat akin to suddenly jumping up in a running express train and pulling the chain hard and long) which comes out of long experience. The second puller, chafing at missing this chance, is determined to derail at least one wheel of the meeting. Now, the meeting meanders into bye lanes. We have got down from the train and have started staring the scenery around.
Now, there is something in our genetic build up ( or is it build down) that prevents us from focusing on the agenda or sticking to any kind of timetable. Bhagavad Gita and other Indian religious texts have taught us that many things are timeless in India- our ambitious executives have added meetings in this category. Since it is our habit to blame external sources for our faults, I will ascribe this trait to our education system.
Every topic has to reach a finite level- which it reached after 90 minutes and then the derailed wheel came back to track. Now from a passenger train, the meeting picked up the speed of Rajdhani. Slides started flowing thru the large Sony 56 inch Monitor. Some densely packed slides were not readable. So some portion were read out to the audience gaping at the screen.
I was now waiting for some one to display his prowess in understanding and questioning these dense slides (meant mostly to confuse and confound ignorant audience). The trick is to intently listen to the speaker, allow him to go half way into the next or its subsequent slide and then tell him or her-“ go back to previous slide- no, no the earlier one”. This continues to be an impressive three card trick.
By now, I have seemingly received two calls on my hand phone and rushed out of the room for a mental and physical break . I had erased mental images of shutting my eyes after stretching my legs in one of the suites of Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur ( I will do this one day) listening to the latest soft romantic songs which are played in FM radio in between endless , silly chatter by RJs.
Every meeting has a turning point. There would be some one who has come to the meeting without wearing Kevlar Vests (bullet proof coverings). He would suddenly face a barrage of freshly loaded bullets. On the defensive, the person would definitely be contradicted strongly on several counts. This is the wake up point.
There is one person in the whole meeting who is fully awake and alert. This person notes who has to do what post the meeting. It is essential to be on his right side and ensure that he does not enthusiastically nominate you for the wrong assignments. The idea is not to get stuck with some impossible or dead end job to be performed before the next meeting. This is a skill acquired out of participating in million such meetings .
I was wondering which movie to watch over the week end, when Big B looked shrewdly at me and dropped a bombshell about a special meeting on my sphere of influence. Now, this meeting has to be focused, stick to time, result oriented… I will run it this way only.
Would I be able to? Why should I rock the boat ?
As Scarlett says in Gone with the Wind “ Tomorrow is another day”.