“Don’t worry, Vijay will help you,” said the boss.
The third person in the room was a senior scientist, RK, who had flown in from another city that very morning. Our company had just won a major government award. The government expected “a senior representative” to go to the capital, make a presentation at a five-star gathering and accept the award.
The boss could have done this in his sleep. Clearly, he didn’t want to go and was persuading RK to do it.
When I walked into the conference room, I found RK, usually a lion in the setting, too upset even for a meow. The poor fellow had never made a presentation in his life and now he was to represent the company before the nation?
His protests were not making any impression. Boss had tossed me in with sundry other carrots to boost RK’s morale.
I put on my best confidence-inspiring smile but must have failed to look very reassuring. I had less than a week to write a script, gather the slides, put together a presentation and give my shaky senior colleague enough time to practice.
In case you have not seen many moons, those days to make your point with power you used slides, all of 35 mm, and not soft in any way.
Let me fast forward to the afternoon before the function. RK had just finished going through the script for the umpteenth time. I had marked every slide transition point on the script. He had added his own marks—“pause”, “look up and smile”, “turn around and look at screen”, etc.
After the last two rehearsals went without a glitch, he very pointedly put the script down.
“I am ready, Vijay. Let’s do it.” We shook hands vigorously. That was certainly not the moment to tell him I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
That feeling flexed its evil muscles when I dropped my pen just as I was about to step out of the house to go to the airport. As I reached for the pen under the sofa, I found a slide right next to the pen. I must have dropped it when I was checking the set for the last time. Was it from the main carousel or the backup? I did not have the time to unpack and check.
Finally, we were in the hall. It was packed to capacity with VIPs of all shades—politicians in white, CEOs in suits and women in dazzling silks.
Our presentation was immediately before the mid-morning tea break. RK wished me the best and wandered off to his assigned seat. I strategically positioned myself right behind the person who looked to be in charge of the audio, lights and, most importantly, the projector.
As the speeches droned on, my throat went dry. There was a handheld control device on the podium. Every speaker was using it to advance to the next slide at the right time. It was very commonplace, but good old RK had all along refused to do this on his own, claiming it would distract him.
(Again, for the benefit of the moon-deficient, those days everything was wired. Bluetooth was a terrible dental condition; if you were wireless, you just called up the electrician to remedy the situation.)
“Do you have a spare control switch? Something I can use to advance the slides sitting here?” I was very polite.
“Are you the speaker?” No. “So, there is a control there for the speaker.”
Not in control
I decided to warn RK, instead. He was next. I positioned myself to waylay him as he came to the podium.
“What control? I can’t do anything. You do it. Don’t make me nervous now,” and he was off.
This was getting out of hand. I looked for the operator hoping for some kind of help. He was busy chatting with someone. The carousel was not on the projector.
Abandoning all attempts at stealth and throwing civility to the wind, I ran to the operator and shouted at him to get the carousel on. He was shocked and did so without a word. Then in a huff, he walked off.
Vaguely, my mind registered that RK had begun his speech. I raced to the podium and right from under his nose, got hold of the control. Horrors! The wire was too short. I had no option but to stand a couple of feet away from RK.
Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of my plight, RK was lost in his speech. He was a few lines away from the point where he was supposed to look up at the audience and draw their attention to a particular slide.
I raced through slides 1 to 7 and in the nick of time got the right slide on, just as he looked back with practiced ease.
He turned back and saw me standing right in front of him. For a moment, he looked puzzled. Then he returned to his speech and I continued to follow him, looking at my copy, mechanically pressing the switch to advance the slide at all the right moments. From that moment on RK stopped looking at the audience. He was delivering his speech to me; we might as well have been back in the office conference room.
After a couple of pages, I regained enough of my breath and some awareness of my situation. I still had six pages to go. The best I could do was sort of crouch. Hopefully, that would keep me out of the photographs. And crouch I did, as if that was the most natural thing to do, my back to some 2,000 VIPs at that five-star award function.
Take a bow, slide mover
After the speech ended, RK presented the audience his best smile and I turned around expecting everyone to start applauding. There was absolute silence. For some reason everyone was looking at me, or so I felt.
Blinded by all the blood rushing to my head, I stumbled to a seat, any seat. I dared not look at anyone.
I worked with RK for some more years. Neither of us ever mentioned that presentation, his first and last. However, I had to endure the shudders for some more time—when I did a cover story on that award for the house magazine, whenever I passed the plaque winking at me from the corporate showcase and whenever I came across that stack of slides in my collection.