June 7

The Final Slides


You’d stayed up late watching cable news, obsessed with each freshly worrisome update about growing international tensions. It was all you could do to get to work on time this morning.

Instead of a normal day, you had a training session to attend. On some level you thought the session might be more relaxing than your rush of usual tasks.

But if it was too relaxing, you might fall asleep.

When the guest speaker turned out the lights to project computer slides on the meeting room screen, you knew you were in trouble. Your eyelids grew heavy. You felt your head droop toward your chest, and jolted yourself awake.

Your whole division was here, about thirty people crowded around a long rectangular table with the screen at one end. You sat halfway down, slumping in your chair and hoping to remain unnoticed.

The topic was “Effective Public Speaking,” so of course the presenter was lousy. He enunciated in a slow monotone that exactly followed the small-print paragraphs on the screen. Too many words per slide — the lines began to blur together.

After a spiral-wipe transition effect, a clip-art light bulb filled the screen. “The best way to engage your audience,” the presenter droned, “is by encouraging active participation.” Another transition effect, and a wall of gray text filled the screen. “Unfortunately, I have a lot of information to get through in these two hours, so I’m going to need to talk through it quickly.”

The guest speaker droned on and on, and another spiral transition brought new lines of dense text. You’re so tired, almost dizzy, losing yourself in the twisting animations onscreen, the hypnotic voice of the presenter.

“Remember to move around the room, to energize your listeners.” He stepped in front of the screen, and the section you were trying to follow wrapped over his face and shirt-front, a warping shadow obscuring half the projected slide.

Another dizzying transition, and another line-art light bulb appeared to signal the next “bright idea” — which was to “Appeal to different senses by including audio and video clips.” A black media box appeared on the next slide, and the visiting expert clicked on his wireless controller to start a brief scene.

The video clip didn’t play, and the man clicked again. He got flustered, cursed under his breath, pointed again at the screen, clicked and cursed again. You’d think he would turn the light on, ask for technical assistance from an audience member, but he seemed to have forgotten everyone else in the room.

At the moment, the mad presenter reminds you of yourself, how you behaved last night as you watched the news, clicking your TV remote to change one channel to another — hoping for a better result, but getting the same depressing story on every channel.

You are getting sleepy. You feel your chin drop heavy against your chest.

The guest speaker curses, clicks, then curses again.