Pie Charts, Presentation Hell and the Mind Meringue


Pie charts at two in the morning...

I'd stared at the Powerpoint screen with sleep-bleary eyes-- briefly slipping into more soothing hallucinations of coconut cream pies...

Hot apple pies...

And any other pie that wouldn't make me label the friggin' primary and secondary axis.

Yes, I was drifting away on clouds of mind-meringue at this point. I'd been up for almost 24-hours. It was our corporate user conference. And my supervisor would be giving this very presentation... at 8am this same day.

I'd known this was coming, of course. Why, the presentation had already been approved, photocopied and bound. So naturally my boss decided that 2 am the morning of, was the perfect time to look at it and make changes.

It was some kind of Pre-Presentation Insecurity Syndrome he suffered from. Where only at the very last minute could an intelligent, gregarious and authoritarian personality appropriately channel his inner fears and deep-rooted lack of confidence...

And slough it off on down the Corporate Feudal System to us Marketing Paynims.

A skillful Upper Management Two-fer, really.

The well-conditioned paynim I was, I always questioned my own sanity during these moments. Didn't I remember getting the final approval on this presentation weeks ago?...

And then the final-final approval a few days after that?

And oh-- what about that final-final-final approval just two days ago? Where we revised the revisions of the revisions? I recalled a final-final-final-final approval for that, didn't I?

Well, the mind meringue got in the way and I figured I had to be mistaken.

So at 2am, as my supervisor peered over my shoulder breathing anticipation and cold coffee on my neck-- I figured if I could just make these last-minute additions to the revisions of the revised-revised revisions, things would finally be buttoned down.

Meringue makes you naive.

So I added the pie chart. I put in the data my supervisor requested. And waving goodnight to his beaming thanks, I staggered off to my hotel room for four gritty hours of sandman time.

Six a.m. found me groggy, but all was well. The customers seemed happy... My supervisor seemed happy.... The conference center was at Disney so cartoon bluebirds chirped and some broad in poofy sleeves was in the hall singing something thematic...

Maybe "Whistle While You Work" or "Someday My Contract Signature Will Come."

Even my supervisor's opening session started off all right...

Until we bit into the poisoned pie chart.

Now to this day, I don't know if in my weariness of the few hours before, or my desire to just get the thing done, I'd simply overlooked it...

Or if my supervisor noodled around with it some more after I left.

(Whatever, I'm fully willing to take my slice of responsibility here.)

But when the pie chart came up on the giant projection screen, the title was right... the percentages were right... but the labels read like a RandMcNally Roadmap, big as day:

East
West
North
South

Even on four hours of sleep I was pretty sure geography had very little to do with our computer software.

Well, most anyone giving this presentation would probably just look at that and try to shift quickly past it. Or perhaps just mention the labels were incorrect, tell the audience what they should be, and move on.

But remember that whole Authoritian/Insecurity Combo Pack?

My supervisor took one look at that mislabeled pie chart, stopped dead and said with the kind of melodramatic horror Vincent Price was so good at:

"This is wrong!... This isn't supposed to be this way!"

Creepy organ chords might have even played, I'm not sure anymore, I was frozen in slow-mo.

Because he met my gaze as I stood there observing from the back of the room, and he extended a shaking, accusatory finger. He tried to add a note of humor to his voice when he spoke, but it fell just a little flat:

"She did it! It's her fault!"

I kid you not when I say that sixty people in the room... customers I'd been dealing with for years and sales reps I'd dealt with every day... all turned around to look at me, their faces pale and blank.

I watched one of my other supervisors-- Jeff-- wince, his beard bristling with what I think now might have been empathy.

Even Snow White in the hallway stopped sweeping and singing, and turned to peer in the conference room door.

I felt my face redden. I felt my head start to swim. So I did the only thing I could possibly do in this sort of situation...

I smiled and waved. "Yes, yes, hi... It was me."

And you know, it was at about that point in my Marketing Paynim career that I thought I might want to get out of the event planning field...

There just wasn't a big enough piece of the pie in it.

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19 comments:

Jaffer said...

Oh ! How dreadful ! That man had no sense of humour eh !
Why didn't some one teach him to check all his slides the last minute ?

It's become a norm to goof presentations these days - and tell the truth - "I just made this during my last coffee break" - and change things on the fly.

Heck - I did one presentation where it felt like I was on Win, Lose or Draw - marker & large sheet of paper and someone decided to play along too !
Table Leg.... no a chair leg ... wait it's the Y-axis ... times up !
Yep - no fanshy-shmansy powerpoint !

Tiggy said...

Hahah!

I understand what you mean about final-final approvals... I'm currently working on a post-deadline-no-this-is-the-real-final-final-final proof. I expect to be working on this for some days to come!

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Not a lot of humor, no. Sometimes he'd come up with something really funny and surprise me. But a lot of it was pretty darned tense.

I think most people understand mistakes happen-- particularly when everything else is well-organized and professional. It was some years later I heard from folks who'd witnessed it how they'd cringed FOR me. A little humor goes a LONG way.

Tiggy- Oh, I hope your No-Really-This-is-The-Absolute-Final-Version-Kinda-Sorta goes well. Or at least ends. Eventually...

I do know your pain.

Da Old Man said...

Holy cow!!!
Sounds like you've worked for bosses that were such jerks.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- These were all at the same place. The same boss with this presentation was the one featured in the Walden Pond story. :) I was there about six years.

I was surprised how different things were when I came to my current job.

Jen said...

I'm glad to learn you are no longer working for that boob. I'd have taken the pie chart and shoved it up his corporate ass. You, of course, have way more class than I do.

I have worked for jerks like that. They take all the credit, that you earned, and give you all the responsibility when things go wrong.

I have the willies just thinking about it.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jen- Heh, maybe there should have been a pie fight. :) I learned a lot with that job. Good stuff and some, um, less good stuff. It was definitely a growing experience... whether I wanted to or not. :)

Adullamite said...

It would be tempting to reply that had he pointed out the changes earlier mistakes would not happen. 'The buck stops there!' would have been good.
Maybe I'm just a bit bad tempered these days with such folks.

Jenn Thorson said...

Adullamite- Yeah, well, logic didn't always enter into it. I had to really pick and choose my battles, and save up for the ones worth fighting.

Tony Single said...

Well, Jenn, you know what they say about *poo* rolling downhill... or something like that. Unfortunately, you were the next one in that heirarchy, so of course he was going to blame you! I don't think he should have though. It's not like it was your fault; the thing had been finalised a gazillion times already as you say. :p

Still, you showed class by not trying to find someone lower than you to point accusingly at. Kudos! :)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I had a boss that could lie so smoothly it was chilling. I sat in many a meeting or swanky take-the-client-out meal where she would either tell them I had dealt with a particular situation or had a certain skill set and then put me on the spot to tell all about it, or she'd tell client after client that I would be part of their 'dedicated team', which meant I was never to return a phone call, ANY phone call, in less than five minutes, unless I was at lunch. After 8 or 9 years of this I learned to suppress the large-eyed horrified face that used to steal over me involuntarily and just roll with whatever she was saying, which made me feel slightly dirty.

Ya. I don't do that job anymore.

Greg said...

Oh, man...what a horrible experience from first to last. Maybe it's not a bad thing that corporate America is caving in a little.

Douglas Adams had the right idea. We need to gather all these middle-managers and telephone sanitizers and send them off to colonize some other place.

Jenn Thorson said...

Tony- Well, you meet all kinds in office life. It'll make you nuts, but it can make you stronger, too.

Shieldmaiden- Oh, now that's TOUGH-- I mean expecting you to fulfill her lies... What a position to be in. I don't know how you stuck it out 8 or 9 years.

Hey Greg!- People just get into business who don't actually like people or try to understand them. And many a very insecure person hides behind their business title.

Jay said...

ROFL! So he's THAT type of manager, is he? *Shakes head*

Pie charts. Bleagh. Give me the real thing anytime.

freetheunicorns said...

Who would do something like that? What a jackass. Do you work for Michael Scott?

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- I know, me, too. Other than mince meat, I never met a pie I didn't like. Pie charts however...

FreeTheUnicorns- HA! Oh, gosh, yes, I guess that is sort of a Michael Scott thing to do, isn't it? I can actually picture him in that kind of situation. That's so wrong.

Nooter said...

mmmm... hot apple pie..

Matt said...

Disney??!! Serious?

You should get a fast-pass to get out of the meeting quickly.

Jenn Thorson said...

Nooter- I should have provided virtual dessert to everyone who stopped by... PS- should dogs eat pie? :)

Matt- Disney, yup. Disney itself was actually great for planning meetings-- they were, true to Disney, super-helpful and the food was astounding. They unfortunately didn't have meeting fast-passes back then. :)