Confessions of a benefits manager: Present and correct

Presentations can be a pain in the neck for Candid, and a conference call with the US gives rise to unseen complications

I don’t mind making presentations. I don’t get particularly nervous. At least I don’t seem to, but I do get this funny neck-ache that appears as soon as I am told I have to do one. It might not be connected, but I have noticed that it goes away as soon as the presentation is over.

I may not mind presenting, but I do mind doing Big Bad Boss’s presentations. I am not paid to do his job too. This week, he was due to present to the Highest Beings (our management committee in the US) on bonus targets, and today he announces that I should do it instead. He does this sort of thing from time to time. Other people might enjoy the exposure, but I’ve noticed he only gets me involved when the outcome is a bit iffy. If it goes well, he can make out that he hired me and taught me everything I know. If it goes wrong, he can disassociate himself from the mess, saying: “Who is this woman and who let her in anyway?”

The worst of it is that he has prepared the slides already. Ugh. Presenting someone else’s slides is like using someone else’s toothbrush. I’m going to have to work late to put them in some kind of shape. Big Bad Boss likes the sounds of his own bullet points, so he tends to cram 20 or more onto a single page. I know the Highest Beings have the attention span of a room full of toddlers, and you can only get three points across before the older ones are napping and the younger ones are playing with their mobiles. Big Bad Boss also has about 20 unnecessary slides crammed with tables of barely legible numbers. I put them to the back as an appendix.

The meeting is in the US, and once upon a time Big Bad Boss would have been flown over. These days, even his travel budget is restricted, and mine doesn’t exist. I am just calling in. That makes it worse. You can’t see when someone is rolling their eyes to know it’s time to change track. You can’t tell if they are all tapping away on their laptops and not even listening.

I get off to a shaky start when the dial-in number doesn’t work. Some dippy secretary has sent me the wrong number. It is first thing in the morning over there and she isn’t at her desk yet, so I can’t get hold of the right number. Eek. I use my initiative and find the number of the last management call. It works. Phew. The last thing I needed was to be late. Higher Beings can be late as much as they like, but if a mere mortal like me does it, it’s career over.

Special conference telephone

They are in the posh boardroom and there is a special conference telephone in there with multiple speakers, but I know from experience that I will only be able to hear the people sitting right next to one. Two guys whose voices I don’t recognise are chatting about golf. I cough politely to let them know I am on the line. They carry on comparing notes on various clubs. I say my name. Still they carry on. I am worried someone will think I didn’t turn up. I say my name again, a bit louder this time. Someone, who sounds like the CEO, says “good afternoon” even though it is their morning. He likes everyone to know that he ‘thinks global, acts local’. Gulp. I say “hello” a little shakily. I probably should have said good morning to show I am global too, but it is too late now.

Finally I am given the nod, so to speak, to start my presentation. I rattle through the background of the project, and call out market data to support changing our bonus targets in Europe. My arguments are clear. Then it comes to the cost slide. I can positively hear the sharp intake of breath. Someone – I think it is the Highest Finance Being – says the company can’t possibly add any cost at this time. My heart sinks. Big Bad Boss will blame me if they don’t agree. Several join in to say that Europe is not making its numbers and the company doesn’t reward poor performance. I have to point out that we are talking about bonus targets and if performance is down, so will be the actual payout, but that falls on deaf ears. Chief finance guy goes on to say that Europe is overstaffed and underproductive. Ouch. That feels a bit personal.

Finally, the CEO steps in to settle everyone down. He remarks that we should be offering market-competitive rewards and that they will review it again next quarter with a view to implementing next year if the results improve. He adds that it is a great presentation and I did a fine job of making the case. Hey, I am beginning to like the guy already.

At that point, there is a crackle on the line, and I hear the dulcet tones of Big Bad Boss thanking everyone for their time, and assuring them the presentation will be kept fresh for next quarter. The nasty little snake has dialled in secretly to see how I am doing. So why couldn’t he have done it himself, in that case? Only he wouldn’t have been told it was a great presentation and he wouldn’t have made such a good case.

So who is this man, and who let him in anyway?

Next time…Candid looks the head of Europe in the eye.

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