We had an all-afternoon "town hall" meeting last week in a local rece center that had a theater with stadium-style seating. At the last minute, I was asked to spend five minutes recognizing the eight or so people who had achieved an academic milestone of one sort or another. At the last second, I was also asked to include the people who were part of the mentoring program in our local schools. Then, right before I went onstage, the emcee asked me to give people in the 150-person crowd a 30-second stretch break, but not to let people leave.
Because I knew that I needed to entertain the crowd, given that the first 100 minutes of the presentation were a Powerpoint on 2008 achievements, 2009 IT strategy, and some high-level information on what our new reorg might look like, I stopped at a big box store on the way to the theater so I could pick up some props. Yes, apparently, I am Corporate Carrot Top, without the scary buffness of recent years.
I have a broad-brimmed straw hat that I keep in my car in case I'm going to be outside. The sun and I don't get along really well, so I try to keep at least my face in the shade. So the hat wasn't on my shopping list. I bought some quilt batting and a roll of purple ribbon. When I got out into my car, I realized that I needed paper, but I did have a little notepad from the last time we were at a corporate off-site. I got to the theater, and I tore off bits of batting and put it in my hat. Then I rolled up pieces of paper and tied them with ribbon. My props were complete.
The meeting started, and zzzzzzzzzzz..... When it was my turn, the emcee announced, "Now GDad will do the recognition part." I got up and smuggled my props to the podium behind some papers. Then I took the microphone and went to the middle of the stage. The microphone wasn't on, so I did the testing thing.
"Testing. Testing. 1-2-3. Testing. Sibilance. Sibilance." The microphone didn't work. They gave me another one. "Testing. Testing. Testing 1. Testing 2."
The sound booth guy's voice came over the speakers. "Is the light on? Press the mute button until the light turns green." I pressed the button.
"HELLO. OK, then." There were a few chuckles. Keep in mind that this department is a combined department that has only recently begun to work together, and the theme today was "Get To Know the Management."
I decided that the 30-second stretch break would be led by a character who combined Dwight Schrute and the "I am above the law" guy from South Park. I put on my mean face and said in a sort of shrill, clipped voice, "Now is the time in the program where you will stand and stretch." There was a pause, and I heard some muttering.
I later found out that someone from the other half of the organization leaned over to one of my direct reports and asked, "Is this guy for real?"
She totally played along by rolling her eyes and replying, "Yes, unfortunately. And he's my manager!"
Nobody stood up, so I made the "stand up" gesture and yelled, "UP! NOW!" People jumped up, and the folks who came from my half of the department were snickering a little, whereas the people from the other half of the organization were uncertain whether to be amused or horrified. I continued with the shrill, clipped narration.
"Now that I have your attention, I will ask you a question, and you will respond by applause. Your question will be whether you want the basic or the deluxe version of the recognition presentation. Basic?"
There was a lot of applause. I think people interpreted this to mean "the shorter version so we can get out earlier."
"Deluxe?" Two people applauded.
"Very well. That is your loss. There was singing and dancing in the deluxe version."
My boss yelled, "Try again!"
A guy named Jason came down the aisle to leave, presumably for the restroom. I shrieked, "DO NOT LEAVE!" He stopped in his tracks. His face looked like his mom had just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. He went back to his seat, and most people started to get it. They chuckled some more.
"Very well. We will try this again, per request. Basic?" Cricket sounds. "Deluxe?" Great applause. "Excellent."
I walked back to the podium, donned my hat, took a deep breath, let my mien change from shrill martinet to avuncular and folksy, and began singing.
Oh, I could tell you why
The ocean's near the shore.
I could think of things
I never thunk before.
And then I'd sit [cross leg over other leg]
And think some more!
I would not be just a nothin',
My head all full of stuffin', [pull batting from out of my hat and toss on floor]
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry; [do a stupid "Snoopy dance" thing]
Life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain!
There was a standing ovation. I went back to the podium, doffed my hat, and read from my notes.
"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma.
"Several people in our organization have achieved a diploma in 2008... [read names and hand out the prop diplomas] And several other people have contributed to the next generation of people who will earn diplomas by contributing their time to the Project Mentor program. They are [read names]."
After the people accepted their applause, I made my closing remarks. "In closing, I'd like to remind people that the line is 'Life would be a ding-a-derry,' not 'Life would be a dingleberry,' because that would be entirely different. Back to you, Glinda."
Even if they didn't remember anything else, they'll remember the recognition part of the presentation. And, I'm sure I'm on some kind of watch list somewhere, but I don't know whether it's the good kind or the bad kind. Maybe next time, I'll arrange to be lowered from the ceiling on a wire.