My Favorite Faux Pas: A Mortifying Lesson in PowerPoint Etiquette
June 22, 2015
I’m an incredibly organized person and always have been. In kindergarten, I’d tidy up after the other kids, organizing the toy chest by theme: cars (but no trucks), blocks (no logs), dolls (no Barbies). In college, I single-handedly fueled the highlighter industry in northern California.
Even when every other aspect of my life is pure chaos, I like things to be labeled, put away neatly, and easily found again. But sometimes, I am organized to a fault.
At my first “real” job—working as a publicist for a huge broadcasting company in New York—my boss put me in charge of the internal marketing program. In this role, I oversaw our team of 300 interns as they performed crazy marketing stunts around the city (streaking through Times Square half-naked was all in a day’s work).
I was stoked. This was a big deal—not to mention an opportunity to demonstrate my organizing prowess.
Every Friday, I’d present a recap of stunts performed over the week to the entire group of interns and their respective department heads. To coordinate and corral all the information, I developed an “advanced” system. I used individual folders located on my laptop desktop to categorize the events of the week. Soon enough, my desktop consisted solely of folders, lined up like little soldiers waiting to be deployed: July Wk 1 (Central Park Takeover), July Wk 2 (On-Air Signage), July Wk 3 (Club Event), and so on.
Of course, there were other folders on my desktop, too—filled with photos or articles I collected. This was pre-Pinterest, and there wasn’t really a unified place to collect random stuff. The struggle was real. I saved everything from style blogger outfit inspiration and haircuts I wanted to try, to motivational quotes, recipes, and even pictures of celeb crushes. Before long, I had accumulated a fair amount of folders—both personal and professional—arranged neatly across my laptop background.
At the end of the summer, I was tasked with running our final meeting. The entire company would attend, including the VP of marketing, a notoriously prickly and powerful woman.
I practiced my speech for days, perfected my PowerPoint, and even bought a new outfit for the occasion. I was only given a ten-minute time slot, but damn it, I was determined to impress the higher-ups.
When it was finally my turn to present, I stood and smoothed out my dress, put on my best fake-it-till-you-make-it smile, and strode up to the podium with my (totally unrehearsed) attempt at a sophisticated swagger. I handed my laptop to the technician so he could pull up my presentation.
Unfortunately, in a rush earlier that morning, I had forgotten to do my daily digital clean-up of my desktop background—something I only realized as it was broadcast onto the big screen. I jumped to try to disconnect my screen before the entire audience (a casual 200+ interns and colleagues) had the chance to decipher the folder names, easily legible now that they’d been blown up and projected.
Then, my computer froze.
Up on the screen, my folders were there for all to see. They included, but were not limited to:
• Resume/quitspiration. Oh great, everyone now knows I want to leave this job.
• Reasons I don’t have a boyfriend. A short-lived blog series I wrote.
• Recipes I’ll never actually make because I heart takeout. Self-explanatory.
• Hot gingers. Can’t help it, I just love them.
It was as excruciating as I imagine a public reading of my Google search history would have been. People couldn’t help but snicker, and I didn’t blame them.
After what felt like 45 minutes but was probably only about 45 seconds, my laptop unfroze and the technician handed me the presentation clicker.
Red-faced but ready, I slowly turned to face the crowd and apologized for the, er, technical difficulties among other things. Ten (very long) minutes later, the crowd clapped and I slunk off stage.
My boss rounded the corner, looking understandably pissed, and headed straight for me when her boss—the famously terrifying one—walked up first. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.
Mortified, I started to mumble an apology when she cut me off.
“Great presentation. I’m impressed with anyone who is both that organized and can recover from a train-wreck beginning like that.”
“And I have a thing for gingers, too.”
Illustrations by Mai-Dea