I had to attend a steering committee this week.
For those not familiar with the concept, it’s something between a tough job interview and a trip to the headmaster’s office. I know head teachers don’t give kids the cane anymore but in preparing for a steering committee the threat of a beating hangs over your head anyway.
And in the same way I would try to prepare for tough questions in a job interview, for a steering committee I pull together all sorts of random facts in an attempt to be prepared for any random sideways questions that might get fired at you.
It sounds so easy when someone says, “Just quickly put together a presentation based on what we’ve done in the past six months.”
This is not something you can do quickly.
Figures are the key – how much, how many, how big, where, why and what? Pulling together some key figures can be tough, especially when my figures don’t reconcile with someone else’s and then I have to do a major data cleanse exercise to work out where the differences were… and then I have to write a series of formulae that will chop the data in the form I want and then make these summary statistical tables into pie charts and that also comes with their own degree of pain as I have to format the charts so figures and words are readable.
And then I have to read through at least two quarterly reports and take some key points that I can talk about.
And then my colleague produces some updated information so I have to go through the whole data exercise again and re-paste in the revised charts and go through the fiddly formatting again.
And then I realise you have slides that have only one bullet point on them and that’s no good, why have a slide at all in that case? So I go back to the data and chop it up another way and that gives me a few more bullet points to talk about on this topic and I just hope the audience will find it interesting but not so interesting that they will ask lots of questions about it.
And when I think I’m done, I send the presentation around for final approval and someone who has looked at it a lot less than me and therefore can see it better points out a whole lot of errors and inconsistencies.
And there are still more data errors.
And these are spotted only after the presentation is circulated to the committee.
So I sit in the office until late revising figures until my eyes cross. I go home exhausted, and sleep deeply.
In the morning on my way to the committee I revise my speaking part for the meeting and discover there are figures in the presentation that are still wrong. Ack! And as I did the figures and the presentation this is all on me.
Thankfully I had porridge for breakfast on the way because there was no lunch. My colleagues and i arrived, went straight into a pre-meeting and then to the actual meeting. But for the first time in the years I have been going to these meetings, the hosts have provided coffee, water, and…are they…chocolate biscuits?!?
The meeting itself started 20 minutes late. Fine by me, knowing there was another meeting right after, so ours could not run over. The later it starts, the less time in the firing line.
I speak. Some interruptions from my co-presenting colleague. There were some points in my part where we’d agreed I would ask him to explain something related to his technical expertise, but he started to talk about other things, things I was planning to say later. Now when I gwt to that part I have to say, “As my colleague explained earlier…”
There are of course some interruptions from our partners on the project. I say partners; but this is not an easy partnership. Every question from them we see as an attempt to undermine our leadership on this project. Are we paranoid? Or are they really out to get us?
I go through the project progress and explain which figures are the wrong ones (on the bright side, all the results have gone up…) But I also get to talk about the positive achievements of the project and this is one of my pet projects, so I am proud of how it’s doing.
Afterwards I get a complement from one of my colleagues on my presenting skills. I might be asking this person for a job in a few months so it’s good he was impressed.
And after the steering committee is over, there is another meeting, indirectly related to ours, which we are invited to. So that’s five hours of meetings in a row on one bowl of porridge, one cup of coffee, two chocolate biscuits and some water.
(If breakfast-lunch is brunch, what is lunch-dinner? Lunner? Dinch?)
And that was all there was to sustain through to the post meeting dinner before we head home. Five of us sit together and reflect on the meetings that were over large beers, and pizza (for me) and steak (for the others). And we decide today was a good day, the battle was won, and to the victors the spoils.