After a 13 hour journey that was only supposed to be six, my coworker and I get off the train, freshen up, and enter the poshest club that’s ever let me inside. We have been invited to present our education program to wealthy business people in a service organization. Their focus for the year is literacy, and they’ve officially adopted our program as the means for fulfilling their charitable duty.
For some reason I have not yet been invited to do any trainings for them. In fact I’m at a loss regarding what they’re actually doing with our materials, but I’m hoping the meeting will push things forward and bring more clarity on both ends. I’d been told to prepare a 35-minute presentation on the literacy program, for which I’ve spent significant time putting together some videos, powerpoint, and inspirational stories.
We arrive in the main room to find the members playing a form of bingo, with prizes like stainless steel dishware. This takes up some time to wrap up, as there are five winners.
Next comes the opening ceremony. Everyone “important”, including us, has flower garlands placed around our necks. The garlands match the fancy decorations around the room, and later while bored I’ll estimate that 4,000 fresh flowers were picked for tonight’s meeting.
The meeting is called to order. Few people pay attention – even when the club president is talking, perhaps 35-40 of the 50 people in attendance are conversing. The speaker is a little ship battling to be heard in a sea of voices, and is drowning under the waves. Over the next two hours there will be only feeble attempts to get the crowd under control.
Two members come up and perform popular songs. One of them has brought in two skilled guitar players to accompany her. Neither singer is any good. I’m confused as to the point of the performances…I guess they’re supposed to lighten up the meeting, but…I don’t know.
Next there is a “lucky drawing”, where a seat number is drawn and someone wins a prize.
As this goes on, waiters have been moving about offering delicacies. I look enviously but they never reach me. At some point I realize that they’re coming over to whoever calls them. I’m too nervous to call them over and don’t want to spill food on myself before I present. A LOT of food is being consumed.
The heart of the meeting is a speech by the club president, a speech by the “club literacy chairman”, a speech by some guy whose role I don’t catch, and then a speech by the “Chief Guest”, the national chairman for their literacy campaign. At some point in the middle is another lucky drawing. There’s nothing memorable in the speeches and no one is paying attention anyway.
A couple of the speakers talk about the positive impact of literacy, but I still haven’t figured out how or even whether they’re actually using the program. The most oft-repeated fact of the meeting is that the club has raised $1700 for the literacy campaign. In fact, the entire event seems to be a celebration of that fact. I’m not clear on how the money will be spent, though I must confess to having lost attention from time to time. I look around and note that everyone here obviously makes much more than $1700 a month. I begin to wonder how much the event has cost.
There’s another round of prizes. “Who has the most rings on their hand? The person with the most rings gets a prize!” (The winner has seven.) “Who has perfume in their purse right now?” And so on.
At 10:40pm, two hours into the production, I get my chance to speak. But they’re running behind and ask if I can keep it to about 10 minutes. The Chief Guest, who has seen one of my presentations before, states on the spur of the moment that I should show the group two video clips in particular, which alone would take up my entire slot. I compromise and show one of the clips. It was one I’d already decided to chuck from the presentation as it obviously didn’t fit the mood of the audience. Talking too fast in my limited slot, I rush through one story and show a half-dozen of my 25 slides. Hardly anyone was paying attention.
After my speech another half-dozen prizes are passed out for various competitions, like who can make the best religious design. My coworker and I are given a prize for showing up. They spend some time thanking everyone, then call the meeting to a close at 11pm with a performance of the national anthem. After the meeting the waiters serve a fantastic dinner. Attendees hang out until about midnight. At no point does anyone ask us any serious questions about our program. Then we’re taken to the train station for an all-night train home.
Nineteen hours of travel time to attend a three hour meeting to speak for 10 minutes to a group that wasn’t listening anyways.
I am still waiting to hear what they’re doing with our program.
What a waste of time.