At a corporate cafeteria somewhere in a Princeton office park, the lunchtime crowds laden with trays were milling about, looking for free tables. Joan and Laurie, good friends and colleagues, just found one and settled down for a cozy chat.

“I have read recently the best article about public speaking,” announced Joan. “It sounded all so easy; learn your speech by heart, rehearse, be confident and relaxed, watch for your body language.” Then she questioned her friend: “We are having this presentation for the sales department in two weeks. How are you doing so far, Laurie?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Joan.” Laura sounded skeptical. “I have to do a short report on last month’s client survey. I am getting my numbers together. But I just know that I’ll rattle them off at a fantastic speed just before my knees buckle. If I don’t get out of there fast, I might freeze like a deer in the headlights.” She sighed, “You know that I cannot relax before a large group. I am just fine with friends, but all those snooty sales people! I just don’t want to think about it yet. When the time comes, I guess I’ll wing it.”

Joan did not agree with the description of the “sales people.” After all, her boyfriend Peter was one of them. “Well, I don’t think, Laurie, that sales people are snooty. They just have so much confidence. I envy them!” Then she continued: “The article said that you should rehearse before a mirror and watch for body language. I tried that…I was flapping my arms like a scared bird. Believe me, that did not give me much confidence. I guess I must practice some more. I agonize about that presentation day and night.”

“Speaking of confidence, I see Frank coming this way,” said Laura, waving. “Hey Frank, want to eat your lunch with us?”

“Hey Laurie, Joan! Cool!” Frank greeted his friends, settled down at their table, and went on with his usual loud and cheery voice: “Phew, am I glad to get out of that boiler room for a while! …Oh, Laurie, how is your salad? Did you get it from here?”

“Yes, why?” asked Laura suspiciously.

Oh, nothing…It’s OK, I guess. Just that Ron, my boss, found a caterpillar in his lettuce yesterday.”

“Frank! Did you have to say that?” Joan chided. “Laurie is turning green.”

Frank chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry, Laurie, Ron sent an e-mail to the cafeteria’s manager to warn him about it. I’m sure it’s all taken care of. It was a very funny e-mail. Ron can be pretty sarcastic if he wants to be. Half of the department was cc’d on it. I am sure the cafeteria manager will be motivated to fix the issue in a jiffy.”

An uncertain peep from Laurie: “Oh, then I guess it must be all right. But I am not very hungry now,” she said, pushing the salad bowl away.

Joan was trying to take the conversation into a different direction. “Frank, Laurie and I have been talking about the presentation we are doing for Sales. We are both so panicky about it. How’s yours going?”

“It’s going…” Frank shrugged. “I’ve slapped some data together and I’m going to use a lot of graphics. You know — PowerPoint stuff with a projector, clip art, animation, noise, cartoons, and humor. Humor always gets you through it. ’Dazzle ’em’ is my motto. I’d better make it impressive; I want to get that promotion from Ron. I’ve been doing long hours lately, went drinking with Ron and the gang every Thursday, raved about his football team…”

“Yeah, you guys have it easy,” remarked Joan. “All that bonding over beer and sports…”

“Oh c’mon, Joan,” Frank laughed. “It’s called networking. And let me tell you, Suzie from Database can drink us all under the table.”

“Well yes, we all know that,” smirked Laurie. “I guess Suzie is good at networking. Meanwhile I just work overtime, take extra classes, volunteer for projects and keep my nose to the grindstone…”

“You will get there Laurie, you will…eventually. But let me tell you, you also need to keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Knowing a little gossip never hurts.”

“What’s the latest gossip, Frank?” Both women looked at him expectantly.

“Well, girls, did you hear about that incident Ron had with his temp?”

“No! What happened?” they exclaimed.

“Well,” Frank continued, “she complained that he ogled her too much. Went to Human Resources about sexual harassment!”

“And?” they asked in unison.

“I have no idea. But Ron has no temp anymore…and…oh, hello Ron! I…I mean…What’s up Ron? I must go…Bye all!”

Laurie turned to Joan, “Oh, boy, did you see that? Where had Ron come from? He must have been sitting behind us all this time and now when he stood up Frank saw him… He took off pretty fast. Frank, I mean…”

Joan proclaimed solemnly, “Somehow I think, Laurie, that dazzling presentation will not do much for Frank’s promotion!”

Dagmar Venizelos has worked for many years in the Princeton corporate environment. She is now using her language and writing skills as a translator for foreign languages and writing fictional short stories as a hobby.

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