I’ve been creating slide shows. But it’s not like the kind where I first cut my teeth in the A/V world. Those involved Kodak projectors and carousels. To see what was on your slide, you’d look up toward the light fixture and squint. Then you’d drop it in the carousel the right way, which I think was backwards. Or upside down. I don’t remember exactly. This was the ‘80s when I was a copywriter for an ad agency.
I wrote scripts to accompany the slides. Script approval came first, then you asked the client, “Do you have any slides?” and they handed over their trove. You put it all together. Then you had to pack up all this stuff – projector, carousel and extra bulb – and carry it to an event. You didn’t create slide shows to stay home; they went on the road.
One slide show was about the need for tort reform. It was presented during issue-related conferences in hotel meeting rooms at five cities in Alabama. I was in charge of arranging for the rooms and A/V accommodations (electrical outlet, podium mic and screen, I guess). What I remember is that I had to get to the event early because every single time, something was set up wrong. If I said, “We need tables,” it’d be set up classroom style. Or vice versa. Doesn’t matter. Something was always wrong. That’s how you learn early in your career to get their early – something will always be set up wrong.
Another time we were promoting Alabama tourism. I drove over to Atlanta with the Kodak projector, carousel and script in my car. This was a big event for tour planners. George “Goober” Lindsay read the script from the stage. I stood below, near the glow of a projector bulb, and advanced the slides while he did so. Before the event, he read the script as I synced his narration to the slides. When I asked if he wanted to go over it again, he paused, turned toward me, then as if trying to find the right words, held up a finger and said, “At these prices you don’t rehearse.” I don’t think he enjoyed the event, but there probably is something relevant in his advice: don’t over-prepare. Just show up and get it done.
One time I had an emergency trip to Mobile. Someone else was scheduled to attend a meeting, but that plan fell through because he forgot to go. So I grabbed the Kodak projector and carousel and headed to Mobile. I think somebody gave me $40 from petty cash in case I had needs. But I arrived too late for the meeting. As I walked into the room, the client reached out his hand to me, and I teared up as he said, “We waited as long as we could.”
I blinked away the tears because you’re not supposed to cry at work, but I have always remembered how gentle and kind this man was to me as he held my hand and said, “We waited as long as we could.” We could all use someone like that at the other end of a big fail, and if only these were always the encounters when the job doesn’t get done.
Everyone you meet is going through some kind of struggle, the memes will tell you. Be nice. Be kind. Be encouraging. And let that be the memory they take away from their encounter with you.
Working at the agency was a glorious time for being ill-equipped for the task at hand – and figuring things out as I went. Also, being flexible enough to carry bulky equipment into meeting rooms. And always arriving early. Except for that one time when I was too late. The failure was met with a gentle word, and I tapped into something I craved.
Later, we started putting things on VHS tape. That took longer upfront. Hours and hours in an editing studio saying, “Use that here. Use that there. OK, that works. I like that.” But you didn’t have to carry your own projector. All meeting facilities had VCRs that you could request.
It was still about storytelling. It was always about storytelling and using image and sound to make that happen. The slide shows I’m creating now are stories told with gentle words – the thing I still crave and so I’m creating my own. And with a hand reaching out to say, “It’s OK” – the thing I still seek, so I’m doing that too. The difference is, I use Google slides and image websites. And I don’t have to leave my house.
What hasn’t changed: I’m still ill-equipped for the task at hand and am figuring things out as I go. Every project is still a blank slate that has to be filled in. I never know what I’m doing, but each step gets me to the next one. I don’t start at the end. I start at the “what do I do?” Then I get to the “what do I do next?” Then onto the “what do I do now?”
It is a wonderful gift to be able to figure things out as you go, and I’m grateful that my brain cells still take me through these steps. I hope you’ll be able to figure out some things today. If you can’t see the whole picture now, just look for the steps that will get you there.
Enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 22