Harrowing Tales in the Life of an EA
For three weeks you've been preparing for a huge board meeting that is just about to start. The food has arrived and you're helping the delivery person set up. You've printed out decks for everyone that will be present and emailed PowerPoints to remote attendees. You know the video conferencing equipment is working because of the test you just performed with the IT guy and Jennifer, the Assistant from the remote side. You greet the attendees of the meeting as they arrive. "Lunch is ready, it's right over here." You also announce that the meeting will start in a few minutes. The IT guy gives you the thumbs up and disappears into thin air. Your boss walks in and gives you that look as if to say, "Everything ready?" You walk up to her and run down the checklist. While everyone is getting settled, you go through the same exact video conferencing steps you just performed and that you've done at least ten times before in similar meetings. But here comes the star of the show:
PROBLEMS (Enter "stage right")
Here they come. The myriad of problems that make you want to run out of the room like your hair was on fire. But you're a seasoned vet, so you pretend not to worry.
You place the video conference call and hear the distinct digital ringing that means you're connecting. Your remote attendees' voices come through--but you cannot see them. "Hi everyone, are you there?" "Hi, we're here," they say. You say, "We cannot see you. " They say, "We can see you just fine," implying that the problem is on your side. You take a deep breath and stay calm. "Ok, one moment," you answer. You go to the screen and jiggle all the wires. Nothing. You go to the remote and zoom the camera in and out. Still nothing. You turn your television screen on and off. Nope, nada. A slow panic is creeping in but you're a seasoned vet, everything will be fine. You begin to ask questions to the other side. "Is the camera at the top of your screen facing towards the conference table?" "Yes" a couple of people say. Is the little black cap on the lens?" "No, nothing is on the lens," they say. "Is your television's video input correct?" "How do we know if it's correct?" Come on, you knew you were going to get that question. So you commence to explaining how to see if all the cables are input correctly, while you are emailing Jennifer so she can come back into the room to assist. No response.
"Ok, let me disconnect and call you again." You recheck all your hook ups, and place the call again. Same thing. They can see you, but you cannot see them. You finally ask if their IT person is around. They say no. But you knew that, because it's lunchtime. IT people are no fools like the rest of us, they actually take a full lunch hour.
You whisper to your boss if she'd like to do this via conference call instead. Your boss says she really wants to do video conferencing.
Let me just say this--what is the real reason for video conferencing anyway? Everyone already knows how everyone looks. Everyone already has the presentation, it's not a screen share. Ever since the powers-that-be found out about this new toy, they want to use it all the time. Regardless of any agita it causes.
"No problem," you say to your boss as you realize everyone in the meeting is staring at you. "Do you know what you're doing?" They're asking the questions with their eyes--even though they've seen you do this successfully in other meetings.
Now has come the time to call on those who know exactly what you're going through. Administrative Super Heroes—unite! Your signal goes up into the air....well, sort of. You send a group email to your Assistant network of super heroes.
Subject line, "Help!"
"Hi all, in Conference Room A, video conferencing equipment not working, big meeting, IT at lunch, need assistance. Can someone try and get in contact with Jennifer? I've reached out and she hasn't responded yet. Thanks!"
You mercifully get an answer back from two of your fellow peeps. Alexis will put on her contacting cape and find Jennifer. Brenda is putting on her bulletproof IT outfit and coming to the conference room to assist.
While you wait, you make some lighthearted joke and thank God that there is food in the room so people have something to do. "We're working on it," you say to the remote attendees. "Has anyone seen Jennifer?" You ask politely, hoping someone will get up and go find her while trying not to throw her under the bus.
In walks Brenda. You both have been through this routine before, except you were there to help her. You both assume the positions and start jiggling wires, talking through everything, agreeing with each other, supporting each other's efforts. You both give step-by-step commands to the remote attendees. Nothing's working. Then the Heavens open up. In rushes Jennifer on the remote side. You know this because someone says, "Jennifer's here!" You hear a bit of fumbling and "Poof!" They all come into view! There's a round of applause and a bunch of pleasantries are exchanged.
What was the problem? Three guesses and yes, one of them should be that they didn't remove the little black cap from the camera lens. Ya know, the question you asked in the beginning. :-/ "Hahahahahahaha." Everyone laughs while you wonder how in the world these people actually manage to run a company. "Hahaha." More hahaha's as you leave the room, glancing back to see if anyone will even acknowledge the small death spiral you were just in. Your boss catches your eye and says, "Thanks Adrienne." "Oh no problem at all." You hear a few more chimes of thanks as you close the door just in time for you and Brenda to roll your eyes and laugh. "Can you believe it?" "No!" "Thanks so much Brenda." The two of you walk to Alexis' desk and you thank her for getting in contact with Jennifer. "No worries, it's all good." Then the three of you put away your super hero outfits and make fun of the whole thing.
All in all, the meeting was 8 minutes behind. Yes, just 8 minutes but as we all know, it seems like a lifetime. And you'll have at least 3 more such events today—changing a 20 person meeting that took you two days to set up because someone decides to take a vacation day, unjamming the printer that just ruined your 50 page print job for your next big meeting that starts in fifteen minutes, changing flight arrangements yet again because your bosses daughter wants to go to Cancun, not Punta Cana—all while managing three huge projects, answering the questions of the 40 employees within your department and keeping a straight face when your boss says, "Great video conference meeting. Let's do it again tomorrow."
They never see us sweat, they never hear our tone change. All they see is a calm, professional problem solver who does what she has to do to give them what they want. This is just one day in the rollercoaster of our working lives. Tomorrow will bring today's equivalent dramas. Separately we're amazing. Together we're unstoppable. We're Administrators. Hear us roar!
Adrienne Farr, Executive Assistant, TMBI