Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Dreaded Conference Call

The other day I had a conference call at work. It went okay. Nothing out of the ordinary but it made me think of a conference call that still haunts me to this day.

Here’s how it went.

A long time ago in a state not so far away, I was promoted to a very intense position within my company. Three days after moving to Seattle and the start of my new job, my boss (the man who hired me) was fired. (not a good sign).

Boss-less, I received no training and very little communication from the Home Office until . . . my new boss arrived. He was incredibly intimidating and hard to get along with. Basically, he was down right, mean. I called him, Nazi Boss.

One fateful day, Nazi Boss, being the kind man he was, told me I had a corporate conference call in five minutes. The topic of the call - my counterpart in the Rocky Mountain Region and I were to give the company big wigs an overview of what we were dealing with during new store openings. Over 30 people were going to be on the line all wanting to hear information from ME. I had no prep time.

This was just peachy. I was to be on the line with my companies, CEO, CFO, VP of Logistics, VP of Visual Merchandising, VP of Merchandising . . .blah blah blah. Get the picture? Also, on the call was my really irritating counterpart in Denver. Her name was also Ann, but with an E. I’m just plain old A N N.

I, not so lovingly, called Anne, Rocky Mountain Mama, but not to her face.

To add more misery to the situation, Rocky Mountain Mama, was a loud mouth, pushing woman, who interrupted, and got her opinions heard whether or not anyone wanted to hear. She was a favorite at the Home Office and a seasoned veteran. How could I get a word in edgewise with her on the line? This was not looking good.

With three minutes to go, Nazi Boss, asked if I’d like to take the call, in his office or down in mine. Since, I couldn’t imagine bluffing my way through questions, with him staring at me, I opted for my office.

“Office”, is a generous term. My “office” was a 4x4 converted utility closet in the very back of the stockroom. As I slowly weaved through freight and hopped over furniture to get to my office, I remember thinking, Dead Woman Hopping. Then I heard Nazi Boss shout, “Be sure to be vocal on the call. This is going to make or break your reputation in the company.”

My heart stopped pumping. Crap! He knew I hated conference calls. He knew I was still feeling terribly inexperienced.

At high noon, Northwest time, I sat staring at the phone, wishing it would blow up so I wouldn’t have to take the call. No such luck. The operator patched us all in (no connection problems, dang it!).

The CEO, took roll call, and I said, "Yes, I’m here." That was the last time anyone heard from me until the faithful moment of shame.

As the minutes ticked by, Rocky Mountain Mama, was answering all the questions. She commandeered the entire thing. Each time I thought I had an answer or a situation to discuss, she would talk over me and say it louder and clearer. I would start to say something and she would finish whatever it was I was about to say. I had no idea what to do. Utterly frustrated, and feeling tremendous pressure to say something, anything, I . . . I blurted out, “Excuse me.”

There was silence. Oh Holy Night. This was the worst feeling in the world.

“Yes, Ann, in Seattle go ahead,” the CEO’s deep voice answered.

Oh Holy Carmen Miranda!

What had I just done?

I had nothing to say.


I couldn’t contribute; Rocky Mountain Mama, had said everything I could think of. I was in a pickle.

I could feel my lips moving. I couldn’t stop them. I had to say something anything to get the attention off me. So, the meaningless words just fell out. “I agree with what Anne said. I’m having the same issues.”


Complete silence, except for a clearing of a throat, a snicker, and a snort.

Saying I felt like I wanted to die would have been an understatement.  My heart dropped in unison with my head.

The CEO spoke up. “Anything else, Ann in Seattle?”

My mind was blank completely blank. I squeaked, “No.”

The CFO, cleared his throat and said, “Well, thank you Ann in Seattle, for your contribution and insight. Now Anne in Denver, what else have you been dealing with?”

The call dragged on for what seemed like hours. When it was over, I muttered a goodbye and waited for Nazi Boss, to march down to my “office”.

It only took two minute.

He pushed open the door and said, “What the hell was that?” He was shaking his head. I tried not to cry. But I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as his angry face stared at me. I shrugged my shoulders and muttered that I was sorry. Nazi Boss, turned on his heels and marched back to his office.
Did Nazi Boss, have a heart? I was young and had no experience, no training. I was dropped off in a building and left for dead. Why couldn’t he just help me? Weren’t we a team way up in the big bad Northwest?

Rather dramatic don’t ya think?


It took several months, but Nazi Boss, turned in his swastika for Starbucks Gift Cards and became my ally. He realized I had an aptitude for my job and I realized he was nervous too. We both went on to win several awards and become one of the highest grossing regions in our company.

But my little conference call debacle didn’t quietly go away. At a meeting in Fort Worth, someone asked if I was the Ann that made an ass of herself on the "famous" conference call. I swallowed hard and calmly said, “No, that was Ann with an E, from the Rocky Mountain Region.”

I did feel a little guilty about that one.

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