Secretary’s survival kit

Here’s an update on the new office productivity tools specially designed to minimize work level pressures. All products are tried, tested and come with money-back guarantees. (We know how hard secretaries have to work for every nickel and dime that goes into their pay packets. )

Read the entire article on Sulekha
A secretary’s survival kit


Give me three words to describe my mother-in-law? Murda-in-Law. Or “The Squawk Box“.

The squawk box is normally one of those public address systems that can rattle your window panes and make you sound like a foghorn. I’m working on an interesting variation that is small, compact and does a good job of altering your voice. With a little tweaking, I for instance, could sound like Pamela Anderson – though there’s a lot more to Pamela than her sound bytes.

This amazing device can be the size of the mouthpiece on your phone and can be glued on to it. Very useful for telemarketers hiring war veterans and getting them to sound like sensual, husky twenty-somethings.

So let me get to the meat of this story, which stars my mother-in-law. She’s the original squawk box. And a whole lot bigger than the mouthpiece on your phone.

Marie, I think, is now pushing 80 and can do a 20-yard sprint with remarkable ease. I usually don’t want to talk about who comes second. When my car battery is low, she’s the one to roll up her sleeves and lend some brawn.

Read the entire article on Sulekha

Goodness Gracias

When we first met Anita G, we didn’t know about her portfolio of skills.

Anita G is one friend we’ve made through the sharing network. In other words, parents of kids in the same class, in the same school and the same stage of parental evolution : a teenager in the final year at school. Guess this needs a lot more than one shoulder to cry on.

Coming back to Anita G’s portfolio of skills. One of which is the ability to talk
nineteen-to-the-dozen on the phone, for hours on end. “My husband thinks I’m Ms Un-put-downable,” says Anita G, with a look that could imply more than one thing.

But if we picked up the example of the phone, she is “unputdownable”. (If you’ve noticed, I’ve removed all the hyphens.)

“I always thought a ring on the finger was worth two on the phone, till I married Anita,” says John, her doting husband. “Put her in the middle of the Sahara but give her a phone, she’ll stir up a sandstorm.”

“Mom’s a phonoholic,” says Lisa, her daughter. “The kind who will reach out for the bedside phone when the alarm clock goes off…”

I must say I’ve had a good dose of her marathon sessions. Little does she know that I just pretend to be part of the conversation, while I’m doing my own thing. I could be cleaning the bird cage, feeding the fish or giving the cat a colonic. Just as long as I make the right noises.

“Really !”

“Wow, that’s great !”

“Only you can do that”

I toe the line, because I’ve got to be nice to her. She’s a real wiz when it comes to tax planning and investments. And very helpful when it comes to good advice. Last year she gave me some good advice on a floating-point deposit. Know what that is ?

“It’s a deposit that banks offer, but don’t promote,” she had said. “Gives you 12 % interest, with multi-layered returns that are compounded every month.”

To me it sounded like the bank would lose more money than it made. But I was told by Mrs G that it was “gateway strategy”; a ploy to get you in as a customer in the hope that you would then bring in a larger share of your investment pie. And maybe introduce your rich aunts and uncles as NRI customers.

She also told me about a growth plan that doubles your money every three years. “Put in a lakh, now and in nine years you’ll have eight. Put that back into the system and you can start making retirement plans.”

Looking at the bottom line this was good advice – and worth every step I took, laughing all the way to my bank. But there was one small problem : Mrs G also wanted to tell me how to spend the money.

Well, I was actually planning to buy a time-share package by the beach in Goa. What I had in mind was a bamboo-stilt beach house, a well-stocked wine cellar and… some bar tenderness.

In my mind, I could see a trail of thongs gently wafting by.

She’d read my mind, even before I could get to the bar counter. “I’m surprised your wife is not part of this picture,” she said, in a tone that could melt the rocks in my glass.
“Frankly, I’m shocked…”

Two days later, my wife called me from office. “Honey, I’ve got a surprise for you. It’s actually a secret I’d kept for quite sometime. You know Anita G helped me make some very good investments, and I think I’ve hit the jackpot on one. Thought we’d explore the beaches of Goa… “together”, as the travel brochure says. Even Anita G, thinks it’s a great idea…”

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. I sort of knew who was on the line. Guess it was time to feed the fish, clean out the bird cage and give the cat a colonic.

Mr Husband

I’m a freelance writer and I work at home. And that’s where the problems really begin. A year ago, I found the paperwork a drudge, so I asked my wife if she would chuck up her job and help out.

The thought was encouraging. A VP’s secretary when it came to work and a loving wife when you didn’t have work on your mind. But that wasn’t to be. “Why don’t you hire someone from a career school,” she said. “ I’m far too specialised and experienced.”

I took her advice and did just that. I found a pretty little thing, who was good on the job – till the wife mysteriously discovered traces of perfume on my collar. The poor girl was fired even before she could sniffle a goodbye. (A week later the perfume was traced to my mother-in-law who is quite generous when comes to a peck on the cheek.)

So, there I was, back to square one. No secretary, and no wife during “wakey hours”. (She invariably dashes off to work at 7.30 and is seldom back before 10 – that’s post meridiem.)

Here’s a round up on jobs and chores that gives me about ten minutes a day for the kind of work I get paid for, which is writing.

• Making the beds
• Doing the breakfast
• Getting the kids ready for school
• Stuffing lunch boxes
• Picking them up from school
• Looking into homework
• Warming up dinner
• Reading bedtime stories

My mail is never opened for me. Nobody keeps track of my credit card balances. Nobody remembers my birthday Our anniversary is a blind spot on the calendar. I answer the phone on the first ring. I make my own appointments. I bring in my own tea. I pick up my own cigarettes. I even fluff the dust off my jacket.

And just the other day, when we were out shopping, we bumped into the Boss – the other man in my wife’s life – Monday through Friday. The chap gave me a loud thump on the back and said, “Your wife…I don’t know what I’d do without her : my credit card cheques don’t bounce. My tea is made just the way I like it. I don’t run out of cigarettes and my day runs like clockwork. Why, if she hadn’t reminded me about my wife’s birthday, I wouldn’t be out her shopping for a gift.

And then he gave me another thump on the back and said, “Lucky chap.”

South Indian cover story

The average South Indian likes to cover just about anything he owns, with plastic. When I first popped into my new neighbour’s house on a goodwill
mission, I nearly ended up under the wraps.

The TV had a cover, the 2-in-1 had a cover, the table fan had a cover, the mixie had a cover, the fridge handle had a cover, the telephone instrument had a cover. The only thing that didn’t have a cover was the shiny bald pate of Jambu – the fortyish chartered accountant who soon became a very good friend and chess partner.

Coming back to my cover story, I was realy intrigued. I was curious.
Why was practically everything in the house sheathed in a jacket. I did
an elaborate data-gathering exercise in the apartment block and managed to
compile a list of over 200 responses.

This article has a brief selection. Everything between quotes is verbatim.
I didn’t have the heart to edit local flavour.

“If I have to give this fan to my daughter when she gets married, it must look new, no ? ” (I looked around to see a 3-year-old playing with her new desi barbie; I saw the doll going back into its original pack after a brief 30 minute

” Look at my fridge, I say…can you guess its age ?” (I must be honest, here – the fridge was in mint condition. And I was told it was 15 years old.)

” When I went to buy a buy a new TV under exchange, I simply got 3000 rupees extra for my ‘well-maintained’ rumbo old piece…” (I discovered a whole new model on valuemetrics…)

“The remote has cover, because cockroaches attack the rubber buttons.” (Lesson learnt : When you eat a laddoo and operate the remote without washing your hands, some of the sweetness gets on to the keys.)

” Please note the point – in my father’s house they have cloth covers to cover the plastic covers…” (No argument here: this was value added,)

I must say, all this background research did have an influencer effect on me.
Because, not much later, my wife and I locked horns at a TV showroom on
which TV to buy. There were two brands and we were not exactly on the same side.

The tie-breaker ? One of them came with a free TV cover that could also be placed on our microwave oven..

Boardroom Showbiz

How to pick a team for your
multimedia presentation

Take a look at the figure 568,895,958,758,876,847. Guess what it is ? The number of burgers eaten at a McDonalds store in one day ? The secret code to a Swiss bank account ? The growing kangaroo population in Australia ? Is it the number of computers that were connected to the internet last week. I’m not sure of any of the answers, but let’s work on hypothesis for a moment and assume that 568,895,958,758,876,847 people were connected to the internet last week. That’s a lot of people you can reach from your keyboard, without a spiraling media burn that runs your budgets out of breath.

That’s a thought.

Going by the principle of techsorption – the rate at which companies are absorbing new technology platforms, we will soon have a clear divide between organizations that choose to invest in emerging technologies and organizations that wait to be touched by the ripple effect.

Today, technology combines with skill and expertise to give companies the kind of corporate makeovers that could set the stage for visibility in world markets. Spinning off mergers, partnerships and a global commune that does business at the speed of thought. What we’re seeing today is an extremely high plane of convergence in terms of image, voice, media and formats. Giving digital artists the capability to explore dynamic and undiscovered frontiers of creativity and expression.

How to pick a communications partner

If you’re looking for a handbook, there isn’t one. And we wouldn’t recommend the yellow pages, either. Which means you need a stroke of luck to run into a really professional team. Here are some tips that could help

One good way is to network with your friends in other organizations. This way you get to see work samples, you can check out on costs and the competence of team members. In fact referrals are a number one source on new business. IT related exhibitions are a good way to come face to face with the cutting edge in design excellence and production values. A carefully targeted exercise on a search engine would also be useful. If the team is really good, they’ll show up at the top.

And just as you’re careful about choosing your legal and financial consultants, the time has come to be very, very strategic about your web and multimedia partners. Your future could depend on it.

Look hard. Choose carefully

1 : Expertise
When it comes to making investments, expertise comes right on top. Does the team you want to work with, have wide-spectrum expertise ? What we mean here expertise with an equal emphasis on multimedia and web solutions. Do they give you the kind of confidence that comes with hard-wired domain knowledge ? Can they translate expertise into solutions ?

2 : Technology
Technology comes a close second and spans everything from the hardware environment and support systems, to the critical software tools that drive the development process. What is important here is the milestone index : are they working with tools the industry has left far behind ? Or have they kept pace with the right updated hardware investments ? Another important consideration is the legal aspect. If your team is working with 100% legal software, across the board, you get a good idea of professionalism.

3 : Creative skills
You can have the right expertise and the right technology. But if your team does not have what it takes to infuse creative excellence into their work, it shows. This is one area where eight out of ten studios fall short, because most teams are content with functional throughput. And while creative skills are an essential spearhead in the armory, they need to be honed by industry experience. That is the payoff, and sometimes a key qualifier for any team.

4 : People
The professional arena has become so skill-set intensive, that you have specialists for each domain area in the work spectrum. Right from graphic design, interactive design and web programming, to database programming, network administration and internet strategy. Building a core team these days, is very, very difficult. And sometimes, retaining top talent is harder than retaining a client.

5 : Systems
A design studio can have the right mix in terms of people, expertise and technology, but if they can’t get off the blocks in an organized manner, you’ve got a problem. We’re talking about workstream dynamics – which essentially means giving each project a logical, step-by-step followthrough. From a macro viewpoint this has a lot to do with assigning jobs to specialist teams, working with client feedback, integrating the various layers of operative technology and surviving wafer thin deadlines.

What you need here is synergy and integration of the highest order, because at the end of the day, you don’t just want to put the lid on a job. You want it to be a showcase in terms of technical excellence and creativity.

6 : Costs
Cost of project is probably the biggest hurdle in choosing a good team to work with. Because a good team usually comes with an upscale price tag. The higher you go, the heavier it gets. But there’s a logical way of looking at it. Is the project you’re working on critical to the showcasing of your organization ? Is it part of your communications strategy that’s aimed at new partnerships, new business or winning shareholder confidence ? Do you see yourself using it with minor revisions, over the next twelve months ?

If you find yourself saying “YES”, pick up the phone and call the boys over.

Any product / brand name mentioned in this article belongs to its registered owners. Any reference made is specific to the storyline of the article.

Life before PowerPoint

Today’s 50-year-old senior manager is an interesting blend of background and experience. He spans the emergence of technology over a critical two decades in the corporate world. His first word processor ? Probably a Smith Corona portable. His first presentation system ? The Kodak SAV 2000. (Let’s call him Alok, to make references easy.)

Today, Alok can put together a PowerPoint presentation within 30 minutes, using the templates on his notebook. While that doesn’t sound like rocket science, Alok sometimes goes back twenty-five years, to the time when he was a management trainee. When it took ten days to get a basic presentation together.

What you first did was roll out the presentation on a typewriter. After it was basically okayed by the Boss, you sent it out to your agency or design studio. An art director would then mark out a layout with type styles and send it off to the typesetting studio. All a typesetting studio did was follow the instructions on the typewritten sheet and compose the text on a typesetting machine. The output here was what we called a bromide – which simply means formatted text on photographic paper.

You’re only half-way through on this process.

The bromide output now goes back to the agency and a team of artists cut out the text portions to make individual slide artworks. This is where the text is spell-checked once again and corrections done by actually pasting little strips of corrected words over the misspelled words.

You’re about 60% done.

If you need graphs on the slide, the artist has to manually draw them out. Out here, each slide takes about 30 minutes to reach the flapping stage. That means the bromide is finally mounted on thicker board with a tracing sheet flapping paper. Why tracing sheet ? Just in case you find some more typos.

You’ve touched 80% on the completion scale.

Once the artworks are ready, they’re sent to the client. Which in this case, is young Alok, the management trainee. Alok checks the artworks carefully and shows them to his boss for a final okay. There’s a good chance here, that the Boss finds a few things wrong with the figures on the pie-charts. He does. Twenty slides out of 40 have corrections in them : the figures need to be updated.

You’re still about 80% done.

The art director marks out the corrections and sends it once again to the typesetter.
The corrections come in and the artworks are updated for Alok. This time he doesn’t show it to the Boss. He gives the go ahead.

You’re still about 80% done.

The artworks now make their final run, to the darkroom studio. Where there are copied on a large re-copying camera, by this chap under a black hood. What you now get are small transparent positives that are mounted within 35mm frames. After they’re mounted, the artist has one more thing to do. Pick up his brush and magnifier and hand color the slides with photo colors. After that, they’re placed inside a small box and sent to Alok, with a small note on artwork charges.

Alok ignores the note and gets ready to check out the slides on his Kodak SAV2000 projector. He has to load the slide tray by slipping each of his 40 slides into the respective gates in a sequential order. He then loads the tray on the projector and switches it on – throwing the image on the blank wall in his cubicle. As he goes through the slides using a remote, he’s got his fingers crossed : hope I don’t find another typo. Luckily, Alok doesn’t find any spelling mistakes, but he finds half-a-dozen slides that haven’t been aligned properly in the mounting process. So, those go back for re-alignment.

Alok has now got his presentation ready. He has to call in the Boss, before they make that pitch to the client tomorrow. The lights in the boardroom are dimmed and the projector is switched on. Alok takes the Boss through the presentation, relieved to hear a “very good” every two seconds. The 40th slide goes in and he breathes a sigh of relief. He can now go home to a warm bowl of soup.

As the lights come on, the Boss says, “Terrific job, Alok…I’ve just got one small problem : you might need to expand on slide 19. Can you slip in five more slides ? We’ve got ten whole hours before tomorrow’s presentation.”

Any product / brand name mentioned in this article belongs to its registered owners. Any reference made is specific to the storyline of the article.

Life after PowerPoint

What do you think happens when a client says he wants a “corporate” presentation ? Eyeballs pop, cash registers begin to ring and dozens of multimedia firms move in for the kill.

Welcome to the melting pot of hardsell, soft resistance and budgets that could hit the roof.

Sometimes, all a client needs is a simple, hard-working PowerPoint presentation; what he ends up with is a blockbuster that needs heavy-duty hardware and a mini-theatre with surround sound to view it in. In most cases the client digs his own soft earth, because he doesn’t know what he wants, he doesn’t know what he needs and he may not have the budgets for what he is embarking on.

So the entire pitch becomes an exercise in primary education; you need to explain options, you need to illustrate technology and you need to explain the different levels of a price ladder. This is where the client discovers fears that he probably never had before… like the fear of heights.

A primer for clients.

Things do get tough on the client’s side of the table. Tough, because you’ve got
to be accountable on money spent and answerable on every decision that you make. Most importantly, you’ve got to carry the can, if the project exceeds your budgets and falls short of expectations.

But what can clients do to make life easier ?

* Create an internal support system that provides information, offers assistance and is actually responsible for approvals as the job evolves.

* Make logical decisions on the level of technology that you seek. If you only need a first-rung PowerPoint presentation, don’t go up that ladder.

* Make a sincere attempt to work on objectives, a reasonable time plan and a realistic budget.

* Get all briefs approved by senior executives of the company. A good client brief that goes through its paces is an excellent starting point.

* Encourage the multi-media / design team to help you with the decision making process. Especially to match communication needs with compatible levels of technology

* Get the design team to map out a detailed response plan, with clearly outlined deliverables – concepts, scripts, production plans, post production, playback formats and milestones in terms of schedules.

A primer for design teams.

* Imagine what it could be like to be on the client’s side of the table. Understand the internal pressures of getting an ROI on project investments.

* Work closely with the client to understand marketing plans, communication objectives, project timeframes and cost parameters.

* Explain the intricacies of taxes that are added on to the final cost. In India
for instance, this can be a fairly hefty add-on.

* Help the client understand the technology platforms available, without a hard-sell on high tag options.

* Make sure the entire package includes a hands-on training / orientation session. Include a document that works like a help file.

* Build in a 12-month free support offer. In addition to being a useful value-add, clients will need to make revisions in content and visual support.

Any product / brand name mentioned in this article belongs to its registered owners. Any reference made is specific to the storyline of the article.

Life goes on …

I slip out of a nice warm bed and stumble into the bathroom. I turn on a tap… and there’s water. I flick a switch… and there’s light. I then wander into my kitchen where I flick another switch, which brings alive a fancy coffee maker – just the thing I need to jumpstart my day.

Coffee mug in hand, I settle into a recliner and turn on my TV.

I see a kaleidoscope of images showing the devastation left behind by the Tsunamis. (Till last week, this word was not part of the vocabulary of the man on the street). I see people looking dazed, lost and orphaned. People without shoes, without clothes… without families. Leave alone plumbing that works, they don’t even have a roof over their heads.

Many of these images are so graphic and poignant, that I soon find myself switching off the set…by pressing a little remote button from the comfort of my recliner. The people I’ve seen on TV don’t have a remote in their hands to rewind the last few days, or turn off the desolation they have suddenly been flooded into.

I feel guilty and helpless. I should be thinking of doing something. Maybe I can donate some money. I’m no millionaire, so how much could I donate ? Would the money actually reach them ? Maybe I can drop off some clothes at the collection point nearby…but will the clothes actually reach them ?

Maybe I should volunteer and visit some of the flood ravaged areas, to lend a helping hand. But my doctor mentioned last week that my fitness levels were at a rock bottom low. (I walk up two flights of stairs and I’m running out of breath.)

I’m saddened. I’m devastated. I’m moved. What can I really do that will touch the lives of these people ? My “reach out for the victims” muse is suddenly interrupted by the telephone ring. It’s an important client who needs a job done, in a hurry. “Wanted yesterday”, as we say in advertising.

If I don’t do the job, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, there’s no food on the table. My bills won’t get paid. My taps will run dry. And there won’t be light, when I flick a switch.

Where do I go from here ?
Sometimes, the will to do good, doesn’t go beyond good intentions.

And life goes on…

This was originally posted on