The motivational speaker paced a triangle in the front of the room. I felt safe from her questions at a back table. But then she began strolling. I cursed the invention of wireless microphones. Once upon a time, being in the audience would be just what it sounds like. You didn’t become part of the show just because the speaker needed to keep everybody awake and attentive.

“What’s your elevator speech?” the motivational speaker asked a woman in a dark suit and puffy scarf.

“I solve people’s financial problems by evaluating their portfolios and advising them about complicated money matters.”

“Try this,” said the motivational speaker. She held up her hands as if framing a billboard off in the distance. “I make people’s dreams come true by making money not matter.”

Ms. Motivation arrived at my table and gazed at me with her slightly offhand, slightly evangelical, and a whole lot seemingly knowledgeable look. “Hi,” she said. She took a long look at me. Everybody shifted in their chairs to be able to see. Some in the front stood to get a better view.

I was ready to give my elevator speech. Something to the effect that I can help make people happy by finding them any item in our catalogues, which have everything you could think of. But she didn’t ask me for my elevator speech. Instead, she tapped on the table. “Tell, me. If you could sum up the company you work for in just a few words, what would you say?” She held the microphone in my face.

“The fish stinks from the head,” I said.

The room burst out in laughter. My face felt hot. I hadn’t meant to say it. It’s just that when I was put on the spot like that, all other thoughts fled, leaving the one phrase that our CEO had repeated over and over for the past month.

“Well, we wish you luck in finding better employment.” She started to move on.

“No, wait,” I said. But she had targeted her next victim and was moving on. I jumped out of my seat, tripping over the cloth napkin that fell from my lap. I yanked the microphone out of her hand. She raised one eyebrow.

“I meant the CEO sets the tone for the company,” I said. “She has to do things right so that everything will turn out all right.”

“Thank you for the clarification,” said Ms. Motivation.

I returned to my seat. The woman next to me leaned close to me. “You’re a plant, aren’t you?”

I pondered this for a moment. Should I lie? Or acknowledge that I really was that much of a social misfit? In the end I shrugged, took a last bite of my rubber chicken lunch, and slipped out the hotel meeting room double doors.

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