“Remote Meeting Re: Presentation,” by Will Willoughby

Apr 20th, 2024 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

“Don’t get me wrong, Davey. It’s a nice slide deck. Ginormous graphs. Crushing overall length. It’s the verbiage itself. It’s too—what’s the word?—too comprehensible.”

“It’s Dave, actually.”

“It’s a good first stab, David. But to be candid? The language is limp, sort of undynamic, like it’s obsessed with being plain. Borderline scrutable. What you want is to build a thick wall of text that’s so baffling it can’t be questioned. Your ideal end goal is a cognitive load heavy enough to smother any chance of cross-examination. It should fly right over everybody’s heads! And then you take your bow. And they’re like, Wowsers! Where’s this guy been my whole life?”

“Not sure I follow.”

“It’s not so much what you’re saying as how you’re saying it? Okay, even onscreen, I can tell you’re all befuddled. Don’t worry. A lot of people struggle with this. Let’s think of an example, right? Maybe leverage some nouns into a string of modifiers. You know: teacher and student classroom learning empowerment. It’s grammatical, David.”


“No worries! We’ll get your ducks in a row before your presentation tomorrow. Your mandate is—correct me if I’m wrong—to outline the key principles underpinning the central paradigm, no?”


“It’s just a matter of scaffolding the language, then. Basic zhooshing. Overall, the diction and syntax should distance the audience from the surface-level meaning so there’s no avenue for alternate perspectives. Again, this notion doesn’t come easy to a lot of people. But, you know, enough about my wife! That’s a joke, Davey. Humor!”

“Your wife?”

“Yeah. I mean, that’s probably TMI, but she doesn’t get this stuff either, like she’s particularly misaligned with the nuances of magnifying language for effect. Like sometimes I can barely grok her gist. She just says the weirdest things.”

“Like what?”

“Like Saturday, we’re just, you know, adhering to the standard weekend procedures—lawn mowing, vacuuming, etc. Then, out of the blue, she says she’s ‘going out for a while’ and would be ‘back in the afternoon.’ I’m like, What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Probably just going to the store or something.”

“Well, maybe. She did come back with several bags of food. It’s just I can’t stand the way she talks sometimes. Or chews. It’s like her mission and vision are all about irritating the feces out of me, Davey. But I don’t mean to get into the weeds with my dirty laundry. Which, by the way, she doesn’t know how to do either, apparently.”

“Sounds frustrating.”

“It really is, David! But, again, I’m getting too far afield. We should circle back to rejiggering your verbiage. I’d like to explore some options to encapsulate the essence of the message without lapsing into undue flatness.”

“That’s what she said.”

“Nice! Okay, so, I needed that laugh! But let’s get down to brass tacks, Davey. I’d like to see if we can solution a real-time outcome.”

“Again, what she said.”

“Stop! You’re gonna make me pee my pants!”

“What she said.”

“Oh my! We are way off track, David!”

“Like we can’t even see the track, right?”

“I guess not, no! Anyway, I don’t know. To be honest, I’d just as soon have a jaw sesh, actually. If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all. Jaw on.”

“So to surface some essential info, Davey, things have not been good. I don’t know how to say it. Things have changed? Especially since the whole social distance, work-from-home thing. Lately, everything about her is just really digging into me.”

“How so?”

“She’s so distant. Like nothing I say matters. I’ll be verbally interfacing with her, and it’s like she can’t even hear me. Like I’m talking just to hear myself interface!”

“Have you told her this?”

“That’s just the thing, David. I’ve been deploying robust messaging on this theme like gangbusters. It’s her listening mindset that needs follow-through.”

“Did you try finding some common ground?”

Oh, wow, common ground! Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?

“Sorry. I didn’t—”

I’m the one making the effort, David. I’m the one doing the planning. I’m the one keeping the activity board up to date. What’s she do? Pad around the house. Not do the dishes. Sleep late. And then maybe, if there’s time in her busy schedule, gripe about losing our flame. What the hell am I supposed to say to that?”

“You seem upset.”

“I am, David!”


“No, you’re right, Davey. That’s my bad. I didn’t mean to bite off your head and defecate down the resulting neck hole.”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s just— I work hard, you know? And now this compulsory working from home. Like does she even get how hard that is?”

“So she’s still going into the office?”


“Then she’s not working?”

“No, she’s working.”

“She’s working, then. At home.”

“Yeah, her work station’s in the living room.”

“Sorry, I’m a little slow today. What doesn’t she get?”

“I don’t know, David. You’re raising some valid points. It’s just common ground set me off. Thing is, I’ve been independently piloting an approach like that for ages, David. Nothing. Launched several initiatives to architect schemes to establish, fortify, and nurture effective communication. Nada. Just spinning my wheels, is all, with no clue as to the root cause.”

“I have a theory.”

“Walk me through it.”

“You need to translate.”

“Don’t follow, Davey.”

“Speak her language.”

“You’re losing me, brother.”

“Let me put it another way, then. You stand up a just-in-time solution, right?”


“During your interfacing sessions, you’ll want to employ an on-the-fly reconfiguration of your mode of expression to mesh with the word choice, sentence structure, and cadences demonstrated by the other stakeholder.”

“Davey, my man!”

“Best-case scenario? You’ll want to regularly outreach your wife to facilitate an exchange of individual perspectives. Cross-pollinate your discrete expressioning. Once you’ve bridged the languages, you can bolster your collaboration and ensure downstream benefits. To echo what you said before, I’m in agreeance that the way you present your message matters. But let me run this up the flagpole: What you say also matters. Unambiguous expressions of empathy and affection are not unwelcome.”

“You’re on fire, Davey!”

“Thank you, sir! So I have a challenge for you. Apply this technique in a tentative, exploratory fashion. See what transpires. Report back to me. Does that sound doable?”


“So what’s your best guesstimation on the time frame?”

“I’d say tonight.”

“Great proactive attitude! Indications are your emotional proximity will see marked improvement in the upcoming period of time.”

“Hope so, David!”

“I’ll throw something on our calendars. Do a postmortem, talk about next steps.”

“I’d like that. What about your presentation, though? I almost forgot.”

“Great question! I’d like to asynchronously actualize a wordsmithed iteration and then shoot you an email to get a second pair of eyes on it before tomorrow, if that works on your end. My ideation is to start from scratch, build the core message from soup to nuts, and then overlay the substantive confounding language while retaining the preexisting graphical masking.”

“Makes sense!”

“Thanks so much! And just to circle back real quick, I’d like to reiterate my preference for being referred to as Dave. Moving forward, wondering if you could align to that naming convention?”

“Sure thing, Dave. It’s the very least I can do.”


Will Willoughby, whose self-similar name was foisted on him at birth, has short stories in Epiphany, Does It Have Pockets, and the Piker Press. He got his English degree from the University of New Hampshire and now lives with his wife and daughter in southern Maine. He does not know Stephen King.

“Remote Meeting Re: Presentation” was inspired by the following Reedsy.com prompt: “Write a story entirely of dialogue. Nothing but dialogue. No attributives (he said, she said, etc.). No descriptions of scenes or gestures or movements (unless these things are presented in the dialogue). Just words between quotation marks. Pure, beautiful, untainted dialogue.”

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