I had a chance to be in San Jose and be a part of the Prime Minister’s event in San Jose. Friends from India, at NASSCOM including Sangeeta Gupta, R Chandrashekar and Ravi Gururaj, who I worked with for the product conclave for many years, gave me an opportunity to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Startup Konnect program.
It was only on Friday, this week when I flew into San Jose, that I even know that I was the MC for the PM’s event. The magnitude of the occasion did not sink in until much later, when I had a chance to get briefed by the Secret Service, the PM’s Special Protection Group (SPG), the PMO (Prime Minister’s office), the Counsel General’s office from Washington DC and the overseas Security team at DC.
Most of my MC stuff has been impromptu, relaxed and not scripted. This was the biggest change for me more than anything else.
The event was a 2 day affair with lunch on the first day with donors, on day one and a bunch of photo opportunities, followed by a “Digital India” Dinner with top technology CEO’s and finally the Startup Konnect event on day 2.
The part that stressed me the most was the scripting. I had to rehearse 7-12 times (which apparently was less than what the PMO’s office usually demands of the speakers) which was nerve wracking for the rest of the folks, more than for me.
I have been used to my off-the-cuff remarks, some funny comments or engaging the audience with questions and polls. Not so this time.
Every word was scripted, reviewed and conceived, by a minimum of 5 people.
Every step was rehearsed. Stand-ins (people who played the part of the PM, or security) were asked to rehearse with me as well. There was triple-checking, checking five times and more, just to ensure that nothing was left to “chance”.
There were 3 observations I had of the overall event, which I wanted to share for those who were not there.
- First, there were about 30 billionaires I met during the 2 day event, who were A-listers in their own right. Turns out they were on the B-list for these 2 days. The PM draws top billing from a wide array. I would consider myself pretty snooty, and someone that would look down on those who would get starry eyed at Bollywood celebrities. I fell into that same trap on day 1. I took close to 50 selfies with folks such as Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Travis Kalanick of Uber, Vinod Khosla, Sunder Pichai, and Satya Nadella. The B-listers were the billionaires.
- The security was intense at the same time and felt porous as well. People who “played by the rules” and went through the security were treated like cattle being branded before being put in a pen. There were those who did not play by the rules and seemed to be able to drop the “I am XYZ from the PM’s office, so I need to sit here”. Surprisingly many of them were able to get away with it. Average wait times in the queue were 20-30 minutes, but the security on day 2 was intense (it was a much smaller setting, so there was more security). Tempers were frail and it interesting to see how people dealt with it in their own ways. There were 5 “sets” of security teams who swept through the room, and each time we thought the Prime Minister was arriving.
- The PM himself is very articulate, charming and personable. Which is probably the reason why so many people like him, and believe he is the right leader for India. His speeches were very well written and I met his speech writers, who offered me some tips on my own “speech”. The PM was always turned on, aware of the on-goings and was very well briefed on Uber vs. Lyft, the startup culture of the Silicon Valley (we exchanged a joke about my and my t-shirts and his attire as well).
I was so humbled by the opportunity though. There are way more qualified people both in India and in the valley than I am, but the NASSCOM team just offered me the opportunity, which was amazing and enlightening at the same time.
This will be the last I talk about this though since many of my friends are already tired of the 2 day photo stream with constant selfies that I took and shared on Facebook.