Boredom Decorum

Source: Allthingsclipart
Source: Allthingsclipart

I noticed in a Washington Post article today that the new Secretary of Defense is about to convene an important summit in Kuwait.  He has summoned military commanders from their respective posts in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe for a review of the ongoing war on terror.  What caught my eye was his order that no Powerpoint presentations be made by any of the invited participants.  Apparently military commanders enjoy their Powerpoint slideshows, and the Secretary isn’t interested in the dog and pony shows usually given to civilian leaders.  He wants frank dialogue instead.  I personally think that this is a refreshing change.  There was nothing I hated more during my working years than having to sit through those endless slides and presentations at meetings, conferences, and seminars.

Meetings were something I came to loathe with a great intensity towards the end of my career. I would cringe when I got the first notification of one, dutifully noted it on my calendar, and then quickly put it out of my mind until the dreaded moment it arrived.  It wasn’t always this way, though.  When I first started working after college, I always watched with a bit of longing at higher-level staff who would walk in groups to the conference rooms, laughing and holding their coffee cups.  I imagined a better world than the one I had lying on my desk with my boring, menial tasks. Their world seemed better than mine.

In relative short order I eventually rose to the ranks of those who attended meetings, and it really didn’t take long before I found them to be obstacles in my day.  If it wasn’t having to defend whatever project I was currently working on, it was having to listen in detail about other work that was completely unrelated to me.  It didn’t take long to realize that time spent in meetings was time that I was away from my own work, and this increasingly was the reason why I was having to stay later or arrive early each day to finish it.  Meetings quickly began to be an anathema rather than the promised land.

As presentation software began to be introduced, meetings became even longer because we had to read along with the presenter as he/she literally read aloud from the very same slides that we were seeing in front of us. It was mind-numbing.  Soon games would be developed such as Buzzword Bingo, which was my personal favorite because it poked fun at the new age, techno lexicon of office-speak.  Along with the boring slides, we had a whole new vocabulary of truly awful words and phrases such as synergy, outside the box, best practices, and paradigm shift.  At least two or three of us would keep score of the utterances, and whoever had the most creditable list at the end would win a free beer at the next cocktail hour.  Of course, bravado being what it is, it didn’t take long before our escapades began to leak around the office.  Soon one of the higher managers saw to it that she would sit next to one of us — usually me — at meetings.  This was all before tablets were invented and they became an acceptable form of amusement, ‘er, note-taking at meetings.

Thankfully as we headed into the new millennium, the rote-recitation of Powerpoint presentations began to be lampooned.  It was no longer fashionable for your audience to read your speech along with you, and the more creative presenters incorporated humor and visuals in their slides.  A later boss of mine became so adept and clever with this that all staff affirmatively looked forward to his annual presentations (Hi, E.).  And while the annoying lexicon is sadly still with us, enough Internet and television mocking of it has limited its usage a bit.

Another tedium for me was attending large national conferences. Initially they were something I enjoyed because going to one meant traveling to new cities, meeting with professional contacts I knew only through electronic means, and staying in nice hotels with at least a modicum of a decent per diem at my disposal (i.e. hotel bars and restaurants).   But after awhile these too began to suffer from a sameness.  Speaker after speaker would extol how wonderful their new-fangled invention was, and how it streamlined (bingo!) operations back at their workplace.  Sessions ran long, and by 3:30pm the free coffee had long been emptied or was at room temperature, and all I could think about was that very cold martini waiting for me at the hotel.

The absolute worst kind of meeting for me, however, was the conference call. I disliked those more than actually sitting in a room with other people.  This, despite the fact that I had my computer, cell phone, or even a magazine at my disposal for diversions.  I just never knew if a co-worker or boss would suddenly decide to call my name out to engage on a topic. This made me nervous.  Having David Letterman’s web page up on my monitor, and being engrossed in his Top Ten from the night before, created a dangerous situation if anyone decided to include me into the current discussion.  I would sometimes try to fake my ignorance by asking if they could perhaps expand a bit on the meaning of what they had just said.  A silence would ensue followed by someone saying, “Okay, what hour can you call me tomorrow to discuss the project?”

My most embarrassing conference call moment came when I still had an AOL e-mail address, and I logged into their internet portal during the meeting.  Not realizing that they had incorporated the same functionality into the portal as their desktop software, I apparently had my speakers on loud enough to blast, “You’ve got mail!”  Snickers could be heard from different corners of the western United States.  I also remember sighing loudly once during a conference call in reaction to something a co-worker had said, not realizing that my phone’s mouthpiece had somehow been switched to active mode rather than mute.  Later that day, my boss deduced it must have been me, and he called me on it in a gracious and funny way.   It’s probably fair to say that the seeds of my retirement began around that time.

Of course in any occupation, no matter if it’s a medical office, a construction company, or an accounting firm, meetings have to be held.  Practices have to be reviewed, current projects discussed, and future plans coordinated.  Management and/or meeting facilitators need to come up with agendas, and they by and large have thankless tasks at keeping things moving and attempting to keep people like me from being disgruntled.

The Secretary of Defense sounds like he’s on the right track in barring presentation software.  Then again, maybe our greatest weapon against terrorists could be some really boring Powerpoint lectures spammed into their web sites.  Perhaps we should take this discussion offline (bingo!).

11 thoughts on “Boredom Decorum

  1. This brought back too many painful memories. We would have a 2 day budget meeting annually. I was only involved in a small piece of it but I sat for 2 days trying not to doze. For a while (until we canned her sorry ass) there was an exec who would do a powerpoint that contained complete paragraphs. No matter how many times I suggested bullets for key points (hello?) she used paragraphs. I used to publicly announce that they needed to add no-doz to the budget. They thought I was kidding…..go figure…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so many people can relate (and for that matter, this topic has probably been blogged about to death). I think your exec probably either had no earthly idea how to get her thoughts across in such a concise fashion, or simply thought her information was REALLY vital.

      I always hated being asked to attend incredibly long meetings for which my involvement was a fraction of what was to be discussed. It made no earthly sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to think that being part of a meeting would make me feel important. I used to yearn to be one of my senior colleagues who seemed to have at least two or three meetings a week to attend.

    I soon lost that yearning when I became ‘senior’ enough to attend said meetings. They were often too long, irrelevant to my current work projects or were just plain pointless. I knew it was reaching the ridiculous stage when we had a meeting to agree a date of a meeting…

    When I hear the word ‘meeting’ now I still let out a little shudder… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Boredom Decorum” is right on, Snakes. I’ve yet to attend a meeting that I truly got anything out of. Just tell me what you want in a sentence and I’ll deliver. No mumbo-jumbo, please. There was an article some time back, I’m told, that stated the more meetings we attend in a lifetime, the more our IQ shrinks. Duh, me sign off now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, Snakes, your lack of enjoyment of those large national conferences just means you weren’t doing them right. I attended my share of those same meetings and, yes, of course, after about, oh, the first one, they were, indeed, tedious and boring. Even the sessions that sounded like they would be good, were not, 9 times out of 10. But, the meetings themselves really only served as the framework on which to hang the junketization. Of course, when one of those meetings was in or near my own town, they were truly awful: all of the tedium, too much of the planning and work done by me, and none of the junketization, nor even any per diem, for that matter. But, when those meetings were somewhere far from home, why, I could take a week or so off along the way, stopping at National Parks, Major League Baseball games, and whatever else struck the fancy en route. Thereby, building an exciting vacation, with just a few unfortunate days in the middle for some duil meeting, All without ever costing the employer any more than if I had just gone directly to the meeting and back. Why, that junketizing may be the only thing I miss about working. Other than all of those smiling, happy, wonderful coworkers. (Hello, E, N, M, K, et al), to borrow a Snakeian phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, yes. The junkets. Yes, there were opportunities to see things, go places, and take additional time off from work. HOWEVER, Mr. Tip, not all of us had a *full* staff to do the work back at the office. Some of us had to get back! 😉


  5. Although a little dated, Neil McAllister’s “Action Item – Professional Super Hero!” bears mentioning. It’s a single comic strip that so perfectly describes those to whom the meeting IS the reason to exist and the frustration of those of us who thought the meeting was called to actually accomplish something.

    Liked by 1 person

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