The situation is tragically familiar. You are mandated by some unseen force be spend hours (or days) in a strange room. There is a presenter, a PowerPoint projector, and an audience of colleagues, known or unknown. The information being presented is (choose any three): redundant, unnecessary, irrelevant, incorrect, outdated, humorless, disorganized, depressing, stressful, useless, contradictory, confounding, insulting, or...just tedious and soul-crushing. You may or may not have been given a binder that burns your brain like the eye of Mordor whenever you open it.
But this is part of your job. You are being paid. You cannot project any attitude of negativity or defiance. You cannot use your phone or laptop. Doodling is too philologically revealing. Forget about crosswords, word searches, and Sudoku. You must create the illusion of attentiveness and engagement. You must keep yourself busy, somehow. If you start watching the clock you will die. You wonder how you ended up in this Orwellian nightmare.
But all is not lost. Here are ten strategies guaranteed to help you survive.
1. Lie about everything
If you know the other people in the room you have to be careful here. Choose something specific and unknowable, like vacation plans. If asked, this summer you will be traveling to the Gobi desert to study goat birthing with your step-mother. If it's an anonymous situation, well then begin by mentioning you were born in a country where everyone has a different skin color than your own. If you're black, then you were born in Denmark. If you're Latino, then you're Cambodian. If you're white, you're from Batswana. Also remember, you are a pescatarian amateur triple-jumper, you raise alpacas, and your father was at Iwo Jima. Oh, and this is your second career. You used to race chariots in Ely, Nevada.
2. Interrupt people to asked them to speak louder or repeat themselves
This can be incredibly annoying and sadistic if done properly. It's best to break in just as the person is about to make his or her point. While you may come across as rude, it's all done in the interest of clarification. Because you really care about what is being said. Because you are focused and attentive.
3. Aggressively dissect your presenter
Develop a case study of this individual like you are profiling a serial killer. Psychoanalyze every facet of his or her appearance, wardrobe, mannerisms, mood, tone, fitness-level, handedness, eye-blink frequency, make-up, hairstyle, and proportionality. Ask yourself, does her husband hate her? Are her nostrils even the right size for her face? Does he use Rogaine? Does he drink too much? Has he ever kicked a dog?
4. Play the Virginity Loss game
Go around the room and study your colleagues. Imagine in your mind the scenario in which each person lost his or her virginity. The overweight woman in the back, with the six grandkids, well that was on a stack of rice sacks in the storage room of a taqueria in Guatemala City. The young guy across the table? Well, that was with his mom's best friend, when he was 14, after a swim meet in her minivan outside a Round Table Pizza. The cute woman at the end of the table? Well, it's kind of sad. It was with her boyfriend in college, but someone pulled the fire alarm right when they got started and she's never known if it "counted". And if it didn't count, then it was with her boyfriend's roommate, the next night, at the Fluff 'N Fold.
5. Break time is NOT EVER the time to take a break
Always get up to use the bathroom during the presentation. Actual break time is for checking email or calling your wife. The need to heat up your coffee or use the bathroom is sacred. These will be the most interesting moments of your day. Do not squander them! Similarly, do not EVER eat your lunch during the lunch break. Pick up your lunch, take care of personal business, and then eat your lunch during the after-lunch presentation session.
6. Quietly ask the person sitting next to you if they smell smoke
Then wait five or ten minutes and ask the person on the other side of you. Make occasional sniffling noises and look around conspicuously. Then get up and look in the trash can.
7. Actively obsess about the room temperature and air quality
If the room is too hot, ask if they can turn the air down. If it's too cold, ask why the heater is on. If the door is closed, ask if anyone minds if you open it, and vice verse. You will irritate everyone, which will generate protests. These protests will derail the presentation, which will lead to an extended digression about focus and timing. Be sure you are the first one to remind the presenter what he or she was talking about before the interruptions. Once the presentation has continued, fan yourself with papers, adjust the layers of your clothing, or just rub your arms aggressively like you're lost in the Alaskan wilderness with no hope of building a fire.
8. Figure out the real reason you are there
Most likely you will have to make a lot of this up. But that's okay. You're just killing time, remember? So ask yourself, what is the true corporate money-grubbing or lawsuit-avoiding motivation for this meeting or training? Who's paying you to be there? Who does your presenter represent? What consulting firm stands to cash in from the upcoming change in policy or shift in tactics and strategy? How does it all fit into your personal political assumptions about corruption, conspiracy, and "the man"?
9. Spill something
Hot coffee is best, because there's an element of danger, which will cause everyone in the room to react quickly and instinctively. But then you're out of coffee. Use your judgment. Water works great as well. This is especially true if you are sharing a large table with everyone, ideally a glass table with lots of plugs and power strips and technology. You can really maximize the damage and time of distraction (TOD) if there are propriety sample materials in front of you, such as proposal drafts, final proof texts, or graphic art samples. Best of all, you can justify an additional trip out of the room to either clean yourself up, or fetch supplies to clean the soiled desk or table.
10. Create a rescue hierarchy
This is really a variation on the Virginity Loss game. Imagine there has been a gas leak. You have been away at the bathroom to get napkins to clean up your coffee spill. When you return, you discover everyone in the room has passed out. Then a voice comes over the intercom informing you that the building will self-destruct in two minutes. You have time to save two, maybe three people. So who do you save? Really think this through. Do some soul searching. What are your core values? Do you save the hot chick or the rich guy? The mother of four, or the guy with the ski cabin in Telluride? Maybe you save nobody.
And that's it. You're done! Congratulations! You have successfully survived your tedious and soul-crushing corporate meeting or district training! You're welcome.