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HERB BENHAM: Have we met before?

The conversation at the pool recently was about meetings.

Most were veteran teachers who had met and exceeded their lifetime meeting quotient.

"My favorite is the pre-meeting before the meeting," Paul said. "The pre-meeting makes the second meeting obsolete but usually the second meeting takes place anyway because it's on the calendar and canceling a meeting is almost a sin."

Another teacher, less sunny, chimed in: "I told the principal I wasn't going to any more meetings and if he had something important to tell me, he could email me."

Like most people, I've attended a few meetings. At the newspaper's former office downtown, we'd gather in the conference room.

Conference rooms are to businesses what formal living rooms are to houses. No one spends much time there and when they do, they wonder what they can do to atone for their sins.

Conference rooms have whiteboards ready to be filled with action words — underlined or in quotes — and maybe a pull-down screen on which to project a dynamic PowerPoint presentation. If it's a PowerPoint, meeting goers pray for the slide flashing the first scene from "Spring Break Gone Wild" or photos from a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective.

We had two types of meetings: The company-wide meetings where management would report on the health of the newspaper and then the smaller ones, whereby reporters in the feature section would gather in order to come up with story ideas for the following week, month or impending holiday.

The larger, newspaper-wide meetings had rows of chairs, the most popular seats located at the back of the room close to the exits in case a reporter had to leave the room in order to cover a "breaking news story."

"I have to go. We can't let our readers down."

As the years went by and meetings piled up like cars totaled on a fog-shrouded Highway 99, refreshments became part of the lure. Refreshments included the small, squatty bottles of water and the world's driest granola bar, the bars a carryover from prior meetings, faithfully wheeled in and out by the women in HR.

Story-idea meetings were smaller, 10 or 12 people, and usually took place around an oblong wooden table or a collapsible 8t-foot rectangular table. Smaller was not necessarily better because a small meeting is like a forest denuded by fire. There is no place for the forest creatures to hide.

"Does anyone have any fun ideas for Halloween?"

I don't but I have a question: When did adults start dressing up for Halloween? If anybody had done that when we were kids, they would have been arrested or been carted on a party bus to the looney bin.

I can't ever remember coming up with a fresh idea unless it involved jumping out the second-story window or tendering my resignation to the nice women in HR who were busy carting the snacks back to their office after the latest company update meeting announcing that employees would get a Christmas turkey every other year.

Story ideas can be dangerous because if you suggest one, you might have to write it yourself. Work is hard enough but extra work is out of the question.

Short of ideas, it's a good strategy to bring a thick legal pad and a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil. A thick legal pad says, "I have pages of ideas but if I don't, I might come up with some during the meeting and write them in my thick notebook with my No. 2 pencil."

Posture is important. Don't slouch unless you're planning to slide from your slouching position, in stages with your head level with the top of the table, before slithering all the way to the floor while the leader is writing a key point on the whiteboard.

Don't bring your phone, it's bad meeting etiquette, but if you do, don't be afraid to look at it in the middle of the PowerPoint presentation and shout, "I can't believe he jumped" or "That's why you never fly in anything with less than two engines."

Nod a lot. Nod as opposed to shaking your head, which may give people the impression you don't want to be there.

Be careful about daydreaming because people higher on the food chain can read minds as if you had a cartoon bubble over your head. Do not think things like "This person is a complete idiot. How did they ever get promoted?"

Stare straight ahead like a zombie and keep your mind blank.

When the leader is ready to wrap things up, do not, under any circumstances, even if prodded, ask another question. Questions lead to furrowed brows, pursed lips and perhaps more swigs of the squatty water.

Never call a meeting yourself unless it's your last day on the job and the meeting includes alcohol, funky music and opportunities to shake a leg.

I have an idea, perhaps my first. How about a compilation of the memorable things people have said in meetings? The book could be brief, a quick read and allow time for the rest of our lives.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.