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Have you ever played conference bingo?

By Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon - 07th Jul 2024


Meetings are full of common tropes, but sometimes it’s the unexpected silences that are most telling

I’m  not saying that educational meetings are dull, but sometimes they benefit from a little side game to keep the post-lunch nap at bay. Keeping an eye out for common conference tropes can help to focus one’s attention, while also inducing a little whoop of satisfaction when you get a full house.

The game works like this: You make your own 4×4 bingo card, write a classic conference experience in each box, and tick each one off throughout the day. Once you have captured the full array, then you can whisper “bingo” quietly to yourself under your breath, while the person next to you discreetly moves seats.

Some conference clichés are simply inevitable; the mention of “housekeeping” at the beginning of the day, where we are told how to find the emergency exits and reminded to mute our phones. The compulsory “Can you hear me?”, obviously 100-fold more likely on an online meeting, but still a feature of the old-fashioned hand-held microphone set-up. The feedback when said microphone screeches within the radius of the lectern mike. “I’m afraid we are running behind time, so we’ll have to skip coffee,” followed by audible existential groans from the audience.

The presenter who clearly never had any intention of sticking to their allotted time. The presenter who gives themselves a hernia trying to flip through their slides in exactly the correct number of minutes.

The “busy slide”. Apologised for, and yet never removed from the deck.

The aforementioned post-prandial nap (exemplified by the nodding bobblehead of the emeritus professor in the front row).

Apologies for technical issues. “Does anyone have a MacBook adaptor by any chance?”

PowerPoints displayed as Normal View instead of Slide Show. (Even better if you can read the narrative under the slide and it says “waffle on about equity here”).

The juicy slide with all sorts of wonderful new information, followed by the oft-ignored exhortation to “please don’t tweet this yet, as it is unpublished material”.

Amongst the crowds of people queuing at the rickety table, eagerly waiting their turn to scald themselves by wrestling with the banjaxed thermos of coffee-flavoured tea, you will spot the smug countenance of the one person who found the barista bar downstairs and is relishing their freshly-ground robusta.

But by far the easiest tick to get during any game of conference bingo is the “More of a comment than a question” contribution from the audience. This is pretty much inevitable and generally happens more than once. The purpose is relatively clear; this audience member is keen to let us know that he is quite the expert on this subject; if only someone in the organising committee had had the sense to invite him to speak. There are also people who cannot tolerate a vacuum of silence, and have a ready supply of pithy aphorisms, and “that would be an ecumenical matter” to trot out within five seconds of the convenor opening the discussion to the floor.

And yet I was present at a number of meetings recently where there was a deathly silence when a speaker concluded her presentation. Not a squeak. Nothing. The MCs chirpily moved on to the next section, delighted to have clawed back some precious minutes in the overtight schedule. Yet it is worth pondering on the absence of questions, comments, or queries in these cases.

There was a heavy, palpable silence in the room after a description of the findings of a survey of the surgical workforce in the UK in relation to their experiences of sexual harassment. This study was published in 2023 and revealed that 63 per cent of women had experienced such harassment, compared with 24 per cent of men. It also looked at a number of other concerning issues such as physical assault during surgical procedures and the rate of sexual abuse (including rape) in the context of medical conferences. These are cold, stark, hard facts. No one in the room was in a position to come up with a single cogent comment or question when the speaker was finished. 

It was also curious to note the absence of discussion around an AGM motion in relation to the declaration of conflicts of interest by people contributing to medical education resources and guidelines. The argument for the motion was meticulously delivered and therefore may have precluded any need for clarification, but it stood out for me as being the one topic on which the learned experts in the audience did not seem inclined to share their valued opinion.

Sometimes shame or guilt can quieten the loudest voice.

That might be just the moment to loudly shout, “Bingo!”.

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Medical Independent 9th July 2024

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