Shopping, Gaming While the Boss Talks

If the answer is nothing, see if the meeting leader will let you off the hook -- or at least call in from desk so you can get some other work done, Stella said.

The Clumsy Conference Caller

When it comes to colorful conference call stories, "Hearing a flushing toilet pretty much tops my list," said Brian Casto, a CEO in Raleigh, N.C.

Obviously, the mute button will get you far when calling in to a remote meeting. But Pete Johnson, a software engineer who works from home, gave me a few more suggestions.

Your safest bet is to multitask in two- to three-minute increments -- an e-mail here, a small, mindless task there (cleaning your desk, folding the laundry), said Johnson, who spends four to six hours a day in meetings and has openly blogged about his multitasking strategy.

If you do lose track of the discussion, instant messaging a trusted colleague for an update works in a pinch, Johnson said.

But what if you get caught not paying attention -- presumably because someone asks you a question and all you hear is your name?

"You can say you didn't understand what they meant and ask them to repeat the question," Johnson said. "Another way is to deflect the question to someone else who's on the line. But the one I almost always go with is to cop to it: 'I'm sorry, you caught me multitasking. Can you repeat the question?'"

Even better if your apology includes the fact that you were engrossed in a white-hot project you're completing for your boss, Johnson added.

The Sloppy Meeting Leader

Of course, there's nothing more humiliating than being caught multitasking when you're the one running the meeting.

"Funniest thing I ever saw was a person giving a speech to a bunch of corporate folks at a seminar on getting organized and learning to prioritize, emphasizing the need to unplug from all gadgets as a way to get actual work done," said professional organizer Hillary Hutchinson of Charleston, S.C.

As you can probably guess, the presenter got -- and answered -- a call at that precise moment.

"The crowd reaction was somewhere between complete hilarity and total disbelief," Hutchinson said.

Still, that isn't the funniest story I've heard about distracted presenters.

Rosen, the business communication coach, got this shocker during a student's final presentation in a marketing course she teaches to executives from the around the world:

"A man from Spain (we'll call him Ignacio) opened a presentation he had been working on during the last minutes before he went on stage," Rosen said. "With one click on a PowerPoint that was labeled 'new,' the class was treated to naked photos of Ignacio's girlfriend."

Meeting leaders, let that be a lesson to you: turn off your cell phone, shut down your instant messaging service, make sure your desktop background does not feature a picture of you in your swim trunks and for the love of god, triple-check that you've cued up the correct slide deck.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,

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