If reality TV ever runs low on ideas, perhaps it should consider covering annual shareholder meetings. Though conventional wisdom suggests that these conferences should be deathly dull, that's not always the case.

For good or ill, we've seen plenty of lively shareholder shindigs this year. Controversial companies such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) and Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE) drew irate shareholders and protestors to their meetings, while Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B) Omaha-based annual meeting lived up to its festive reputation as "Woodstock for Capitalists." According to various media reports, these events only scratch the surface of the interesting and unexpected twists that many recent shareholder meetings have taken.

Smoking with anger
A group of nurses protested and lobbed questions at Philip Morris International's (NYSE: PM) annual meeting this year. Members of Corporate Accountability International also wondered whether the tobacco giant would recuse itself from public-health policymaking, noting its somewhat significant conflict of interest.

Animal spirits
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a frequent cause-driven activist shareholder, protested against Dean Foods (NYSE: DF), demanding that the company make animal welfare a higher priority. Unlike some of PETA's more shocking protests, it appears that everyone here thankfully kept their clothes on.

Secret society shenanigans
Boston Scientific
(NYSE: BSX) decided to ban the media from its annual meeting this year -- a decidedly shady move. Its high levels of executive compensation amid lackluster performance make that closed-door policy look even more nefarious.

Not feeling so well
Wellpoint
's (NYSE: WLP) recent -- and contentious -- annual meeting abruptly halted when board member William H.T. Bush (brother of former President George W. Bush) collapsed during the proceedings. While he was later discharged from the hospital, some shareholders ended up miffed that tough questions remained unanswered because of the meeting's premature end. Protests continued afterwards.

Cool kids
I loved the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's report on a 12-year-old Home Depot (NYSE: HD) shareholder named Emma Allison, who has attended every Home Depot meeting since 2007. She caught the attention of CEO Frank Blake, who said he's "hoping those shares will get you through college." When asked about PETA's annual proposal, which requests that Home Depot remove glue traps from its stores, Emma said: "No, [PETA] shouldn't give up. But maybe (the PETA representative) could shorten her speech." Fool on, young shareholder.

The fine art of listening
Here at the Fool, we celebrate differences of opinion, since we believe that impartially analyzing various arguments is a crucial skill for successful investors. Contrarian warnings of an impending financial crisis might have seemed ridiculous during the bubble years -- but I'll bet we'd all be better off if more people had paid attention to them. Even the most garish gadflies can call attention to serious issues worth addressing, and real threats to shareholder interests.  While you might not agree with every activist shareholder or protester who takes the mic at an annual meeting, you should still hear out their points of view. Hopefully, management will extend them the same courtesy.

Check back at Fool.com every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on corporate governance.

Berkshire Hathaway, Home Depot, and WellPoint are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.