Meetings Bore You to Death? Snap Out of It

Last Updated Mar 19, 2011 12:43 PM EDT

Yeah, we know. Meetings suck too much time out of your life. Conference calls and web meetings are essentially time to catch up on your email and curse the swirling,sucking eddy of despair that is your career. In the immortal words of Cher (that sentence is on the list of things I never thought I'd say), "Snap out of it".

As Danuta McCall points out in the blog, whether we're the leader or a participant in a meeting we are responsible for either making them a waste of time, or helping them accomplish their goals. In her latest post, she offers 4 choices we can all make that dictate whether we are part of the solution or part of the problem:

  • We can decide whether to attend the meeting or not. Okay, sometimes it's mandatory and you have no choice. But have you ever actually asked if you need to be there or not? That question can lead to a conversation with the meeting leader about the purpose, outcome and what you're expected to offer besides your grudging attendance. More than once, I've managed to get out of a meeting or even had the meeting canceled because there wasn't enough value to be gained from the time spent. If you must attend, at least you'll know what people expect from you and why. Try to live up to their expectations.
  • Being prepared is a choice. Seriously. Yes you're busy, but unless the meeting is called as an emergency, it's not like you didn't see it coming. You really don't have 10 minutes to read through that document before the meeting? Make a couple of notes to yourself about points you want to raise so you don't forget them and plan to contribute. Saying you didn't get a chance to read it and asking for a recap is just rude and a waste of everyone's time. You know how you feel when people do it to you? Back at ya.
  • You can decide to multi-task or be engaged. Believe it or not, this is a conscious choice. Just because you're not the "leader", doesn't mean you can't be a leader.If you are the meeting leader, don't leave the participatory parts of the meeting for the end, get people involved early and often. If you're not the leader, make notes, pipe up if things seem to be going off course and refocus the conversation. Close your email or at least turn off the alerts to reduce the Pavolvian response to incoming trivia. Purposefully taking notes is a great way to stay engaged.
  • You might not save this meeting, but you can make the next one less miserable. Many times the person leading the meeting lacks experience and might not be in control. The only way they'll learn is to get feedback, both during the meeting and afterwards. If the topic is drifting, you can politely ask if this is germane to the outcome, and if it can be taken offline. Your peers (and usually the meeting leader) will be grateful that someone spoke up. After the meeting, don't be afraid to offer (constructive) feedback to make the next meeting run smoother. Most meeting leaders never get any ideas for improvement. The meeting ends, not with a bang but a whimper, and everyone goes back to their lives dreading the next event. For instance, suggest sending out an agenda in advance. Ask if they can make the meeting shorter by focusing on the important content that requires input and less on updates that can be communicated in other ways. If you don't say anything, you can't complain. If you do, and the advice is ignored, at least you get the satisfaction of playing the martyr.
Here's a last suggestion for leaders. Try assigning meeting leadership throughout the team. You'd be amazed how many people have no idea what it really takes to make a meeting work and you might earn some karma points.

Meetings, especially remote meetings through technology require strong facilitation and leadership. They also require focus and effort from participants. If you're not putting out the effort, how can you expect results?

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