Nearly everyone I know complains that meetings are boring, time-wasting, maddening, or frustrating. Part of the problem is that we use meetings to engage in various forms of ritualized nonsense. There are dozens of these tactics and ploys, which I've been collecting over the years. Here's the first installment of a little catalog of the more common tactics. See "Games for Meetings: II," Point Lookout for February 19, 2003, for more.
- Here's a still-warm 20-page handout to read while we discuss this incredibly complex issue.
- People can't read something while they discuss it. When we distribute printed material "in support" of a presentation, we're actually undermining it, because we're asking people to do two things at once — listen and read. Most of us can't do that. Distribute supporting material far enough in advance to enable people to prepare for the meeting.
- Tree Slaughter
- Here's a 20-page handout that directly corresponds to my slides. File it, then let it age until recycled.
- One common excuse for this practice is that having in hand a printed version of the slides on the screen helps us make notes as the speaker goes along. If that's your reason, use "handout" format to decrease the page count and to reduce the damage to the world's forests.
- Let's see how many conversations we can have simultaneously and still believe we're accomplishing something.
- Sometimes, when sidebars erupt, the meeting chair lets them persist. Sidebars are distracting and reduce everyone's effectiveness. If you chair or facilitate a meeting, ask the speaker for a moment, and try something like, "Excuse me please. When I see multiple conversations going on, it seems to me that people aren't listening to the meeting. Phil has the floor right now." If the behavior is part of a pattern, deal with the "behavers" privately afterwards.
- I'm better than you are.
- This thesis is unprovable, except perhaps in the mind of the prover. When you find yourself doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can. When you feel that someone else is doing this, breathe, then take a break if you can.
- And I'm louder, too.
- The high-decibel version of "One-Up." Use the same approach for this as you would for a hurricane or typhoon: stay out of the way.
- Let's see who can speak a grammatically correct sentence consisting entirely of acronyms.
- Acronyms are often useful shorthand. Good acronyms eventually become words — "scuba," for example. But too often, we cross the line. We string letters together into unpronounceable chains, or we name components using artificial phrases that make "cute" acronyms. Use real words if you can, or coin something if necessary.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When Your Boss Attacks Your Self-Esteem
- Your boss's comments about your work can make your day — or break it. When you experience a comment
as negative or hurtful, you might become angry, defensive, withdrawn, or even shut down. When that happens,
you're not at your best. What can you do if your boss seems intent on making every day a misery?
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
- Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space
to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are
some risks worth mitigating.
- Preventing Sidebars
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How
can we prevent them?
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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