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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meet Your Heart Out

There are many guides to running more effective meetings – usually with titles like, “Running More Effective Meetings”; “More Effective Meetings – How to Run Them”; “Running Effectively to More Meetings”, and so on. I can quickly summarize the recommendations offered in these publications:
· Provide attendees with an agenda prior to the meeting
· Start and end on time; don't reward latecomers by delaying or recapping
· Prioritize what you want to talk about
· Document off-topic conversation in a “parking lot”
· Don’t take phone calls or read emails during the meeting
· Build time into the agenda for summarizing the discussion and assignment of next steps
As always - the conventional wisdom regarding so-called "best practices" has its figurative head up its proverbial ass. Your goal for a meeting isn't to make it effective - it's to make it memorable. Follow these tips and you'll be certain to engage and/or horrify your meeting's attendees:

Prior to the meeting, provide a list of buzzwords to listen for. Pass out bingo cards and daubers as everyone walks in and award a prize to the first person to scream out "BINGO!" People will be certain to pay attention to every word said when there's a prize for doing so.

Start on time but make the first agenda item "Punish Latecomers". The person who comes late to the meeting is inevitably either the least or most important attendee. If the latecomer falls into the former camp, pounce on him the second he walks in late, regardless of whatever apology is offered:
  • "Get OUT! Who do you think you are, walking in here seven minutes late? Go back to whatever petty task you were failing at, and while you're at it learn how to tell time!"
When everyone is waiting on a key stakeholder, a person without whom the discussion can not move forward, try this strategy: once Ms. Big Shot finally saunters into the room, immediately cease any prior discussion and stare at her unflinchingly. The stare should be long, hard, and severe. Work out a signal with the on-time attendees and, once flashed, resume normal conversation. That'll take that mofo down a notch or two.

In the rare circumstance that all attendees actually show up on time for the meeting, exercise your power over them by demanding random seat changes.

Divert off-topic conversation to a “parking lot”. This seems similar to the usual banal recommendation found in other meeting guides, but what can make it truly effective is to remove the quotation marks and make those who insist on engaging in off-topic conversation leave the room and march outside to the parking lot. Best utilized with meetings held during inclement weather.

Make an impact using your phone during the meeting. If anyone takes a call or starts scrolling through email on their smartphone, take your even smarter phone and chuck it at their head. Solid contact with the offender's cranium sends a strong message that discourages anyone else from making a similar mis-step.

Summaries are not essential. This is because all meetings can be summarized as "I've just wasted ninety minutes of your time, and you missed lunch besides."

Assign "inaction" items. Follow-up to the typical action item results in a stall, buck-passing, or other assignment of blame:
  • (Project Leader): "Chris, do you have an update on pulling the campaign metrics?"
  • (Chris): "Um, well, I *would* have had an update for you but I was out sick last week / my computer crashed / IT wouldn't give me access to the datashed."
We continue to insist on "action" while ignoring the Law of Inertia - an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. Do you think anyone, after being released from the scheduled imprisonment we call a "meeting," springs into action? HELL no! - folks go for coffee, or out for a smoke, or get back online to checkout their purchase from Zappos. And don't get me started on what constitutes an "unbalanced force" -- you work for one. Embrace ennui. Your co-workers will love you for it.

And the final recommendation to ensure meeting attendance -- serve snacks. Food always draws a crowd.

But then charge people to leave the room.

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