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Meeting Madness: Don't Just Put Up - Speak Up!

By Paul Cummings, 05-Jul-2012

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had your fair share of meeting madness.

We all know the characteristics of bad meetings – those ones where we sit wondering in silence, ‘why on earth am I here?’  Those meetings where we don’t see the point of our attendance and afterwards our presence makes no appreciable difference in our ability to do our jobs.

It’s meeting madness when one person dominates and commands all the air space, droning on in lengthy monologues that leave us wishing the fire alarm would sound and save us from our misery. It’s meeting madness when 162 powerpoint slides crammed with information (that could easily be read in our own time) dart and fly across the screen in a blatant attempt by the presenter to proudly parade before us, all the latest powerpoint tips, tricks and gimmicks.  Dazzled and bemused by the whole experience, we lose the will to live and find ourselves drifting to the land of nod.

It’s meeting madness when there’s 20 agenda items for a 1-hour meeting and after 45 minutes we’re still on item 1.  It’s no wonder we all leave with a heavy yet familiar sense of dissatisfaction.

It’s meeting madness when people talk over each other and don’t listen to the points of view of others’ or when the conversation strays so far off the original topic that we’ve all forgotten why we’re even discussing the current subject.

It’s meeting madness when people consult their phones to check emails and texts or when someone starts a conversation on their mobile, disrupting the whole meeting by shouting louder than really necessary to the person on the other end.

We’d all know a bad meeting if it stood up in our soup!  We’ve all been there; some of us might even have led them.

It amazes me we’ve such tolerance for this kind of madness.  It’s as if we’ve been conditioned somehow to patiently put up and shut up, even though we know they’re a waste of our precious time.  There seems to be some unspoken rule that we should never speak up and express our views about how the meeting is going or how it is affecting us – especially if it happens to be less than positive.

What if we gathered our nerve and spoke up like the responsible adults we are?  What is the cost in saying; ‘This meeting isn’t really working for me’ or ‘I wonder if my attendance here is really necessary’ or ‘Would it be more efficient to email the slides and people read them in their own time?’ or ‘I’m concerned people are distracted by their phones and not bringing the focus of their attention to the issues’ or, or, or…

Surely the greatest cost is in not speaking up!

We can only influence bad meetings if we’re willing to give feedback to those leading our meetings. This is what it means to be a facilitative participant.  To put up with bad meetings is to send a message to meeting leaders that says ‘all is ok’, ‘your meetings are fine’.  No wonder we keep getting the same old ineffective meetings.  Our ‘putting up’, doesn’t give our meeting leaders the opportunity to change.  We can’t expect changes if those who lead our meetings aren’t aware that we have a problem.

It’s my experience we have a poverty of expectation when it comes to excellent meetings.  Maybe it’s a sad fact that we’ve had too few to know what’s really possible.  Let’s stop putting up with this meeting madness – let’s speak out about our expectations for better, effective and more productive meetings that really get things done.  That should leave us with only our spoons in our soup.