BY SUSAN LETTERMAN WHITE
BridgeTower Media Newswires
“It’s pretty nice outside; we could be somewhere else right now”—this statement is what almost everyone in your meeting will be saying if you heed the following advice.
Want to have an interminable and boring meeting? Here is the game plan.
The most important instructions I can offer you are: to avoid a clear purpose; not to announce clear start and stop times; to include topics in your meeting that are applicable to only a few people or that could be conveyed in an email; to invite people who have no interest in the discussions and decisions that are most important; to eliminate any time for relationships to develop; and absolutely not to provide an agenda or any materials that would clarify the subject matter of the meeting.
Before scheduling a meeting, know the purpose of the meeting and then bury the lede! Instead of telling people the purpose, keep them guessing. They will wonder why they were invited, if they have anything to offer, and whether their input has any value. Prime them to arrive surprised, with the wrong state of mind, and unprepared to fully participate in the discussion and decision-making.
Equally important, do not let them know the outcomes you expect to see at the end of the meeting. Do you expect to reach a decision on a particular issue? Do you expect to brainstorm and identify new ideas for an initiative or to solve a problem? Do you expect to assign tasks to people who attend the meeting?
Keep them guessing to guarantee total confusion and boredom.
Start and stop times
You may want to give them a start time so that they don’t annoy you with questions before the meeting; however, never tell them when the meeting will end. That guarantees people will come late, leave early, and look at their watches and phones often.
Keep them distracted from the most important content of the meeting and focused on how boring and long the meeting seems.
To make your meetings extraordinarily boring, be sure to include information that you could’ve simply communicated in an email. If no discussion is required, but people need to know something new, hold a meeting instead of getting it out to them promptly by email. This will remind them of announcements over the loudspeaker when they were in high school, leading them to day-dream instead of paying attention in the meeting.
The other technique to consider is inviting people to your meeting even if they have no interest in or knowledge about its content. If you’d simply like extra bodies in the room, invite people who have no connection to the content of the meeting. In addition to feeling bored and out-of-place, they may help disrupt the meeting flow and lengthen it by asking a lot of questions.
The quality of any meeting is reflected in the discussions, decisions and action-items that are completed between meetings. The quality is directly proportional to the relationships of the people involved. Building relationships takes time.
In a face-to face meeting, especially if all people involved are co-located, they have that opportunity before and after meetings. If you discourage people from showing any interest in other people, you will be sure to prevent any relationships from forming.
Agenda and meeting tools
It’s easy to lengthen a meeting just by skipping an agenda and not providing necessary tools. If the topic of discussion is a document that people see for the first time at the meeting, they will need extra time to review it. If you don’t have enough copies, sharing takes extra time.
The absence of an agenda is permission to bring any topics into the meeting, regardless of whether they’re relevant, and to avoid any topics, however relevant, that are uncomfortable to discuss. This assures that nothing gets done as a result of the meeting.
Here are the questions you should never ask if you want to run long, confusing and boring meetings:
Why do you need a meeting? An effective meeting is a virtual or in-person synchronous gathering for the purpose of having agenda-driven discussions that lead to decisions. Frequently, leaders schedule meetings when there is no real need. Before scheduling a meeting, consider whether the goal of the meeting can be accomplished in less time by another means. The dissemination of an announcement and seeking a specific answer to a narrow question are two types of communication more suitable for an email. Consider how people will participate in the meeting. Will they be passive listeners or actively engaged in the discussions? Do they have decision-making authority or are they conduits of information to others?
Who should be invited to the meeting? Invite only the people who are stakeholders in the agenda-identified discussion topics. Don’t expect others to waste their time listening to a debate or conversation between two people on a topic that neither interests nor affects them.
When should it be held? Schedule meetings for times when the critical stakeholders are available to attend. Consider having a hard start and end time for your meetings. Exceptions to the rule are always possible on a case-by-case basis and for good reason. When meeting attendees are aware of hard start and stop times, they are more willing to be full participants during the meeting.
Where should it be held? Make locations as convenient and pleasant as possible. If your meetings are virtual, choose easy-to-use technology and provide appropriate access instructions within the agenda and any email notifications.
What topics need to be discussed? Identify the meeting topics, which should flow from the meeting goals, which depend on the meeting purpose. These will form the agenda items.
What business norms should be adopted? Consider behaviors that will help the meeting to be more efficient and effective. Common norms relate to start and stop times, the length of time to wait after the scheduled start time to begin the meeting, discussion and decision-making processes, creating and circulating for review official notes of the meeting, and raising new topics.
What, if any, takeaways and tools should you provide? Do you need to prepare in advance any documents for markup during the meeting? If you expect a document to be the topic of discussion during a meeting, distribute it for review sufficiently in advance of the meeting to permit review before the start of the meeting. Bring extra copies to the meeting.
Create your agenda. Consider circulating it to the expected attendees as a “proposed agenda,” followed a few days later by the final agenda.
Susan Letterman White is a practice advisor at Massachusetts LCL/LOMAP, an adjunct professor at Northeastern University, and the principal consultant at Letterman White Consulting. She practiced employment law for more than 20 years.