Tips for a Truly Terrible Meeting

I wrote this about year ago for a training our agency was putting together on meetings. I was inspired by an article I read about ten years ago called Tips for a trully terrible presentation that provided tongue-in-cheek advice for people preparing scientific presentations at professional meetings. This advice is widely applicable, so I thought others might enjoy reading it as well. It gets funnier as you go, so don't give up too soon!

Tips for a truly terrible meeting: For Meeting Planners: Scheduling: Schedule all meetings less than 24 hours in advance. People forget about meetings if you tell them too early. Meetings, especially those involving overnight travel, should be scheduled for Mondays and Fridays. This allows people to maximize the productive portion of their work week. Meeting space: Meeting space environment isn’t important. People will adapt readily to their surroundings. Closing doors to reduce noise and adjusting room temperature or lighting can be distracting to participants. Classroom style seating is an excellent choice for most meetings. People tend to get distracted if they can see each other. Avoid refreshments. This will reduce both cleanup and the need for breaks. If you must provide food and drink, choose only those that you like. People will appreciate your personal touch and you will be sure any leftovers are not wasted. For Meeting Leaders: Agenda: Do not distribute an agenda in advance of the meeting. People will want to add or change items. This will create more work for you. Keep agenda items very general. Subject headings like “old business,” “new business,” and “personnel” allow the discussion to range widely and incorporate a variety of thoughts and ideas. Don’t include a purpose on the agenda. This severely limits your ability to cover additional issues as needed. Avoid stating a meeting end time. It is widely understood that a meeting is over when every single topic has been discussed. Starting the meeting: Wait for every single participant to arrive before starting a meeting. Everybody is late once in a while and people are very forgiving. All handouts should be provided at the beginning of a meeting. This allows people to read the information that they care about during less interesting parts of the discussion. If one or two people at the meeting don’t know the other participants, require them to introduce themselves to the group. They will appreciate you letting them “break the ice.” If most of the people at the meeting don’t know each other, introduce them all yourself. Everyone will be impressed with your ability to remember names. During the meeting: Avoid ground rules. These are common sense and everyone already knows them. Lead every discussion. This is your job as the meeting leader. If the discussion strays a bit, cut it off abruptly…unless it is of interest to you. If someone talks a lot, assume they know what they are talking about. If a person isn’t speaking, assume that they have nothing to say. If a discussion topic is only relevant to a few of the participants, don’t interrupt. Those who aren’t participating are learning something new. Avoid making decisions. If it becomes apparent that action is needed to address an issue, delay a plan to complete the action to a future meeting on an unspecified date, unless the topic is complex or poorly understood. Deadlines should be avoided if at all possible. Avoid breaks for meetings less than four hours in length, unless you need one. Smokers may complain, but they need to quit anyway. Avoid setting time limits for breaks. People will naturally regroup when they are ready. At the end of the meeting: Don’t ask if there is anything else to discuss. Your general agenda should have allowed the discussion to cover every possible topic. Don’t summarize key discussion points or action items. At this point, everyone will be running late or need to use the restroom. Avoid setting a future meeting date. This may affect your ability to do something more important in the future. Don’t waste time sending notes or minutes after the meeting. If it important, someone will remember. Meeting participants: When a meeting is scheduled, don’t rely on crutches like calendars to remember it. Keep your memory sharp by keeping the details in your brain. Be a few minutes late. Apologize when you arrive and mention the important matter that delayed you. Everyone will be impressed by your work ethic. If a topic is interesting to you, keep it on the table as long as possible. This will highlight the strength of your commitment to the issue. Bring other work into the meeting so you will have something important to do during the boring parts. Your ability to multi-task will not go unnoticed. Try not to interrupt…unless you disagree with what the person is saying. Think about what you are going to say next while another person is talking. This will eliminate any pauses and conserve valuable meeting time. If a person has made a point concisely, make a point of restating it. Otherwise, people who aren’t paying attention may miss it.