“Unless someone is looking for an excuse to duck a work
assignment, nobody wants to attend an inconsequential meeting.”
– Bryce’s Law
As a businessman, one of my favorite movies is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”
featuring Steve Martin as an advertising executive trying to return to Chicago
during the Thanksgiving holidays. The movie opens with Martin attending a
meeting in New York City where he is pitching an ad campaign to the President of
a large corporation, played by William Windom. The meeting is rather long
and boring as Windom quietly agonizes over the layout of Martin’s proposed
ads. All of the meeting attendees sit quietly and patiently as they wait for
Windom to make a decision (which he never makes). As it is the holiday
season, they all have other things they want to do (in Martin’s case, it is to
return home to Chicago). Ultimately, the meeting is a colossal waste of time
for all of the attendees.
We’ve all been involved with such meetings where the person running it is
either insensitive to the needs of the attendees or the subject matter is painfully
boring. It should come as no surprise that excessive Meeting Room Equipment or pointless meetings are
probably the number one cause for decreased productivity in organizations, be
it corporate or nonprofit (as Dilbert has pointed out to us time and again).
Understand this, unless someone is looking for an excuse to duck a work
assignment, nobody wants to attend an inconsequential meeting.
Remarkably, there are a lot of people who don’t understand the basics of
running a productive meeting, hence the problem as exemplified by
Martin’s movie. There is nothing magical about conducting a good meeting. It
just requires a little preparation, along with some leadership and structure during
its execution. Here are some simple guidelines to follow:
First, determine the necessity of the meeting itself. Do you really have something
important to discuss or do you just want to simply “chew the fat.” Meetings are nice
but we should never forget they distract people from their work assignments. Therefore,
we should only hold a meeting if it is going to benefit the attendees and assist them
in their work effort. Let us not forget there are many other communication vehicles
at our disposal: memos, e-mails, web pages (including blogs and discussion groups),
posted notices, general broadcasts over a PA system, etc.
If you are convinced of the necessity of the meeting, you will need to know
* Your objective – Is the purpose of the meeting to communicate a particular message, develop a dialogue and reach consensus, educate/train people, or to offer a simple diversion for the attendees? People do not want to hear the boss pontificate on some trivial manner (a la Dilbert). Make sure you have a firm grasp of the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish. Ask yourself how the attendees will benefit from the meeting.