Wouldn’t it be nice if that meeting that you got a request for an hour ago was canceled after you sat in the conference room by yourself for five minutes? As you swiveled steaming in your chair to leave and go tell somebody off, the door opens and people walk in with ice cream. They say ‘Way to go, Buddy. Keep up the good job. Here’s some ice cream to make you happy!’ Well, the chances of that scene happening are very slim unless you work at Ben and Jerry’s and even they don’t give their employees the good flavors.
Meetings are like arthritis, the older you get in an organization the more meetings you have. When you’ve got a nice day of productivity planned they pop up and even ice cream doesn’t always offset the chronic pain that meetings can cause. Remember when you were new in your job and you got invited to your first meeting? You had gotten past filling out W-4 forms and having the interns show you how to access the network. Now you’re in a room with the pink shirt guy and the lady who looks like she’s perpetually about to sneeze and the crusty coffee mug dude. All these people who were anonymous for the first few days are pulling into focus. This is good. You actually have a mission in those early days to learn who these people are and what’s going on.
In every group there is the Mad Questioner, we’ll call him Mark. Mark asks relevant questions in meetings usually somewhere between minute 30 and minute 45. Statistically (because massive research has been done on this) after minute 45 Mark’s questions become…well, they’re absurd. So, for example at 10:32 Mark asks ‘So you’re saying the numbers are down because consumers aren’t really picking up on the connection between the vitamins in our food and the health of their dogs?’ But at 10:52 it has devolved into ‘Has anyone actually thought of tattooing our brand logo onto the dogs? Or not tattoing, but giving the dogs free t-shirts or something?’ The lights should flicker at the point when Mark asks his first borderline question. You feel like a judge in The Voice when you think ‘Yup, that’s the one’ and you look around to see if anyone else is rolling their eyes.
The problem is that Mark is often the only one who asks questions. For a couple meetings the new people will ask questions, but eventually Mark is king of the mountain and the competition fades away. Ironically Mark is often a very poor presenter. Technically it’s because he lacks in focus, hence the questions all over the board. In reality, though, it’s likely that people have just learned to tune him out over time. You’ve got to figure that 20% of people in meetings don’t really need to be there unless you count the guy who’s a modified gopher. He has very little idea what is going on and since he’s spending parts of the meeting sweating over paper jams and picking up lunch for everybody, he doesn’t stand a chance of capturing much, but he needs to be there. Plus he has no fear of standing on the table to adjust the overhead projector and other maneuvers featured in OSHA filmstrips.
Then most meetings have at least two people who know basically everything that’s going on before the meeting starts: the presenter, obviously, and the Wingman. If you don’t have a wingman in your meeting you are risking certain doom. The problem is the Wingman is usually one of the keener people in your little organization so they get invited to a lot of meetings. On Outlook the Wingman is optional, but in reality your thinking ‘Please God, show up to my meeting.’ Why is the Wingman so important? It’s not necessarily for their knowledge. It’s because when, as a presenter, your laptop decides to freeze up and, while staring at it, you’re drooling feverishly the Wingman can stall for you. They’re like a clown in a circus. For five minutes they are a happy clown keeping everyone occupied, but then the Wingman sees this meeting is screwed and they become angry clowns threatening to leave until the presenter finally relents, ‘OK, I’ll just send everybody an email.’ Wingman out.
Who are the other people in the room? Well, some of them understand what’s being presented. Most of them don’t, but they’re really good at Angry Birds. There’s a Chicken Little ‘What if there’s a snow storm and IT can’t get the network working and the President of the company is sitting right next to me waiting for this report – the company will have no choice, but to just close operations completely!’ Maybe there’s a savant who slides in late with no paper or pencil and spends the whole meeting staring at a wall only to make a comment that is so startlingly insightful that you would follow him around the rest of the day to figure out where he comes up with this stuff. That is if you didn’t have four more meetings to go to. You’ve got Buda who just sits there always looking serene and you can’t figure out if he’s really tuned in to what’s going on. You’ve probably got a Jim Jimmy-Legs who can’t sit still, a Heavy Thinker Face lady who’s obviously considering hard what’s going on, but she’s also the first one out the door and to the bathroom. Maybe she just really has to pee.
It’s funny how people fall into these caricatures in most meetings like they’re bad guys from the Batman comics. They’re not bad guys, they’re our co-workers! The reality is that we often act differently in meetings than we do at our desk. Why? Because meetings can be a burden and we really haven’t been punished for our lackadaisical behavior. Maybe we are bad guys; Meeting Villains. Tortured by half hour meetings that take an hour, a shortage of chairs in the meeting room, turkey sandwiches when we asked for roast beef. We’ve taken to the dark side and we might not ever come back (but we’re very pleasant at our desks so please stop by and chat later).
What do you think your co-workers see you as in the meeting room? Do you have a hard luck meeting story that you have to share? Do you think Charlie Hawkins works at your office (Meeting Ice Breakers)?