Hi, I’m your IT professional. You might remember me from such roles as the guy who ended your embarrassing Blue Screen of Death problem, the person who sat awkwardly at your desk while you tried to busy yourself when the network stalled during a ‘routine’ download of Adobe. Or perhaps it was my finest achievement to date, retrieving your lost Powerpoint on the fly during your last quarterly meeting. By the way, handy-dandy tip: sweating on your keyboard will not prolong the life of the keyboard.
Everybody has meetings. They are unavoidable and, at times, actually productive. But they can also go rotten milk bad real fast leaving us all with nothing more than cautionary tales. There should be etiquette and when codification was brought up in a recent meeting twelve people volunteered to create Meeting Etiquette Standards. Somehow it hasn’t gotten done.
If I don’t know why I’m in your meeting I’m going to set out to destroy your meeting. Not intentionally, of course, but you’re stealing time out of my productive workday to not be productive and I will comply. It’s OK to check your phone once in a while. You know, to make sure you voted for American Idle or to see what the weather is in Auckland, but it does get contagious. The wise veteran presenters tell folks to leave their cellphones in their cubes, but then you’ve got yawning, elbow leaning, and pen cap chewing. You could set up a table like the kids table at Christmas for the unimportant people or you could just not invite them.
If you don’t tell me what this meeting is about in reasonable detail I’m going to use it as a forum to complain. Are the complaints going to be reasonable? No! We’ll talk about Sue’s squeaky shoes. We’ll spend ten minutes discussing why some people can work from home, but others can’t. There will be rollicking argument over font size in memos. Eventually we’ll come around to the fact that there is no meeting agenda. What was this meeting supposed to be about again?
I had a meeting once at my desk. It was a web conference that we were forced to attend, but at least I had my office chair and could check Facebook on my cell phone if I needed a diversion. Web conferences are the best for reaching a lot of people who are in all different locations, but when something goes wrong it becomes a mutiny. There are people who are good web conference presenters. We did not have one of those folks that day. Our presenter decided not to mute all of the phone lines. Let’s just say there are people who work less hours and make more money than you do who are not smart enough to mute their own line during a live telephone conference. These people also listen to weird Euro Techno music, have dogs that berate them when they are on the phone, babies that they leave unattended, and evidently unsettling stomach reflux. It must have been a full moon because it was happening all at once. Oh, I forgot the cackler who was laughing at something we ordinary humans were just not privy to. The presenter, bless their heart, would get through a couple sentences and ask for people to mute their lines, but the laughter and the techno music could not be defeated. It was Pink Floyd song in my telephone colored by the little blips of people dropping off the call.
The moral of the story is: once a meeting starts to go bad stop the meeting. Don’t try to resuscitate it. If your conference room projector isn’t working and you’ve called in the IT professional they might be able to fix it, but you’ve got your MacGruber time bomb ticking. If you have to call in IT you don’t have to cancel the meeting, but don’t make me sit there and watch. To paraphrase Englebert Humperdinck’s lyrics to Release Me, this meeting’s screwed and I need some coffee.
The time you choose for your meeting is critical. If it’s right after lunch I want a laser show. If it’s first thing in the morning I want a laser show. OK, just kidding. If your meeting is before 9:00, between 12:00 and 1:00 or after 6:00 you would be wise to have food because kids are starving in Africa and, apparently, professionals are starving in your meeting. If your meeting is over three hours long (good luck with that) there should also be some sort of sustenance or, at least, a parting gift.
Making a meeting request for a meeting of more than four people, while giving the group less than four hours notice, is a definite no no too, Daffy. Today was the day I planned to take a two hour lunch and now you’ve screwed it with your meeting request! Follow this simple rule that I just completely made up: for every meeting attendant give one extra hour of notice. Four people in your meeting means giving the group four hours of notice. Three people in your group makes three hours of notice comfortable, etc.
When we worked in public accounting we used to get what I termed ‘4:45s.’ Those are clients who show up at around five with a box of receipts and suddenly your early departure evening is now a rush out the door at 7:15. Unless it’s an emergency or you are really invested in brown-nosing your boss by proving how late you can work, don’t set up a meeting after 4:00
Why are we having this meeting? Because Joe doesn’t write well enough to explain his three points in a five minute email.
It’s 10:05, why have we not started? Because Barbara didn’t shut the door and we’ve got refugees somewhere between the kitchen and the copy room.
Why does Phil’s meeting agenda look fall foliage? Because Phil’s one ‘tryout’ at Giggles has led him to believe he could be a standup and just start winging it when the meeting gets off topic. Plus a fall foliage background is relaxing.
Why do we always order pizza from Brothers’? You do realize there are kids starving in Africa who don’t get free pizza?
There’s always going to be complaints so do yourself a favor. In those meetings that you were invited to that you really didn’t need to be at, sit there and think about what you would do to make the meeting better or risk it and just don’t go.
How many meetings do you get stuck in each day? How do you leave one and sneak into another? How do you rate your workplace meeting etiquette? Do meetings run smoothly or is it like the wild west? Have you ever fallen asleep in a meeting? We all have meeting stories, tell us yours.