Meetings. I'm not a fan. Look, I know they're necessary for progress, but in my opinion too many people get caught in the "let's take that offline and not really chat about it and make a decision, but let's schedule a time in the future and block out an hour and not make a decision" mode. I believe that most meetings (not all) could be done with a quick stand-up conversation.
So when you must have a "necessary" meeting, you want to make the most of it, right? You want the right people there without having too much overhead, and you want everyone to be paying attention, listening and making the most of their time. The arrival of cool tools, smartphones and iPads makes meetings and taking notes easier, but the flip side is that it could make you look like you're not attentive.
At my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, I emphasize that time is valuable and everyone needs to be cognizant of this when scheduling a meeting. In your next meeting, look around and calculate how much it costs. Then ask yourself: Will what the company get out of this make up for more than the cost?
Here are my eight suggestions for having more effective, distraction-free meetings:
If you require your laptop or smartphone in the meeting, announce that you'll be taking notes on it so people around the table don't think you're doing something else. If you're using your phone or laptop, do not open instant message or check e-mail. People will - and do - notice that you're not paying attention. If your phone rings or buzzes, don't take it unless it's an emergency. If you have to take it, step out of the meeting room. Just recently, I met with a potential vendor where, in the first 10 minutes, the vendor's director of sales sat reading something on his phone and taking calls. Bad form. He should have stepped out of the room to take his call. Avoid side conversations while the meeting is going on. It's distracting. Take it offline. Even worse? Never put up your hand to cover your mouth while talking to your neighbor. Rudest move ever. Don't get ready for your part of the meeting in the meeting. I have stopped meetings to ask if that's what a colleague was doing. To me, it means they didn't have enough respect for the person holding the meeting to complete their updates. Even worse, they're not listening to what's being said since they're too busy writing their part of the presentation. Don't repeat what someone else in the meeting has already said and take credit for it: a) it's a time-waster, and b) everyone in the room knows what you're doing. Don't escalate your voice to talk over a colleague. If you have to use volume to get your point across, it makes me question how confident you really are in the point you're trying to make. And there's usually enough time in a meeting to get a quick thought or idea out without raising your voice. Not to mention it's just rude. Don't take your shoes off. I once had a colleague who removed his shoes so his socks were in the wild, and then he'd lift his body yoga-style into his chair. It was rude and completely distracting.
For your next meeting, make sure your attention, and everyone else's, is laser-focused on the topic at hand and what you need to accomplish. Don't let distractions get in the way, whether you're running the meeting or attending one.
What are your meeting nightmares?