Someone stands up and reads the text on a PowerPoint presentation.

The CFO walks us through the financials, which is a bit like walking over hot coals.

The droning voice of the marketing manager has that calming effect on our synapses, so we take a short nap or zone out to a YouTube video.

I've been in meetings before that were so dull and lifeless, you want to ask when the mortician will be stopping by to start the embalming process.

It gets worse.

According to a new survey by American Express OPEN, 43% of us tend to think about errands we need to run during meetings. Over a third of those surveyed spend 1,200 hours in them per year (30 weeks or 150 full days) which feels like a lifetime. The survey also found that many of us (36%) check email late at night because of meetings, even well after dark. Another 36% says they have to check email on vacation due to meetings.

What works better?

Participation is the key. That's what is sorely lacking in most meetings these days.

One of the big reasons people hate meetings is that we tend to check out when we don't think we can offer any contribution. The human brain hates this arrangement; it makes our brain cells go on standby. We're made to live in a constant feedback loop of listening, speaking, then listening. Our brains are wired to participate. Some surveys suggest that we only have about a 5-10 minute attention span. If we don't get a chance to speak our minds, our minds tend to go into a shutdown phase.

I've been in meeting where one person dominates the conversation so much that everyone else tunes out. They start phubbing. They daydream. According to the survey, they start making jokes. And, the meeting is a total waste of time.

It's amazing when people come alive in a meeting, though. Everyone starts sharing ideas, there is a visceral, palpable excitement. The light-bulbs are firing one after the other. If a meeting is not participatory it is not worth having. Is one person sharing data from slides? Do that by email or Slack. Is it a status meeting to go over projects? Make sure you have each person do their own updates. Is the meeting meant as an introduction period for a new employee? Turn that into a brainstorming session where everyone else asks a question and the employee answers them. No monologues, ever.

And, here's one more tip. Set the ground rules for your next meeting to make sure everyone knows what to expect. If you're leading a meeting, announce right away that everyone will be expected to talk, interact, listen, and respond. It's "all hands all of the time" to encourage productivity. This is all about the brain science of meetings. It's not a time for siestas and web browsing.

You might be surprised what happens.

Meetings become a working session, an incredible time for brainstorming and team building. There's a serendipity involved. The meetings will be shorter, because when only one person talks it is only one set of ideas. Meetings with high participation lead to better results and they tend to make everyone happier about being at work.

Try to liven up your next one. Let me know what happens.

Published on: Jun 22, 2017