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5 Signs Your Meeting is Doomed

August 12, 2013

Avoid Dysfunctional Meetings and Unproductive Conference Calls

You usually don’t realize the mess you’re in until you’re in the thick of it. Then, you look around and wonder, “Where’s the closest exit?” By that point, it’s too late. When it comes to totally dysfunctional work meetings, there’s no graceful escape. Those meetings are doomed to be unproductive time-sucks. The trick is to recognize when your meeting is sinking (and stinking), and determine what needs to change to ensure it never happens again. And that’s where our meeting productivity tips come in.

Recognizing the 5 signs of a doomed meeting and how to save your next one from a tragic fate

1. The purpose of the meeting is a mystery to everyone but you

“Do you know what this meeting is for?” mumbles meeting attendee A to not-yet-caffeinated attendee B as they make their way to the boardroom. “I have no idea,” yawns attendee B, “Did someone send out an email?”

Not this time.

Unless you’re hosting a support group for clairvoyants, you need to prepare attendees beforehand by explaining the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to achieve.

Create an agenda for the meeting and get it in the hands or email inboxes of everyone involved. Use a calendar integration to send out a meeting invite with an agenda attached. Do this at least a day before the meeting. It’s one more thing to do, but it’s worth ensuring you have a productive meeting.

This allows attendees to start the meeting prepared to accomplish your goals. Otherwise, your ambiguous meeting will likely encourage tardiness, rambling, and distracted behavior, sinking it slowly into a tragic waste.

2. There are long, painfully awkward silences

Your attendees are indiscreetly multi-tasking on their smartphones, and their lack of attention to the meeting has rendered them incapable of contributing. Translation: you just lost Angela to Angry Birds.  How does that make you feel?

It’s too late to snatch those phones from their nimble thumbs. And it’s not an option during conference calls.

Next time, do as Merlin Mann recommends and be the parent in the meeting.  Someone has to do it. And if you called the meeting, it’s definitely up to you. Think of it as the responsibility of an inspiring meeting leader.

A good meeting leader watches over the meeting carefully by:

  • Periodically, verbally summarizing the points discussed
  • Explicitly inviting each meeting attendee to participate
  • Directly asking non-participatory attendees to contribute with something specific

These tactics demonstrate to attendees that you require their attention, whether they’re dialed into a conference call from across the country, or sitting across from you in a meeting room. Instead of “grounding” them by asking them to shut down their mobile devices, encourage collaboration.

3.  You are experiencing technical difficulties

Nothing provokes the patience of humankind like that multi-second delay during a poor quality phone call, or a PowerPoint presentation that shuts itself down after two slides. When technical difficulties have a more influential presence than the actual humans in the room, your meeting is seriously doomed.

We can’t trust technology to have our back every time, but we can get pretty damn close when we use effective solutions such as a high quality, professional conference calling service.

Make yourself a pre-meeting productivity checklist and ask yourself a few key questions. Does the projector need a new light bulb?  Do you need to have more people on the conference call than your current provider can allow? Does the WiFi support the YouTube videos you plan to share?

Make the most of everyone’s time by taking stock of the technical details.

4.  “Where’s (insert very important person’s name here)?” 

As you watch callers join your online meeting, you start to dread that key decision maker attendees were left off the invite list. You try to dial out, but without an invitation, they are already booked.

Luckily, this is an easy fix for next time. Define the goals for the meeting beforehand. Then, invite the people who can help you achieve the goals.

The “who” and “how many” you invite will depend on the type of meeting. Check out productivity expert Laura Stack’s guide to deciding who should attend meetings.

5.  Your head hurts from giving a rambler the evil eye.

Contrary to your childish belief, your eyes cannot shoot laser beams capable of muting the rambler who is currently riffing on the selection of teas in the staff room. To quiet this meeting productivity killer next time, speak up.

“The key to an efficient meeting is a strong leader,” says Fast Company contributor Gina Trapani, “Their job is to keep things on track, not be afraid to cut off long-winded discussions, and be willing to end things early once the business is done.”

Interrupt the rambling speaker when necessary to restate the purpose of the meeting and verbally evaluate whether the contribution has helped move the effort forward. Your colleagues will thank you, silently.

Have any doomed meeting productivity horror stories? Share them with us in the comment section below.