Are you guilty of multi-tasking during meetings? Unfortunately, being present during meetings, especially present-day virtual meetings, is so rare, I wish I could bottle and sell it.
Here’s a few facts you can toss around the tele-conferencing office (Source: Prezi State of Attention Research):
- In any online meeting about 95 percent of the audience is probably multi-tasking. The moderator might be trying to make a point about the budget, while most everyone else is catching up on emails, preparing for their next meeting, or in some rare cases, playing Sudoku or drafting their next fantasy team.
- Most meetings have become so unfocused at least 20 percent of those who are actually multi-tasking on something work-related, admit to making mistakes. It’s sort of the double whammy of work. In fact, more than half the audience who tried to juggle words of wisdom from the video meeting along with other organizational projects admit to having to watch, read or listen to something multiple times.
- Not a surprise, but at least one-third of the audience won’t remember much of anything that was said.
It is no wonder that one of the most frequently-asked questions I get these days is: “Colette, how do I gracefully leave a (boring, unfocused, rambling, pointless – or choose your own words) meeting?”
The Art of Meetings
With apologies to everyone who likes to debate this point, no one is good at serious multi-tasking, especially those of us who jump from in-person to virtual to social pressures. The problem is that most everyone believes they have mastered the multi-tasking skill, including those who are running the meetings.
As a result, far too many meetings ramble, many are eminently forgettable and even more (dare I say it?) are unnecessary. Facing the prospect of a pointless meeting, attendees, virtual or in-person, tune-out and multi-task. Hence, why so many people contact me looking for advice on tactful ways to avoid rambling meetings or to opt-out, drop-out, scram and sneak-away.
For the record, it is perfectly OK to “wait for a breath (if the person is too long-winded) and politely say, “Excuse me, but I’m signing off as I have another commitment. I’ll catch up later for anything I’ve missed.” There’s no need to apologize for leaving a meeting if more pressing priorities demand your time and/or information can easily be gathered elsewhere. Say it with a smile, and scram.
Of course, it shouldn’t get to that point, which is why I suggest you follow:
“Colette’s 7 Strategies for an Impactful Virtual Meeting”
- Be PRESENT. This is true for those who lead meetings and those who attend them. Research shows that the ability to simply stay present in the moment, rather than ruminate in the past or predict the future helps to reduce anxiety, depression, helps us stay focused and productive. Just think how much faster a meeting could proceed if everyone was dialed in.
- SET AND SEND AN AGENDA IN ADVANCE (STICK TO IT). “Winging it,” is a sure-fire way to invite a whole host of multi-tasking behaviors. Setting and sending an agenda also implies there’s a plan and that participation is desired. Virtual meetings need to be shorter and tighter for maximum impact. Decide in advance who will facilitate and who holds individuals to the allotted times.
- Get CONNECTED. According to research, 80% of individuals miss the social aspect of the office. Therefore, leaders and teams must create connection rituals to build friendships that drive innovation and productivity. Make this an item on the agenda, not an afterthought. Include a connection question so everyone shows up prepared, minimizing time and maximizing engagement. For example, “What’s the latest TV show/movie/book you enjoyed and how might a takeaway apply to what’s on your plate this week?” Request cameras be on for this portion of the agenda to bring forth energy and enthusiasm.
- Be RELEVANT. Is the meeting necessary? What are some desired outcomes? What will the meeting accomplish? Starting a meeting with the line, “I thought it would be a great idea to touch base,” is much like saying, “I’m clueless as to what you’ve been up to and now let’s waste everyone’s time finding out.”
- Invite STAKEHOLDERS. No one should be asking themselves the question of “Why am I here? Why was I invited? Why would I care?” It might be “noble” to invite the folks in accounting to a marketing meeting, but the folks in accounting are swamped with their own projects. Research suggests the ideal meeting size is 5-8 individuals for the ultimate focus, productivity and engagement.
- PAY ATTENTION. An unfocused meeting is a time-waster. By paying attention to others, we cultivate mindfulness. Giving someone your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give another human being. To truly make them feel seen look directly into your webcam, rather than directly at them on the screen.
- BE ACCOUNTABLE. To close, request cameras be on (if off) as you summarize the meeting and end with a call to action. Assign responsibilities for next steps. Determine who types up the notes and places them in the appropriate asynchronous platform.
The best meetings are those that accomplish their intended purpose, where everyone is “present,” feels seen and heard, and moves the organization in a mindful and authentic way.