Things that are clinically the worst: getting roped into a conversation when you’re on the way to grab the last two cheese cubes at a networking event, listening to a friend talk about her wedding registry “struggles,” and looking at your schedule and seeing back-to-back meetings.
No, really! Have you ever heard this conversation take place?
You: “How was your day?”
Your normal, run-of-the mill friend: “Awesome, I had one meeting after another! PowerPoints, were dare I say it, on point!”
No. You haven’t.
Yet, we’re all guilty of popping meetings onto each other’s calendars—myself included. And, as anyone who’s ever led a meeting knows, it’s pretty discouraging when you look around the room and everyone’s sneaking peeks at their phones.
And that’s why I put together this quick list of all the reasons people (OK, fine, me) don’t listen in meetings—as well as a few quick fixes. Because if we all start planning better meetings, we’ll all start dreading them a little bit less.
1. You Didn’t Have an Agenda
I get it! You’re cool, you’re relaxed, you’re selling chill pills from your skateboard.
But here’s the thing: When you start your meeting with, “I brought everyone here today to discuss our sales strategy—any ideas?” I immediately tune out because 90% of the responses are going to be the on-the-spot, completely unhelpful kind (“We should sell more, just in general!” and “Have we considered making a dog our spokesperson?”).
And 100% of the eye contact will be the awkward kind in which people are imploring each other wordlessly to be the one to speak.
Before you send out that next meeting invite, put together and email out a breakdown of how you plan to use that time. This will not only help people prepare for it and bring good ideas, but it’ll also ensure you block off the right amount of time.
It’s as easy as:
Minutes 1-5: Going over the meeting’s goals: Hire Airbud to be new company spokesperson.
Minutes 5-15: Discussing the goals: Talk about the reality of Airbud not only being available, but also being real.
Minutes 15-25: Brainstorming ideas: Go around the room suggesting other spokesanimals who double as thought leaders in the space.
Minutes 25-30: Recapping everything: Pick best ideas and assign next steps.
2. You Didn’t Explain That This Would Be a One-Man Show
Unless you’re Morgan Freeman, I simply cannot listen to you speak for 30 minutes without pausing. There’s a reason that you won’t find too many popular TED Talks clocking in at over 20 minutes.
If you—and only you—are going to talk for the whole meeting, what you’re saying better be interesting, easy to digest, and applicable to me.
So, when you’re making that agenda we just chatted about above, highlight anything that won’t lead to an action step (such as “research this…” or “brainstorm that…” or “follow-up on cats who play basketball”).
Then—and get ready for this witchcraft and wizardry—delete it. The second you stop making the meeting about “next steps” is the second you start to lose people.
Now, if you’re dying to keep that stuff in, throw one bonus slide into your presentation along the lines of “to discuss in the future…” or include a one-sheet on interesting background information in that agenda you send out ahead of time.
3. You Didn’t Need Anything From Me Specifically
What you’re saying is tangentially related to my job and you think it’d benefit me to listen in. And in theory, sure!
But in reality? As soon as I realize that I won’t need to weigh in or take anything actionable away from the meeting, I’m turning my focus to the to-do list waiting for me at my desk.
I hate to keep throwing the A-word at ya, but this all goes back to that agenda. By sending it out ahead of time and marking “listeners” as optional guests, you give the invitee the choice to join or not join (and thus ensure everyone who’s coming is excited to listen in). Why have someone in your meeting who’s going to bring down the mood with their blank, zombie stare anyways?
I know what you’re thinking: Jenni, this “agenda plan” sounds like a lot of work for a meeting. And I agree! But if you’re asking someone to take 30 or 60 minutes out of their day, you need to put a little effort in.
Or—and no, sadly, I’m not about to say, “just wing it, Chad”—you can turn that meeting into an email. It takes a little bit more time than creating an agenda, but saves you the actual meeting time. And luckily for you, we have instructions on how to easily do that right here.
Photo of person in meeting courtesy of Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images.
Jenni Maier was the Editor-in-Chief at The Muse. During her time there, she edited 5,000+ articles and learned more about email subject lines, resume tips, and cover letter opening lines than she could’ve imagined. Her writing has been featured in Fast Company, TIME, Inc., her mother’s Facebook statuses, and more. When she’s not daydreaming about being a dog owner, she’s either working through her Netflix queue or baking. Or, ideally, a combination of both. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author