#35 The Antidote for Toxic Meetings: Be Brief, Be Bright, and Be Gone!

“This is time I will never get back.” Such was the lament of a colleague at a recent meeting. Between mountains of statistics tossed our way, PowerPoint slides jammed with way too much information, and speakers talking at the audience with virtually no interaction, you can understand my friend’s assessment.

It does not have to be this way.  True, at times we have to come together for information sharing—and it might be a downright dull statistics-sharing session . We can, as meeting leaders, do better than live up to those expectations of dullness.  That is, if we believe our meetings are worth the time and effort.

Let’s review some of the very basic dos and don’ts of successful meetings.

  • Put yourself in the audience. I remember years ago reading about a music superstar who said that before every concert—before people came into the arena—he would sit in various seats looking back at the stage. He did this so that he would not forget to remember the audience perspective when performing. If you are leading a meeting, do the same thing.
  • Show respect for the audience. This goes along with the item above. This means, in short, don’t waste their time. Do your sound and technology checks before the meeting starts; start ON TIME; have a POINT; finish ON TIME—or before if you have covered what needs to be covered. And remember to show not tell. A wonderful grad school professor of mine, Dr. Bill Merwin, was a master at this. When he introduced us to a particular strategy, he modeled that behavior. It proved very effective. Try it at your next meeting.

    Video recommendation for the week:

  • Death by PowerPoint. Comedian Don McMillan presents a great list of what NOT to do with PowerPoint.

  • Think like an elementary school teacher. The successful elementary school teachers know they need to switch things up or they risk “losing” their students. Do the same if you are the meeting leader. Use illustrative stories; keep the statistics to an absolute necessary minimum; build in time for meaningful collaboration; get people moving.  Varying the methodology is critical. As the leader, don’t feel you need to impress your audience with your knowledge of minutiae.  Use video, music, graphics, and substantive Q and A.
  • Think like Steve Jobs. In his book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Carmine Gallo says to remember the “10-minute Rule.” Jobs is a master of shaking up his meetings every 10 minutes or so. Keep the audience’s anticipation level high.
  • The meeting is for the audience. Gallo reminds meeting leaders simply, “It’s not about you. It’s about them.”
  • A.E.D. nearby?  At one point in a meeting, I heard a colleague mumble that if the meeting got anymore dreadful someone would need to get an AED (automated external defibrillator). Ouch.
  • Make it Stick! The Heath brothers’ wonderful read Made to Stick should be mandatory reading for all presenters, teachers, and meeting organizers. They propose six steps if you want an idea to live past the meeting time: Make the message simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional—and told with a story.


  • Turn off the smart phones, i-Phones, Blackberries.  Enough said!
  • Consider the $ investment.  If 25 people are sitting in a two-hour meeting, that meeting has just cost 50 hours of wages/salary. You have traded 50 hours of productivity for 2 hours of meeting time. Is it worth it?  It very well might be. As the leader you want to make sure it is.

    Video recommendation #2 for the week:

  • Don’t become Ben Stein. Or more to the point, the character he played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Remember the classic scene with Ben Stein endlessly repeating “Bueller…Bueller…”? Well, once the audience is numbed by a continual parade of numbers and jammed-full PowerPoint slides (see above), the audience will fail to distinguish between speakers; each one will be one more unobtrusive sound. Then all you need to do is start counting the nodding (as in sleeping) heads around the room.

  • Be Brief, Be Bright, Be Gone! That is the name of one of the songs from my first CD, Same Tune, Different Song (www.stevepiscitelli.com).  Get to the point. Do it with style and competence. Then let people get on with their lives.

About stevepiscitelli

Community Advocate-Author-Pet Therapy Team Member
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1 Response to #35 The Antidote for Toxic Meetings: Be Brief, Be Bright, and Be Gone!

  1. Pingback: A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2011 in Review « Steve Piscitelli's Blog

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