Six rules for better meetings

Meetings. We all bitch and moan about them. They steal productive time, interrupt “real” work and make us drink way too much coffee. When they’re not at your office, they mean schlepping. Which is never fun. Meetings suck. Bottom line.

Janine Popick, who writes for Inc, says meetings are about “[Getting into the] let’s-take-that-offline-and-not-really-chat-about-it-or-make-a-decision-but-schedule-a-time-in-the-future-and-block-out-an-hour-and-not-make-a-decision” mode. Touché.

But they’re not going anywhere. In some cases (at least when my own attempts to minimise meetings are successful), the traditional in-person meeting evolves into a Skype call, a tele-conference or a “conversation” via email. And these have got me thinking about some of the new rules of the modern meeting. Okay, my rules:

1. Skype hype
An arrangement for a Skype meeting should be taken as seriously as a face-to-face meeting. If we’ve diarised to Skype, you’d better believe that I’ve booked off that window of time and am sitting somewhere quiet, notebook ready, with a reliable Wi-Fi connection, for at least 10 minutes before. So please let me know if we’re no longer on. Not doing so because you “forgot” makes you look like a tit.

2. Short and tight
Meetings don’t have to last an hour just because that’s how the lunar calendar splits the day. Try for shorter, tighter meetings. Or be really brave and have them standing up and out of the meeting room, so you’re forced to get to the point.

3. Are you in?
If you ask me to send you a calendar invite to a meeting, and I do, please accept it. Otherwise I don’t know if we’re on. But if the meeting is your idea, I’d prefer that you send the invite. With the address, etc, on it. I’ll accept it. Promise.

4. Who pays?
If you’re the client, I pay for the coffee. Even if there are two or three or five of you. Even if you had a sandwich as well. And a fortune cookie. So, if I’m the client, I consider it good manners for you to pay for my coffee. Just saying. I promise not to order a buffalo mozzarella caprese and a cupcake as well.

5. Note-taking
If you need your laptop or tablet in the meeting, announce that you’ll be taking notes on it so people around the table don’t think you’re playing Dragonvale.

6. Meeting seating
Sigh. I worry about this a lot. As a freelancer who most often goes to clients’ offices for meetings, and briefly awaits them in the boardroom until they’re ready, I’m usually faced with my choice of seats. But where should I sit?

According to the traditional etiquette, the person leading the meeting sits at the head of the table, usually opposite the entry door so he/she can see people coming in. This is called the “power seat”. The seat across from this (ie at the other head) is called the “alter-leader’s chair”; choosing this seat positions you as the devil’s advocate in the group, or the person who likes to challenge authority.

Neither of these is a good place for a consultant, who should probably sit in the middle of the table, presenting him/herself as the type of person who listens to all sides before expressing their own views, or near to the flipchart/projector/boss.

And that’s all I have for today. Happy meeting!

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