We've all endured them, surviving on sheer will and fighting back the desperate need to use the restroom. They're the mind-numbing, energy-sapping, bladder-busting meeting participants who go on -- and on and on -- with no agenda, no purpose and worst of all, no end in sight.
Professional meeting facilitator Peg Kelley calls these aimless talkers "meeting vampires." Kelley, founder of Facilitation Plus, and coauthor of the booklet "39 Secrets for Effective and Enjoyable Meetings," says a meeting vampire is easy to spot -- if you know what signs to look for.
Do Your Meetings Bite?
According to Kelley, there's a vampire lurking in the room if:
- Participation is spotty.
- People are defensive, withdrawn or contemptuous.
- One person or irrelevant topic dominates conversation.
- Decisions, ideas and action items are vague, without clear endpoints.
"If this is happening, there's someone or something that's sucking the life out of the room," Kelley says. "People usually have good intentions. They don't realize the effect they're having on the meeting. And the effect is really bad. Fixing it is the challenge."
Kelley adds that people are not the only vampires. The entire meeting activity can be a bloodsucker, with content, process and people all playing a sinister role. Even the room itself (too hot, too cold, poor air circulation, uncomfortable chairs) can make a meeting seem cursed.
Slay the Meeting Vampires
The key is not stakes, silver bullets, crosses or stinky amulets. "Lack of preparation at a meeting is like not putting garlic up in the windows," Kelley says. Successful meetings have:
- An agenda with clearly defined objectives.
- Only essential personnel invited (not everyone on a project).
- Ground rules demanding mutual respect for people and their ideas.
- A facilitator appointed to keep conversation on target and moving; someone who acknowledges that everyone's ideas get heard by nodding, paraphrasing or noting suggestions.
- Lots of participation, with creative juices flowing.
- Discussion items with clear endpoints.
- Decisions made and recorded when the clock strikes 12.
Let's face it: Whether you work in cubeland or the corner office, meetings are a big part of office life. "The higher up you go in a hierarchy, the more your work is meetings," Kelley says. "Work becomes meetings. And we work in meetings. It won't stop, but we need to get better at it." Or else the meeting vampires will rise again to terrorize the workplace.
Key Insight: Acknowledge Remarks
Talkers who think no one's listening ramble on and on, dragging everyone over to the dark side. A facilitator lets all speakers know their ideas have been heard (and keeps everyone awake).
Quick Tip: Use a Timer
Keeping track will help limit speaking time.