I no longer attend as many meetings and conferences as I used to. Consequently, I also no longer suffer under pointless loss of time as I used to. The question is: What is worse? Conferences or meetings?
I do not know. Both are usually boring. But you absolutely have to be there.
At conferences, you meet speakers who are enthusiastic about something that is news to them, but it is often extremely old news to you.
Others demonstrate what great personalities they are and distribute their knowledge in huge quantities. Or else, they have boring stupid jokes and useless information.
The presentations are often stiff, the slides are just routinely read out. You can clearly see that the mostly male speaker did the same presentation often before. He just changed the place, date and event on the slides this morning.
In my opinion, traditional conferences are a leftover of feudalism. On a classical conference, two castes meet – the speakers and the listeners. The speakers are paid and enjoy other privileges, while the listeners must pay and shut up.
More often than not, you get a terrible noise background – always one-way. During the breaks, you actually interact, but then you will soon be sent back to the lecture halls by the “orderlies”.
I prefer anti-conferences, such as OpenSpace and Barcamp.
There are fewer conferences and workshops than meetings. You attend a workshop with something in mind, because you want an advantage or you want to meet someone. You can actually skip it. On the other hand, if there is one of the often terrible meetings, you have the obligation to attend. The only way to avoid them is if you are very high up in the hierarchy.
And whenever you are sitting in a meeting, the “important people“ will often be late or start the meeting by giving their attention to their smartphones. As soon as everybody has arrived, the meetings can start. They end because the scheduled time is over and one of the important people has his/her next meeting. You rarely get much more than poor compromises.
Here is what I recommend with respect to meetings.
Both big and small concerns have far too many meetings. A wise friend of mine is trying to do something about this. He gives his customers the following rule:
Whenever there is a meeting, all the attendees ask the question: Does this meeting really make sense? If more than one person says: no, then the meeting is immediately to be terminated and everybody goes back to work.
Even in big concerns, this concept is very successful. If we want this procedure to become a success, then we need a little civil courage. But in a halfway civilized world, it actually works.
If everybody thinks they should have a meeting, you need a format. Because without structure, you mostly only get small talk. And thus, you will only get a result with a lot of luck (and after a lot of time). The format depends on what the goal of the meeting is.
Is the meeting because you want to find solutions and reason (creative) or is it more for team-building (mental)? Do you want the meeting to give you courage? Or is there a hard decision that needs to be made and cannot be made merely rationally because of a multi-dimensional problem (please remember that, per definition, decisions will always be made under uncertainty)?
You might decide upon the ars construendi, a game, a debate, etc. You might want support through dialectic rules and suitable tools (visualisation, haspic experience, … ).
And if the meeting is important but nobody knows why, then you can ask the important question. What exactly is our problem? Incidentally, this question is not asked often enough.
And then you choose the simplest of all formats and make it a lean coffee. I also recommend a common time-boxing for each topic and an accompanying review of all decisions. Time-boxing means that you want to decide in advance – before starting the debate about a topic – how many minutes (!) you are going to give the problem. And with “review of decisions”, I am referring to a constant evaluation whether or not the priority of topics you decided upon is still relevant or if there have been changes.
You should use the first three minutes of a meeting to come to a common decision about which of the established communication formats you want. And then you can start. And sixty minutes later, you are finished. If you need ninety minutes, it is high time to stop and answer the question: what went wrong?
I can guarantee that, if you apply these rules, your meetings will be shortened considerably and, in return, they will give you more results. And you will actually experience that they can be fun. And sooner or later, these meetings will actually give you the shared flow that you need so badly for a successful co-existence
So: have courage and just try it. And if you are a little helpless, then why don’t you take an easy, agile and unpretentious moderator. There are many of them around.
For more articles in my entrepreneur’s diary, click here: Drehscheibe!