3. Death by PowerPoint
The problem isn’t PowerPoint per se, but rather the over-reliance on this tool combined with its improper use of it. (For a hilarious view of this, see comedian Don McMillan’s “How NOT to use PowerPoint” routine on YouTube.)
The problems with improper use of PowerPoint are numerous: reading the slides, too many slides, too much text on the slides, incomprehensible diagrams, improper use of fonts and backgrounds, too many special effects, and so on. These problems are compounded when there are technical issues.
A manager of a large multinational company explained to me how one of his presentations went awry because it took 15 minutes to get the system set up properly to display the PowerPoint information. That cut 25% of his allotted time and he had to speed through the information.
The solution: Don’t hold the meeting unless you know you can get through it even if you don’t have access to PowerPoint. Try different approaches each time: use flip charts, paper handouts, white boards, etc.
4. Inappropriate humor
Humor has many qualities: It helps to relieve tension, it helps to get the audience moving, it helps to learn and assimilate information. Using it properly can yield tremendous benefits.
However, it is also a double-edged sword. If it is used improperly, it can turn on you faster than a Seagate Cheetah 15K.5.
Ironically, using no humor at all is inappropriate. It makes you look stuffy and insecure. Furthermore, it makes for a boring meeting. No, actually it makes for a boring meeting. Everybody hates boring meetings.
Another form of inappropriate humor is poking fun at other people or groups, whether “groups” are defined by age, sex, occupation, religion, and so on. We live in an era where we are much better educated and aware of other people’s feelings. This makes us more careful about what we say and how we say it. However, when the target is absent or “anonymous,” it emboldens us.
For example, I have sat in meetings where programmers would laugh at “people from marketing” or “the incompetent managers.” Management and marketing were not present in those meetings. The attitude, though, made it more difficult for programmers, management, and marketing to understand each other. This, in turn, slowed project progress and created tension between the teams.
The solution: Lighten up! Especially in difficult situations. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Poke fun at yourself; don’t laugh at the expense of others.
5. Disregard for people’s time
This is another common complaint about meetings: They last too long or they don’t start and end on time.
“Time is money” is a lie. Time is more valuable than money because once you’ve lost it, you cannot get it back. Most people value their time and spending it in meetings prevents them from doing more important things like getting their work done or going back to their family.
Typical time wasters in meetings include: waiting for every one to show up before starting; summarizing the meeting when latecomers show up; and not ending at the specified time.
The solution: Begin on time and end on time, even if some people are late. If a topic requires more time than anticipated, either remove other topics from the agenda or plan a separate meeting to address that topic only.
Meetings are a fact of business life and they aren’t going away any time soon. Take time to evaluate the effectiveness of your meetings today. Evaluate the five areas presented here but also request participant feedback to gain a better understanding of what needs to improve.
Don’t be afraid to completely overhaul your current approach to meetings. It may be the best way to prevent pandemic cases of meetingitis.
Laurent Duperval is a communications trainer, coach and consultant.