A series of communications to help improve engineering and project management teams

How bad are boring team meetings? They can render you speechless, which is usually what happens
when you nod off half asleep. Keeping the attention of all participants is a challenge when many think,
“Why do I care about so-and-so topic? It doesn’t relate to me”. Enthusiasm wanes and attention spans
suffer – and if you see people engage in
top 20 time killers at boring meetings (see these for some
humor! They are not endorsed, they are meant as a joke….), well, then you’d really better take this tool
seriously. You can relieve some of the boredom and attention deficit disorder from your team meetings by
adopting some of these suggestions:

  • Time Limits. Speed up the pace by making each presenter start off their discussion by stating the
    time limit of their briefing – and hold them to it! Make sure everyone gets used to allowing a short
    bit of time for questions or discussion, either at the end of at some break point. People will
    eventually get used to holding their time limits, and if it’s essential to go over time limit, the meeting
    leader or facilitator should make a point of calling that out.
  • Timer. Run a countdown timer (Shareware countdown timer ZIP file download here) to keep topics
    on a short lease for time limits. People will eventually start getting used to what 1-minute or 5-
    minute constraints are.
  • Standup. For meetings less than 30 minutes total, consider conducting as a stand-up session.
    This forces a sense of urgency, both on speakers and especially from the body language coming
    from participants. Do be careful that everyone can physically handle the length of time you want
    them to stand. A classic story about this practice, from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg:
    After a sit-down meeting once went on too long, he had the chairs taken out of the conference
    room. The next week the meeting went faster.[1] Particularly useful for status-only briefings, which
    should generally be brief and short.
  • Yawners? Watch the people in the room. If within a 2-minute span you see more than half of them
    yawn, get past the current topic and look for a chance to engage the yawners – ask them a
    question, their opinion, whatever – to keep their attention.
  • Wake up! Call out the names of the people on the phone/teleconference to make sure you’re not
    losing them. “John, are you still with us? What do you think about [x]? Give us a shout-out”. People
    will stay more attentive if they may be called on.
  • Step Out Option. State out loud “Anyone needing to step out for a bio break or anything important,
    feel free to do so anytime during the meeting”. This flexibility allows people to recoup their attention
    and energy when they feel themselves drifting away.
  • Avoid side sessions. If you find that any discussion longer than 30 seconds has become solely
    between one person and another person, stop the discussion immediately and ask them to take it
  • Seventh Inning Stretch. Allow people to stand up anytime during a meeting to stretch or stop the

Newsweek; November 12, 2007; pg. 36

Shareware stopwatch/countdown timer ZIP file download here

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Tool #2 - Meetings to Keep Your Attention