The “Groundhog Day” experience
The online meeting starts with a blank screen, as usual. The presenter is late. Hopefully we’ll end this meeting fast, so that we can all go back to the actual work.
Excitement rises as we see the shared screen. The presenter is here, but why don’t we hear any sound?
“I cannot hear you, can you please check your microphone?”, says one of the attendees, as others rush over to the chat window to write the same thing.
“Hello? Does it work now?”, says the presenter’s voice.
“Yes, loud and… well, I can hear myself with an echo while I speak”, responds the attendee.
Variations to this scenario may include switching devices, replacing batteries, changing cables, rebooting, installing updates, sharing an older version of the document etc. All during the meeting.
Is this familiar?
I’m writing this because it matters. Whether we are the presenter or the audience, not optimizing the time we spend in meetings is damaging for all participants.
- It is frustrating for the audience, which can interpret this as lack of preparation, lack of interest or even disrespect from the presenter.
- As presenters, we can lose the participants’ engagement over work-related tasks that require their attention or their mobile phones. Note that attention span is in decline.
- Switching back and forth between meetings and other activities requires even more time for all of us, let’s make better use of it.
As presenters, we can:
- Send the meeting agenda and other instructions to all participants as soon as the documents are available.
- Identify who are the people that actually need to join the meeting.
- Make sure that the participants know who is essential and who is optional to the meeting.
- Try to set a realistic duration for the meeting.
- Reserve the meeting room in advance (if reservation is needed).
- Arrive in the meeting room well before the meeting is scheduled and check for common hardware issues:
- Battery status for all devices (computer, mouse, headset, remote for projector etc.)
- Cables and connections
- Internet access
- Projector (if needed)
- Prior to the meeting, preload any documents that will be presented, to minimize staring at loading screens in large groups.
- Be concise.
As attendees, we can:
- Go through the agenda as soon as it is available.
- Research the subjects, if needed.
- Prepare questions, if any.
- Check who the participants are and suggest inviting others, if they are directly impacted or would have a better understanding of the topics.
- Check if our own hardware and software are suitable for the meetings: eg. don’t install software updates or required browser plugins right when the meeting starts, do this in advance.
- Make sure we join the meeting on time.
- Ask our questions and be concise.
Conclusions and recommendations
Optimizing the time needed for meetings seems like another task on our list. If we want our meetings to be faster and less painful for everyone, it’s worth remembering that the time we invest in preparing is time saved for everyone else.