Word Count: 681
Reading Time: 1.5 minutes
When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done, especially in meetings
I’m in Powell’s books in Portland, Oregon, making a beeline for the business section so I can luxuriate in all their books on meetings. I spot it: “Meetings,” three glorious shelves of books. The first 6 titles are on presenting, but never mind, I’m sure there will be some good books on running a collaborative work session, the limits of Robert’s Rules, some really solid advice about getting to action in a group. Nope. Most of the books on the “Meetings” shelves are about making a presentation. The rest are detailed explanations about using Robert’s Rules of Order.
If the bookshelves at Powell’s are any indication, meetings are where you go to talk, or to listen to others read dense PowerPoint slides aloud. There seems to be little hope that meetings can be any better than this, which I find tragic. Because there is not a shred of evidence that supports the value of meeting like this.
Consider these facts about the human brain:
1. “As you no doubt have noticed if you’ve ever sat through a typical PowerPoint presentation, people don’t pay attention to boring things (Brain Rule #4). You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention, and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done quickly—something emotional and relevant.” From the book, Brain Rules, by John Medina
2. “It is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention,” yet we expect people to listen to a speaker read powerpoint slides out loud while they are reading them silently (Brain Rules again). Asking the brain to listen and read at the same time is how psychologist Milton Erickson put his most resistant patients into a hypnotic trance.
3. We remember only 5% of what we hear, 50% of what we interact with and 90% of what we teach. (Adult learning theory)
4. Adults learn only what is relevant to them. (Adult learning theory)
What this means
In a typical boring 25-minute read/listen powerpoint presentation, the presenter is utterly alone for the last 15 of those minutes. The first 10 minutes will likely put people in trance. Those who avoid the trance will retain only 5% of what is presented. Of that 5%, only what is relevant to each person will be absorbed and applied which means the 5 people who stayed alert will have 5 different ideas of what you said.
Is it any wonder people leave meetings passive and dulled, with wildly different ideas of what was said?
Make this one change to cut meeting time in half
Do not read aloud material that people are reading silently. Either turn off the projector, insert a slide with only a title, or stop talking and let people read.
Better yet, send the information out as pre-work with 1 or 2 questions that require a command of the material. You may think that’s asking too much of people.
I once asked a client to send out a 2-inch document with 367 entries 3 days before a meeting. I wanted people to have digested the information and come to the meeting with their top 5 entries so we could get right to work narrowing the list. All 12 people came with their top 5 and we started the meeting by listing them. I’ve never seen 12 strangers come together faster or work more effectively. We started right in the middle of the action, blew past consensus, and got all the way to unanimity. It was an electrifying meeting. I’ve never facilitated another one like it.
I think many leaders ask too little of meetings and too little of meeting participants. Virtual meetings have made it worse. Making meetings the equivalent of a television talk show tells participants you expect them to be passive observers. You are more than a human brochure, dispensing information. When was the last time you descried a meeting as electrifying?