The Fight Against Meeting Zombies
Recently, Slido published an ad campaign focused on the problem of people being turned into “meeting zombies.” Because we attend so many meetings, many of which are unengaging and poorly organized, we have morphed into what Slido has called “meeting zombies.”
You can watch their video here.
What Kind of Zombies Attend your Meetings?
The ad campaign mentions a few meeting zombie personas. Based on my own experience fighting the spread of meeting zombies, I have added a few of my own.
Appears as if she is agreeing with everything you say, but her mind trailed off a long time ago. Her absent-minded nodding, glazed over eyes, and empty expression are all that remain of what used to be an engaged meeting attendee.
Having sat through too many boring and unorganized meetings, the Sleeper has become immune to any attempts at waking her. No pings or notifications will wake her from her slumber. You can recognize her by her open mouth, tilted head and occasional soft snore.
Eyes and thumb glued to his phone, the Scroller no longer pays attention to the content he sees, just as he has become unaware of what’s happening in the meeting. Like the images and text pass by on his phone, your words have fade into the background.
Eyes darting back and forth, the Fly Catcher can be spotted in the dullest online meetings. Despite being on camera, he focuses on everything else but the meeting. A fun virtual background, a book on a bookshelf, a mug on the desk, or pesky flies in the frame? That’ll surely get his attention. The meeting; however, surely won’t.
Never turning on her camera, the Ghost is a meeting attendee you just never know is really there. Muted and absent from the chat, there’s no evidence that someone is actually on the other end. Hello, are you there? No reply.
Having spent all the time during this meeting multi-tasking, like driving the kids to soccer, shampooing the cat or making bread dough, when called upon, he pauses and says “I don’t follow” or “could you repeat that?” A clear indication that attending the meeting was out of obligation and not interest. Much like shampooing the cat.
What type of meeting zombie are you? Working remotely this past year, I can admit that I have been almost all of them at one point or another. Maybe not the Sleeper. Thank goodness for my stand-up desk. We’ve all been there, and when facilitating a meeting, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re talking to yourself.
Why Does Meeting Engagement Matter?
An article by Peter Economy cites the following consequences for employees who suffer through poorly organized meetings:
· Not having enough time to do the rest of their work;
· Unclear actions lead to confusion;
· Loss of focus on projects;
· Unnecessary attendees slow progress; and
· Inefficient processes weaken client/supplier relationships.
As a Learning and Development Manager of a mid-size firm, I have about 4 meetings per day. Let’s do the math. This adds up to 20 meetings per week and 80 per month. So, if each meeting is an hour, it means I spend 80 hours per month in meetings, which is 50% of my time. That’s a lot. Are these meetings all a good use of my time? Definitely not. I am sure that most of you attend even more meetings than me and feel the same. What does your math look like?
In his TED Talk: How to Save the World (or at least yourself) From Bad Meetings, David Grady says that have what he calls Mindless Accept Syndrome. This is a problem because most employees have an average of 62 meetings per month and executives spend 40–50% of their working hours in meetings. Approximately 34% of all meetings are wasted.
“We have a global problem with meetings.” David Grady
I can’t help but think that there is a global pandemic occurring and it’s not because of the Corona Virus, but it’s because of meetings. If people are spending that much time in virtual meetings, it is inevitable that they are becoming meeting zombies because, as the research shows, of the 23 hours per week an executive spends in meetings, 7.8 of those hours are unnecessary and poorly run. This is equivalent to over 2 months per year wasted. In the U.S., it is 37 billion a year wasted in meetings.
If companies and teams are going to schedule so many meetings, attention should be paid to how effective and engaging those meetings are to get the best out of them. Simply put, meeting engagement matters because without it, meetings are a waste of people’s time.
What is the Antidote for Meeting Zombies?
Let me ask you, is clearing your schedule and accepting less meeting invites better for business? Um, yes. Is a 30-minute problem-solving session more efficient than an hour-long departmental update meeting? Um, yes. Is the use of the Scheduling Assistant in Outlook a great way to ensure your boss gets a bio-break between meetings before you send an invite? Um, yes.
“These days it’s hard to get people to pay attention in any meeting, but when people aren’t in the same room, it can be especially difficult. And it’s particularly annoying when you make a nine-minute argument, pause for an expected reaction, and get: “I’m not sure I followed you” which might as well mean: “I was shampooing my cat and didn’t realize I would be called on.” Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny
Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny believe there are four main reasons to have a meeting: to influence others, to make decisions, to solve problems, or to strengthen relationships. Each of these types of processes are active, which means that passive passengers, or meeting zombies, will rarely contribute or do quality work. To make these types of meetings effective — virtual or otherwise –, they require voluntary engagement.
“The biggest engagement threat in virtual meetings is allowing team members to unconsciously take the role of observer.” Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny
There are many things you can do to make your meetings more efficient and effective. I’ve compiled a list recommended by various authors out there that can make a big difference:
· Set clear objectives for your meeting. Define your purpose. As mentioned earlier, is your meeting being scheduled to influence others, make decisions, solve a problem, or build relationships? If it is not for one of these reasons, is a meeting necessary? Could you send an email, call someone, or send an instant message instead? Think about recurring meeting agendas too. What is the scope and what are the objectives? Could the meeting series be reduced and a departmental newsletter be sent out instead?
· Create and send out a clear agenda. A clear agenda tells attendees what to expect, allows them to prepare, and tells them what role they will be taking in the meeting. Sure, it takes time to develop an agenda. But saves time in the long run by wasting less meeting time overall. When in the meeting, keep the agenda visible to stay on track and focused. This will give the Nodder zombie something to actually nod about.
· Use the 5-minute rule. Don’t go longer than 5 minutes without having a problem for the group to solve or a task for them to complete. Use visuals and interaction techniques such as Slido’s toolkit: icebreakers, polls, quizzes and surveys as much as possible. If you don’t sustain meaningful involvement and interaction, they will retreat into that passive observer role and become a Scroller zombie.
· Turn on your video. Eye contact with another person increases dopamine and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. So, when hosting virtual meetings, turn on your video to create a stronger sense of connection. Be sensitive to what may be happening in the remote worlds of the other meeting participants though. Encourage others to turn on their video and check in with those Ghost zombies if they never do. Or ask yourself, if someone is ghosting your meeting, did they need to be invited at all?
· Lead by example. Be deliberate about how you spend your time and the time of your team members. To have a strong virtual leadership presence, you have to be the change you want to see, as the saying goes. Show up and be as visible as possible. Showing interest and being prepared goes a long way in fighting the battle against meeting zombies.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
When thinking about the types of meeting zombies attending your meetings, what kind of engagement strategies can you use to bring them back to life and get their attention?
Start Curing your Meeting Zombies Today
The timing of this ad campaign could not have come at a better time. I happen to be developing training sessions on virtual facilitation skills because if we can’t change the number of meetings we need to attend, we should at least try to make the meetings we host more engaging and better organized. My objective with this training is to show attendees how to facilitate more engaging meetings, presentations, training sessions, etc. using various features of Microsoft Teams such as chat, polling, whiteboard, and breakout rooms.
Slido has also released a zombie detector to keep attendees in check. The detector functions similarly to a filter on a smartphone, but it’s for a desktop or laptop. To use the detector, download the Snap Camera and search for “Meeting zombies” or “Slido”. Once an attendee becomes inactive in a meeting, the detector will turn that attendee into a zombie. I can’t wait to use this in my next training session.
Which of these interaction boosting techniques will you use in your next meeting?
As a result of reading this article, perhaps, you’ll think twice before clicking “accept” to the next invite you receive from a staff member you don’t really work with to discuss a project or initiative you don’t really know much about. Perhaps, you’ll request more info before responding yes. Perhaps, the next time you’re organizing a meeting, you’ll think about your purpose (to make decisions, to solve problems, to strengthen relationship, or to influence people) and send out a clear agenda outlining what is expected from each attendee. Perhaps, with a change in our behaviours, much like wearing a mask, we can stop the spread of meeting zombies and end the meeting pandemic.
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Slido or Microsoft products. They have been featured in this article because I think they are great engagement tools and I loved the ad campaign. My articles contain my opinions and do not reflect the views and the opinions of any company or organization I am affiliated with.