Things I promise to never do in a meeting

One of the things I like about working as a Business Analyst is that, in the right environment, there is quite a bit of variation in the actual work I do. So much so, that when people ask me “what does a BA do?” my usual answer is “it depends on who’s hiring me.” Depending on the nature of the contract, I might be involved in some early stage requirements gathering, researching options for new software or a website, putting together a tender, writing up Business Requirements and/or Functional Specifications or maybe coming in towards the end of a project to write user documentation and/or help with implementation.

One of the things I am often called on to do is run workshops or meetings to work with users to develop business requirements.  The internet is a wealth of information for running effective meetings (Google is my co-pilot) and I frequently search out new ideas.  My current contract was no exception so when I was planning some meetings I looked online for some ideas on how to structure the sessions.

I found one particular guide on a number of UK government websites.  It seemed aimed more at community groups than corporate bodies but there were some useful tips.  The full guide ran to about 10 pages and as I worked my way through it I started to notice something a little odd about the tone that was developing.

It seemed to have been written by a passive-aggressive hippy.

There was a lot of the expected touchy-feely, positive atmosphere, support everyone vibe.  But every now and then I think the author let a little more of their inner psyche show than they intended.  There were recurring warnings about trouble makers (“watch body language”, “Note digressions and remind members to stay on task”, “Guide members who speak a great deal to be briefer”).  And every time the author gave a suggestion for what to say to a troublemaker, the comment was always directed at a female.  I’m sure the author would say they were simply being gender inclusive but I couldn’t help thinking there might be some… issues behind this.

Then we come to the part that made me really think the author was a hippy: make everything FUN!  This isn’t a completely terrible idea but it ended up getting more than a little overdone.  Apparently, if you start each meeting with something fun, people will come on time because they don’t want to miss the fun part of the meeting.  Silly me, I try to make meeting relevant and concise to encourage people to come.  This advice was followed up with some real doozies.  The “ideas for launches and fun” went like this:

  • Sing your name and have the group sing it back to you.

I stared at this suggestion for a full minute.  Seriously.  If I ever do this in a meeting, someone stab me in the eye, please.  Because I’ll sure as hell do it to anyone who sings their name at me.

  • Break into small groups and do a mime skit about an agenda item.

Oh my god.  All I could think of was that the group would be more likely to be plotting ways to murder the meeting presenter.

  • Become someone else, mime it and have people guess.

“You’re a moron.”  “You’re an escapee from a mental institution.”  “No, I’ve got it, you’re a brain damaged weasel.”

  • Sing and dance the song, the hokey pokey

Personally, I’d start a conga line right out the door at this point.

  • Do a weather report on how you are feeling.  “Sunny and warm.  Cloudy with chance of grumpiness…”

I am a tornado.  You are a trailer park.

  • Dress up in costume and make a story about the history of an agenda item.

What the hell?  If I get a meeting request asking me to bring along a costume, I’m staying the hell away.

  • Have everyone write their middle name on a piece of paper then try to guess what name belongs to whom.

I would conspire with the others so that everyone wrote “dildo” and then every time we’d guess it was the presenter’s middle name.

  • Have everyone write something about themselves nobody knows then try and guess who wrote what.

Again, I would conspire with the group.  This time we would all write “I’m going to kill the presenter before the end of the meeting.”

So much for fun.  Another good piece of advice was “praise people twice as much as you criticise them.”  My previous, obviously misguided, strategy was to not criticise people at all if I could avoid it but with this advice under my belt I was free to go “Excellent point Bob, thanks for sharing…  Wonderfully illustrated Bob, thanks for that…  Shut the hell up Bob, you’re a moron.”

If anyone is looking for serious advice on running meetings, here’s mine.  Plan it out.  Know what you need to achieve.  Set an agenda and stick to it.  Make sure everyone attending knows ahead of time what’s expected from them and what you’re aiming to get out of the meeting.  There are times when you need to get creative to keep people engaged, particularly with longer sessions (anything over two hours needs serious planning and some variety).  But whenever possible, keep it simple.  Cut the bullshit and people will thank you for it.

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45 Comments

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45 responses to “Things I promise to never do in a meeting

  1. Salamaat,
    THANK YOU Mr. Angry:) I feel spayyy-shall :)

    Those made me laugh too hard! When I was in uni, i used to work a lot on campus; and each job I had required sitting through those inane suggestions! I am serious; people actually do implement them:)

    talk about being unprepared for real life!

  2. keith

    at first i thought you found a genius hippie but im really disappointed, guess that sorta hippies only live in fairy tales. but thanks for the tips, i better stick to my own way then!”dont let others suggest anything, make them listen to you and then run out of the meeting ;)

  3. lovelynancy

    Thank you so much for the laughs. I definitely loved your rebuttals.

    After years of dealing with similar freakish meeting suggestions, it’s nice to know that the folks here at my university aren’t alone. I thought maybe we were the only ones who had to suffer these types of indulgences on the part of our meeting facillitators! Thanks to you I now have some creative alternatives to the blank stare I usually reserve for such occasions.

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  5. This is a great post, it makes me feel sunny with about 80% humidity. However, there is a 50% chance of showers if I ever have to endure one of your aforementioned activities again.

  6. dragonlady474

    I used to be in management and attended meetings all of the time that were apparently planned by the nimrods you mentioned. I often wondered why they didn’t just get an animal trainer and get it over with. “Now SIT!”…”Good people, here’s your treat.”
    Is it any wonder I went back to school to major in Psychology and Criminal Justice?

  7. Good god! It’s scary to even think there exist these types of people who suggest this kind of crap for meetings.

    “Cut the bullshit and people will thank you for it.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Kudos for your contribution to the greater cause of “let there be no morons” in this world.

  8. Liz

    I’ve only been a BA for two months now…but who are these people working for? Do they have five hours for a meeting???
    That was so freakin’ funny!!!!
    About the only good way I have found to get people to come to my meetings is to make them extremely short, to the point, and try to have my questions nearly answered before it starts and just use the meeting for verification purposes. Oh, and bringing candy doesn’t hurt either.

  9. Thank you for my daily “spray beverage out of my nose, b/c I am laughing so hard” moment!

    Sincerely, eh hem (clears throat) M to the A to the R to the N to the eeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  10. timethief

    OMG I got to this part in your article “ideas for launches and fun” and experienced deja vu. The ridiculous exercises you so brilliantly tore apart were the exact same ones used at the most horrible Workshop for Women in Small Business that I have ever attended in my life. In fact it was the last workshop I have attended since that fateful weekend 3 years ago.

    These were the stupid games that I refused to play “nicely” on introduction night. My gut esponses were much like your own – my responses got me banded as a troublemaker.

    Worse still, like a fool I did not take my own car and I was trapped 1200 miles from home for three days with touchy, feely earth goddesses playing “shower” games in a conference room. I still shudder in remembrance. The only saving grace was that the lodge was situated on the waterfront so I checked in for meals, ghosted some sessions did a comedy routine or two, and primarily counted the hours until I could leave.

    I say a huge AMEN to your direct and business-like approach and I like Liz’s candy suggestion too. ;)

  11. Now why did I *know* this post was going to touch a nerve with people? We’ve all had to sit through moronic meetings.
    Maliha: You *are* special!
    Keith: I’m with you – all business ;)
    Nancy: glad you liked the suggestions, use them in moderation if you don’t wanna get fired!
    libraryrock: Glad it helped your disposition, think of it if you get stuck in one of these meetings
    Liz: The good news is you’ve learned everything you need to know! Candy / donuts / cake will always work.
    dlady: Good revenge, work out how their damaged brains work then send them to jail
    Robins: U need plastic sheeting over your keyboard before reading :)
    timethief: NEVER travel 1200 miles to a seminar – it’s a recipe for disaster. Also, never go on a cruise seminar – no escape.

  12. I needed the laughs today. I’m all for keeping things loose, but I’ve found that some people take it a little too far. I hope that people do not have to go through any of these things, but I know better.

    Thanks again. Great post and blog!

  13. aquamelina

    First time here and I am so laughing!

    I liked your last suggestion…Keep It Simple (and might I add a “Stupid” to it!!!). Excellent suggestion. I hate meetings where everyone keeps rambling on, and when the facilitator has to tell a joke before AND after the meeting. Yeah, they might laugh, but after almost 10 years of this at my place of employment. I am just so over the “funny way” to wrap up our meetings.

    I can’t believe anyone would really take these suggestions seriously, I mean, no way! Mime?

  14. Dres: Glad you liked it. Thin k of me next time you get trapped in a horrible meeting.

    Aqua: It is truly terrifying that these suggestions are taken seriously by anybody but I found this guide on several UK gov websites.

    Lots of first time commenters today, welcome all! Gladd you like this post and I hope you find plenty more here to keep you entertained.

  15. LOL. Thank you! Now if only all bosses would just read your post!

    I’d been to a meeting where actually played a freaking kiddie-party parlor game first. While I appreciate a good introduction as much as the next brain-dead idiot, I would much rather have had short intros and gotten on with the business at hand. Needless to say my thought balloons then made use of similarly colorful adjectives as the ones you used above!

  16. ‘I am a tornado. You are a trailer park.’

    I’m stealing that line! :-D

  17. Levi: if only bosses everywhere would get a clue. I’m doing my little part for the education process.

    Sandra: fair’s fair, I stole your family’s motto after all :D

  18. I LOLed, just the thing for a friday afternoon. This reminds me of when I was temping; often, instead of interviews, we’d have “group sessions” where we’d have to do some completely inane task as a group.

    The recruiters would sit back and observe your behaviour to see if you had “leadership qualities”, i.e. the louder you were the more likely you were to get the job. That will teach me to apply for customer service jobs.

    I ask you, where’s the bloody benefit in assigning people roles and arguing about who gets to escape the planet and set up a martian colony when the world ends? Sadly, nobody got it when I said we should sent all the telephone sanitisers, hairdressers, estate agents and middle managers on a separate ship :(

    http://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com

  19. Pingback: Battery Charged,Ass Kicked,Hellboy Recreated » Blog Archive » Useful Work Phrases

  20. modeski: group interviews are total bullshit. I used to do customer service to but I always refused to do group interviews.

    Hellboy: nice list

  21. aboutmakingmoney

    Ha Ha Ha…. Should try that on your next meeting. NOT!!! Maybe get Your CEO to do a mime. :)

  22. Mr Angry – yeah, believe me I didn’t do them out of choice. It’s a sure sign of a bullsh*t job if you’re not even given a proper interview. For that doomsday scenario one, I actually got offered a proper job with another company the day after accepting the phone monkey one, so could tell them where to stick it. :D

    That and “personality tests” are utter nonsense.

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  24. My Angry – so called corporate executives equate the number of meetings they attend to how important they are – that just goes to show …:-)

    glad to see you are doing well ;-)

    Nazli

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  26. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a meeting that is supposed to last 45 minutes and ends up lasting the whole morning. It is so frustrating and the fault lies with the person running the meeting. When there is no direction, and everybody gives their unsollicited opinion, the shit hits the fan. That is one of the reasons I left a job, the stupid, stupid long meetings.

  27. Money: I want the CEO to sing the annual report

    Modeski: Oh yeah, personality tests, the HR dept not wanting to take responsibility for who they hire “It’s not our fault he sucks, the test said he’d be good”

    Ohh pingbacks… more steps up the Technorati ladder!

    Range: yeah, one of the first things I did as a BA was bring an out of control weekly meeting under control. It was just a weekly status meeting and it would drag on for 2-3 hours. Once I started chairing it, I could get through the business in 20-30 minutes

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  30. Hahaha, I’ve actually seen a couple of those happen in person. Talk about amateur hour. I had a recent post about how I like to handle group communication in general and it sure as heck didn’t have any of these. Thanks for the laugh…

  31. Retro: glad you got a laugh, I sure as hell did when I read the original

  32. Hah! This totally made me laugh-I’ve actually been to a couple seminars where weird little games like that were played, all in the name of “getting to know one another abit before we get started.” *rolls eyes*

    The way I see it, I’m there for work, I wanna get it done and over with–let’s drop the procrastinating, and get down to it! What time wasters!!

    ~TC

  33. Over the weekend I saw another guide for group sessions that suggested doing the “hokey pokey”. It was for pre-school toddlers. I wonder if this was the inspiration for what I read?

  34. Brilliant blog you have .I like the comments and topics you discuss here.Although this is not the information,I was hoping to find with my search.I believe it’s great when you come across a genuine subject that makes sense.Good luck in all your endeavors.If you have the chance.Maybe you could stop by my new web site.How to Start a Home Business and Create
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  35. I’m all about the serendipity of random entertainment Robert. Glad you enjoyed it and good luck with your blog.

  36. Bram

    I would say the hippy has excellent suggestions. It certainly promotes cooperation and cohesion within the group, even if only for the purpose of killing the meeting organizer and getting the heck out of Dodge. Hey, I get it. Killing the meeting organizer IS the fun start of the meeting!

  37. Bram: exactly, that’s a good team building exercise!

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  41. Sue

    I now walk out of any meeting/seminar/training that starts with this sort of crap. It’s just so…..american. The whole “let’s go around the room and tell everyone what you hope to get out of the meeting”, thing shits me to tears. I usually say “a good sleep” or “lunch”.
    Why is it so hard for people to just get the hell ON WITH IT? All the touchy feely stuff just makes me go ballistic. And don’t even get me started on the “turn to the total stranger next to you and tell them personal stuff so they can in turn tell the meeting”. I just refuse, cross my arms (body language) and look surly.
    I will no longer attend any corporate training sessions because of this sort of nonsense either. The thing that finally tipped me other the edge was having to do it at a First Aid course. Has the world gone mad?
    What ever happened to just get in, get on with it, get it over with and get out?

  42. Freddy

    I’m wondering, like you said, the page runs about 10 pages, but most of it seems to be useful in terms of making meetings effective, consdiering how uncooperative most ppl are at meetings. I, personally, have seen that most ppl come to meetings NOT wanting to be there, NOT wanting to participate, and thereby NOT wanting the meeting to be productive. Not to say that they are deliberately hostile, but their lack of cooperation ends up making the meeting drag on and on.

    So anyway, I was wondering, while I do agree that those suggestions were a little weird, I think the perspective was to make a meeting more fun, and not funny. And consdiering it was just one section of the article, why has it pissed you off so much? Or is that a moot point?

    As for the author picking on women and implying that they are ones who screw up, I think those were just examples. If it were the other way, then then you wouldn’t have a problem with him picking on a guy?

    Just wondering…..

  43. I have no idea if you’re a master of irony or if you really don’t understand how appalling those ideas are. I answered all of them pretty concisely with my opinion, there’s not much to be gained by repeating it here. Apart from maybe pointing out to you that this whole post was essentially a joke so logic isn’t really going to work here.

  44. I stumbled across your site while conducting a Google Search for an article I’m writing. But now I may just give up my dream of writer fame and start flipping pancakes at the local Waffle House because you, Mr. Business Analyst, are a far better writer than puny little me. I am CRYING, I am laughing so hard. The dildo comment just did me in. Thanks for the lift to an otherwise dull Thursday.

  45. Dena, quote me in your article! That would be cool! Glad you liked the piece, it was certainly fun to write. And although I know you’re joking, definitely don’t give up. I started this blog to improve my writing skills, no matter where we start, we get better at writing the more we do it.

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