Meetings : Remaining Effective

Like most of the folks reading this I’ll spend a good proportion of my day in remote meetings.  Generally these are:

  • one to one
  • multi-way audio
  • multi-way web meeting (some with integrated audio)
  • Video calls (few)

But more importantly I’ll class those meetings as:

  • relevant to me for most of the meeting
  • relevant for some of the meeting
  • only relevant for a small portion of the meeting
  • irrelevant

Now hopefully you’ll have sent me an agenda before the meeting so I won’t even attend the last category, so lets ignore those (I tend to duck out politely).  The top of the list is easy, I tend to remain totally engaged throughout those meetings as they are completely relevant to me and what I need to achieve.

The problem comes of meetings where only a portion of the meeting is relevant.  When this is the case I suffer the temptation of distraction, like you I have lots to do and this call is dragging on and I’m not to interested in what X is saying.  The problem is that after we’ve switched off something relevant comes up and a question is directed our way – “could you repeat that please” becomes a well heard phrase.  So in order to maintain attention I have to take some basic measures (which are actually more difficult than they sound):

  • Audio calls:  I walk around!  Carry a notepad and pencil and literally stretch my legs (sometimes outdoors) but generally round the house when working from home.  I really find it helps maintain concentration – but more importantly takes me away from distraction!
  • Web meetings:  I have to force myself not to get into IM’s, read emails, tinker with my action lists or write that report I need to finish.  Its really hard – I know I’m not the only one who finds it hard.

In summary my survival technique is to avoid all calls with limited relevance and for those where I have limited input either pre-arrange a subset of the call to attend OR really concentrate on avoiding distraction.

What are your tips?


  1. We were purchased sometime back by a very large company that thrives on phone meetings where 8 people are required to ‘attend’ but only 20% of the call is relevant to any one person.

    Mature strategy: Realize that there is value in knowing what these other people do and what they are motivated by. Figure out how your job fits in, how you can improve things, and possibly how you can make your job even more important and indispensable. Try to get the big picture.

    Less-mature strategies: Play Buzzword bingo (write out a bingo card ahead of time of buzzwords likely to be used in the meeting and mark them when they’re said). Count the ticks (if someone in the meeting uses a certain phrase repetitively, count how many times and see if they beat their previous record). Alphabet game (Identify when someone says a word beginning with A, then with B, then C, and so on.)


    1. Hi Maria, I have to agree in times of transition the less-relavent material can be crucial in understanding the culture, organisation or politics. I hadn’t been thinking in that context, excellent comment, thanks.


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