Leadership optimize

How to handle the meeting nightmare

A recent piece on BNET offered advice on what to do in four meeting nightmare situations. The one that caused the most discussion was what to do when someone falls asleep in a meeting. Here's what the responders failed to touch upon.

BNET.com recently ran a piece containing advice for meeting leaders about how to survive the worst meeting nightmares. The article raised four relevant situations that might arise in a meeting:

  • You disagree with a colleague's idea
  • A shouting match erupts
  • Someone makes a racist comment
  • Someone falls asleep

It's interesting that out of all of these situations, the one that garnered the most discussion was what to do if someone falls asleep in your meeting. This must be pretty common. Readers suggested that such meeting naps may be caused by an underlying medical problem such as sleep apnea, etc. That may very well be true because sleep apnea is a growing problem, but maybe, just maybe, it's the meeting itself.

If you're a meeting leader, stop worrying about the sleepy guy's medical diagnosis and take a look at how you run your meetings. Here's my theory: I think that in an economic crisis most people are scared to death that their jobs may go away, so they use meetings as platforms to show the rest of the staff how utterly brilliant they are. (Even in good economic times, there's always going to be someone who loves being his own personal think tank.)

What results are meetings rife with buzzword-laden, self-promotional types who want to tell everyone what they know and how things should be done. (Oddly enough, it's often these same people who actually never produce any tangible results once they leave the meeting room.) This is the person who is willing to talk "strategy" and go down tangential roads until everyone else is pouring hot coffee in their ear canals to drown out his voice.

If you're a meeting leader, you have to learn how to finesse the conversational slap down. Meetings are for sharing ideas; meetings should not be used as stages for individual speeches. If someone starts to use a meeting for his or her own promotional purposes, simply say, "That's really interesting. I'd like to hear more about it offline. But let's continue with the business at hand."

If someone falls asleep in your meeting, before you consider a medical intervention, take a look at the meeting itself.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

12 comments
steeleblue_cactus
steeleblue_cactus

I spent 26 years in design and dev of software apps - mainframe all the way to the web - and have run upon a couple of things that have worked for me. I was (before retirement) a systems and business analyst and most of my meetings included both users and a couple of developers. So they can get heated. These tips have worked well for me and have lead to over 50 successful projects. 1) At the first meeting of a project I discuss ground rules. I also elicit comments and suggestions. That way everybody feels that they have had a say in how things will work. 2) I always bring a bowl of candy or dried fruit. When someone gets out of hand I (or as they get the idea someone else) will slide the bowl to the "out of control" person. It's hard to monopolize a conversation while you are chewing. Although I use chocolate a lot caramel works best for those types of folks. 3) If someone continues I will take announce a short break and take them aside and have a little talk. I find that a lot of time they do not even realize how disruptive they are and there is no need to embarrass then in front of the group. 4) A lot of people are simply too shy to speak up. I make sure that they get their say by specifically asking them a question. However, if they are REALLY shy I wait a couple of meetings until they are more comfortable. 5) If it's an early meeting (first thing in the morning) I bring doughnuts or breakfast tacos. A well-fed group doesn't fall asleep and is more mellow.

smokeybehr
smokeybehr

I do have to admit that I fell asleep, not in a meeting but in a class. The combination of an overly warm room, cold meds and a droning lecture knocked me out like a light. I was awakened by a classmate, who informed me that I was snoring quietly. The class got a laugh at my expense, and I learned to load up on caffeine during lunch.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unfortunately, it was a military classroom. That little episode cost me two hours a day extra duty for a week, but I wasn't the only one. Three others managed to join me. The class was on antennas. They were playing a video on the radiation pattern various combinations of point sources. Imagine 20+ minutes of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BbkDTrYVhM. Now imagine you're seeing it in the three-color step animation commonly used in instructional videos in the 70s.

Fregeus
Fregeus

And its a real problem to be in a meeting where you do nothing but listen. I fall asleep easily in those. So, before any meeting with someone who doesn't know me, I take them aside for a minute and tell them the situation. They are usually very receptive and laugh it off. But it can be embarrassing, specially when the speaker is the boss's boss or higher. Fortunately, I have seek medical help and am falling asleep a lot less these days. But if the speaker speaks on one even tone, forget about it, I'm gone. TCB

ITSuper
ITSuper

What helps me is to focus on doing something pro-active like taking notes. This helps keep my brain working. I also am an avid admirer of Mountain Dew at strategic moments, and will usually use a potty break to get one to break up the monotony. Other than medication and a cpap machine, communication with your HR department will make a world of difference. Oh yeah, and be REAL good at what you do.....lol

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Once a team meeting dragged on a bit long, and there was someone that fell asleep (in her defense, she was just back from maternity leave, and had worked well into the previous night due to an emergency). Instead of getting upset about it (we had moved past the major stuff, and were discussing some follow-up items), we decided to pull a Howie Mandel. Everyone in the room switched places, and we pointed the projector in a different direction. I made a large sound to wake her up (opened and closed the door loudly). The look on her face was priceless, and well worth the efforts! :) Obviously, that can't be done in most cases, but if the environment allows for some humor, I would encourage this approach to dealing with sleepy heads. Since political correctness prohibits the shaving of eyebrows, this is the next best thing! :p

jck
jck

I fell asleep during a meeting once, and they didn't do anything to me. Of course, they knew I had been up the whole night before at my parents' house getting all the family heirlooms out before Hurricane Frances hit. (My parents were 1600 miles away and couldn't get back home) So, they had pity on me.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You wouldn't be drawing some vague parallel between that and the meeting that is TR here, would you, Toni?

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

My observations come from a lifetime of work meetings. If only I could have those minutes back!

Patrice Hudson
Patrice Hudson

I used to work with a man that suffered from sleep apnea and we worked at a company that was meeting "happy"...they had too many meetings and they were long and boring and covered the same information over and over. About 30 minutes in he was starting to nod off so I learned to sit next to him and alert him by tapping his chair with my foot. I also used to work for a CEO that was narcoleptic. No one told me the first time he and I had a one-on-one meeting and he just went to sleep while I was talking. I learned the signs that he was going and I would inflect my voice, emphasize something by raising my voice or is he just went out I would wait. Usually after about 5 minutes he would awake and act like nothing had occured.

RocketEng
RocketEng

In my industry (aerospace) a lot of the meeting time is spent going over specs and how to apply them to the project at hand. As you can well imagine, someone usually nods off about an hour into it. The Director sees this as a signal, and we take a 10 minute recess for calls of nature, coffee, phone calls, etc. The movement of people wakes up the sleeper, and when we re-convene, we finish our business. It's a prime example of "looking at the meeting", and not worrying about the individual. Now if it was always the same individual, then we would consider medical/personal conditions.