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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